Chemistry students calculate their environmental footprint; How carbon emissions contribute to climate change

KRIS GRAY, News Editor

 According to the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems, “A carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused directly and indirectly by an individual, organization, event or product.”

       Green Matters details; the greenhouse effect is the natural process by which the sun warms the surface of the earth. When greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and water vapor are released into the atmosphere and trap heat from the sun, the greenhouse gasses become warmer and the average temperature of the earth rises. This is known as global warming. 

 What should happen is that infrared rays escape into space, but instead are trapped in our atmosphere and warm the planet. 

     Greenhouse gas emissions are a type of greenhouse gas emission that occurs when carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere following human activity or processes. They are important for this conversation as they represent the most important types of emissions in terms of quantity. As of 2020, the United States Environmental Protection Agency records that carbon emissions account for 79% of  total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

     “It is a fact that we have known for a long time that our CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) emissions are causing the climate to change.” says Mr. Timothy Pistel, Technology Education teacher. Yet, the cause of climate change continues to be a controversial topic in society. Some people debate over whether global warming is actually occurring, how long it has been occurring, the cause of it, how it will and is already affecting the world, and what should be done about it. 

     In some students’ Chemistry classes, they have tackled this topic by calculating their carbon footprints. In the assignments’ directions, it says, “We might not realize it, but many of our everyday activities directly or indirectly use fossil fuels and consequently produce CO2. In this activity, you will use your knowledge of chemical reactions and stoichiometry to calculate an estimate of the amount of CO2 you produce each year; a quantity known as your ‘carbon footprint.’”

     As stated in the instructions, students were to use stoichiometric calculations and balanced chemical equations in order to estimate the pounds of Carbon Dioxide they released through their activities. Sophomore Katrina Winkler was “surprised by [her] results. [She] didn’t realize how much she contributed to climate change.” 

     Another thing chemistry students read in the directions was that the United States (U.S.) average carbon footprint was 45,000 pounds while the global average was only 8,800 pounds of Carbon Dioxide per year. This means that the U.S. releases more than five times the amount of Carbon Dioxide than the rest of the world. Winkler explains, “If our country is releasing more than the whole entire world, then that is surprising, and I think we should change that.”