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Carbon Emissions Definitions

Global Warming

Climate change affects people, plants, and animals. Scientists have observed that some changes that are already occurring include sea levels rising, shrinking glaciers, changes in the range and distribution of plants and animals, trees blooming earlier, lengthening of growing seasons, ice on rivers and lakes freezing later and breaking up earlier, and thawing of permafrost. Another key issue being studied is how societies and the Earth's environment will adapt to or cope with climate change.

Human health can be affected directly and indirectly by climate change in part through extreme periods of heat and cold, storms, climate-sensitive diseases such as malaria, and smog episodes. In the United States, scientists believe that most areas will to continue to warm, although some will likely warm more than others. It remains very difficult to predict which parts of the country will become wetter or drier, but scientists generally expect increased precipitation and evaporation, and drier soil in the middle parts of the country. Northern regions such as Alaska are expected to experience the most warming.

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Greenhouse Gases

For over the past 200 years, the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, and deforestation have caused the concentrations of heat-trapping "greenhouse gases" to increase significantly in our atmosphere. These gases prevent heat from escaping to space, somewhat like the glass panels of a greenhouse.

Greenhouse gases are necessary to life as we know it, because they keep the planet's surface warmer than it otherwise would be. But, as the concentrations of these gases continue to increase in the atmosphere, the Earth's temperature is climbing above past levels. The eight warmest years on record (since 1850) have all occurred since 1998, with the warmest year being 2005. Most of the warming in recent decades is very likely the result of human activities. Other aspects of the climate are also changing such as rainfall patterns, snow and ice cover, and sea level.

Scientists are certain that human activities are changing the composition of the atmosphere, and that increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases will change the planet's climate. But they are not sure by how much it will change, at what rate it will change, or what the exact effects will be.

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Carbon Footprint

A carbon footprint is a measure of an individual's greenhouse gas emissions. It measures the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide. It is meant for individuals and organizations to conceptualize their personal (or organizational) impact in contributing to global warming.

The more dependent we are on fossil fuels, the bigger our carbon footprints; unsurprisingly, Americans, who are responsible for more than 20 tons of CO2 per capita annually, have some of the biggest feet in the world.

Everything you do that is powered by fossil fuels has a carbon dioxide cost. Some actions, like commuting in a gasoline-powered car, have obvious carbon costs. Others are less clear but still significant, such as your diet. Livestock are responsible for an estimated 18% of global carbon emissions. So when you eat a hamburger, you're effectively emitting CO2 as well.

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Sustainability

Sustainability means "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

During the past 35 years, the amount of waste each person creates has almost doubled from 2.7 to 4.4 pounds per day. The most effective way to stop this trend is by preventing waste in the first place. Waste prevention, also know as "source reduction," is the practice of designing, manufacturing, purchasing, or using materials (such as products and packaging) in ways that reduce the amount or toxicity of trash created. Reusing and recycling items is another way to stop waste at the source because it delays or avoids that item's entry in the waste collection and disposal system. Source reduction also conserves resources and reduces pollution, including greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

REDUCE: Means reducing the amount of trash you discard.

Ways to Reduce:

  • Purchasing durable, long-lasting goods;
  • Seeking products and packaging that are as free of toxics as possible;
  • Redesigning products to use less raw material in production, have a longer life, or be used again after its original use.

REUSE: Means reusing containers and products by repairing them, donating them to charity and community groups, or selling them. You can also repair what is broken or give it to someone who can repair it. Reusing products, when possible, is even better than recycling because the item does not need to be reprocessed before it can be used again.

Ways to Reuse:

  • Using durable coffee mugs.
  • Using cloth napkins or towels.
  • Refilling bottles.
  • Donating old magazines or surplus equipment.
  • Reusing boxes.
  • Turning empty jars into containers for leftover food.
  • Purchasing refillable pens and pencils.
  • Participating in a paint collection and reuse program.

RECYCLE: Means recycling glass, metal, plastics, and paper, and also buying products with recycled content. Recycling turns materials that would otherwise become waste into valuable resources. It generates a host of environmental, financial, and social benefits.

When we buy recycled products, we create an economic incentive for recyclable materials to be collected, manufactured, and marketed as new products. Buying recycled has both economic and environmental benefits. Purchasing products made from or packaged in recycled materials saves resources for future generations.

Recycling is one of the best environmental success stories of the late 20th century. Recycling, including composting, diverted 82 million tons of material away from landfills and incinerators in 2006, up from 34 million tons in 1990. By 2006, about 8,660 curbside collection programs served roughly half of the American population. Curbside programs, along with drop-off and buy-back centers, resulted in a diversion of about 32 percent of the nation's solid waste in 2005.

Construction Aggregate (Aggregate)

Aggregates are rocks produced either as sand and gravel from alluvial deposits or as crushed stone from quarries extracting them from solid granite, limestone and other suitable geologic deposits. While rocks are plentiful, rocks suitable for use in the construction of our societies infrastructure are less so. Ensuring the structural integrity of our buildings, bridges and other infrastructure has led to demanding specifications for aggregates. Construction aggregates are the number one mineral commodity produced in California. It is used by itself as well as being the largest component by weight and volume in concrete and asphalt.

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Recycled Aggregate

Recycled aggregate is created from concrete and asphalt construction and demolition debris. Recycled aggregate is used for many purposes although road base is the predominant use. The use of recycled aggregate can help extend natural mineral resource life and in some instances save purchasers money.

Portland Cement Concrete (Concrete)

Portland Cement Concrete is formed by mixing cement and water with construction aggregates. The cement serves as a glue that holds the aggregates together forming a solid when dry. Concrete comes in many forms depending on the type of aggregates and cements used to make it. On average more than 80% of Concrete is aggregates.

Asphalt Concrete (Pavement, Blacktop)

Asphalt Concrete is formed by mixing asphalt, a thick petroleum product, also called bitumen with aggregate. In this instance the asphalt serves as the glue that holds the aggregate together. There are several types of asphalt concretes and its predominant use is in streets, roads, and parking lots. On average slightly more than 90% of asphalt concrete is aggregates.

What is a TON of Carbon?

A ton of carbon is released each time you:

  • Travel 5,000 miles in an airplane
  • Drive 2,500 miles in a medium-sized car
  • Cut down and burn a tree that was about one foot in diameter and 40 feet tall

What do GLOBAL carbon dioxide emissions look like?

This is a presentation that displays a simulation of the carbon dioxide emission levels of every country in the world, as well as their birth and death rates – all in real-time.

 View the Presentation

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Click here to use UC Berkeley's Carbon Calculator, designed specifically for California households and businesses. It can be used to evaluate both direct and indirect emissions of greenhouse gases from a variety of sources including the transportation choices we make, how we consume energy at home and at work, and which goods and services we choose.

 Calculate your carbon footprint

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