What the heck is Carbon Sequestration?
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5 Minute Read
It’s not exactly the sexiest phrase I can think of. And it’s way too sciencey to be of any interest to…well, just about anyone.
But it’s a really important concept to understand since it’s a big part of how we’re gonna tackle climate change. Hence why I’m about to break down this confusing 13 letter word into something you can actually understand. And into something you can communicate to others without getting all confufled.
Because here’s the thing, if we can’t explain things like climate change and carbon sequestration to people, how the heck are we gonna get this information to the masses? And how are we gonna take action? We’re not! Which is why I’m here to break down the lingo so even a 5 year old will understand it.
What is carbon sequestration?
Carbon sequestration is when carbon is removed from the atmosphere. It’s that simple.
As you know, too much carbon in the atmosphere warms the planet and causes climate change, so we need to find and create ways of removing that carbon from the atmosphere. Now carbon is just one of several greenhouse gases that warms the planet, but it’s one of the biggest culprits, so we gotta get laser focused!
Where does carbon come from?
It’s important to note that carbon is something that naturally occurs. And it comes from all sorts of things like: when you breathe.
When you breathe in oxygen, your body takes what it needs, and breathes out carbon. Now breathing is a function of life, so I’m not asking you to curb your breathing or anything. But the problem is: us humans are responsible for an unprecedented amount of carbon in the atmosphere, mostly due to our use of fossil fuels. Here’s where a lot of it comes from…
The transportation (and shipping) industry alone accounts for 29% of greenhouse gases that are warming the planet. You see, anything that has an engine runs on fossil fuels. We’re talking things like: planes, cars, buses, trains, boats, and motorcycles (unless it’s an electric vehicle/boat/motorcycle/etc). So we have to find ways of eliminate those carbon producing modes of transportation annnnddd we’ve gotta sequester the carbon we’ve already emitted.
Another big emitter of carbon comes from electricity. 25% to be exact.
You see, in the same way we burn fossil fuels to power up engines, we also use them to power up our homes, offices, iPhones, laptops, coffee machines, and TV’s. So that’s another big area where carbon sequestration could be huuuggggee in curbing how much carbon we’re responsible for. At least until we convert to renewable energy sources.
Natural Examples of Carbon Sequestration:
There are many methods of carbon sequestration. Some are 100% natural and have been doing their thing since the beginning of time. For example, plants sequester carbon through photosynthesis. When I say plants, I’m taking about trees, seaweed, your backyard garden and even your house plants. In a sense, they do the opposite of what humans and animals do. Humans breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon. While plants breathe in carbon, store it in their roots, and spit back out oxygen. In a way, plants are the yin to our yang. They balance what we put into the earth. That is … if we give them the time and space to do it.
The ocean is also a huge carbon sink.
By the way…a carbon sink is anything that sequesters and stores carbon.
Well … it’s not the ocean exactly that sequesters the carbon. It’s actually the plankton and animals that live in the ocean.
“Plankton at the ocean surface use photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide into sugars in the same way trees and land plants do on land. Sea creatures consume this phytoplankton (photosynthesizing plankton), and therefore the carbon. [Which eventually dies and sinks] to the bottom of the unfathomably deep ocean, locking the carbon away over millions of years as sediment” (North American Marine Environment Protection Association). Pretty cool right?!?!?
Supercharging Carbon Sequestration:
In conjunction with the natural ways carbon is sequestered, there are other ways we can increase and supercharge existing forms of carbon sequestration. One way is to protect existing carbon sinks like the amazon rainforest, mangroves, and the ocean so that they continue to sequester the carbon we currently emit. Other ways are to replenish the natural carbon sinks that we’ve destroyed: like planting trees in previously forested lands and repairing soil through composting so that healthy plants can grow (and suck that carbon out of the atmosphere). And then there are technological ways of sequestering carbon, like growing plant-based proteins by feeding carbon to microbes. It’s called “air protein“! And it’s pretty mind-blowing.
Reducing our carbon emissions is the best place to start
Now of course, the real solution would be to stop emitting carbon altogether…right?
But here’s the problem with that: so much of our daily lives rely on energy and electricity to function. Again, your car, phone, laptop, home, etc. So we also need to be moving our energy sources from carbon emitting sources like oil, gas and coal, to renewable and clean energy sources like wind, solar and hydro energy. But until we get to the point of having the majority of our energy produced and powered by clean energy, we need to grow the different natural and man made ways of sequestering carbon. And more importantly, we need to be mindful of our personal carbon footprints and work on reducing them.
Conclusion + Calls to Action
In a nutshell: carbon sequestration is when you capture or remove carbon from the atmosphere. I hope this dispels the fancy jargon and makes it easier to understand, easier to explain, and most importantly, easier to take action on.
When I say action, I’m talking about figuring out ways to remove and reduce the carbon in our atmosphere. This might look like: calling up your electricity company and asking them to switch your energy source over to green energy, opting for an electric vehicle the next time you decide to buy a car, donating to tree-planting endeavors, or even paying for carbon offsets for the flights you take when traveling.
Another helpful tip is to calculate your carbon footprint and actively work on reducing your personal emissions. And then getting your friends, family and local community on board too. That’s where the ripple effect happens.
Need help reducing your business or personal footprint? I can help.
Let’s hop on a call to talk about your sustainability goals and how you can hit the ground running today.