Tag Archives: greenhouse gas

Giving carbon a social life

I-Hsien Porter

Last week, the Energy Secretary Chris Huhne announced “green measures” to encourage energy companies to invest in renewable energy.

By imposing a surcharge on non-renewable energy sources, the plans aim to make renewable energy a more financially attractive investment.

However, renewable energy sources (particularly wind farms and nuclear power) are not without their critics. There was also a warning that household electricity bills could rise by 30% as the surcharge on non-renewable energy is passed onto consumers.

So carbon emissions are not just a physical process driving climate change. Carbon is now a market commodity. Geographers are well placed to study its economic, social and political implications.

Michael Goodman and Emily Boyd introduce this month’s special edition of The Geographical Journal with an editorial on the “social life” of carbon.

International conferences, such asCopenhagenin 2010, have demonstrated that governments have limited ability to agree and enforce regulations. Ultimately, it is the choices and politics of consumers themselves that will drive the response of multinational companies and regulators.

Framing carbon in terms of social, economic and political processes, as well as a physical one, allows geographers to contribute to understanding and encouraging a reduced reliance on carbon.

The Daily Telegraph (9th July 2011) ‘Power bills to soar by 30% in ‘green’ reforms.’

Goodman, M. K. and Boyd, E. (2011) ‘A social life for carbon? Commodification, markets and care.’ The Geographical Journal 177 (2): 102-109

An insight into the consequences of climate change?

Arctic sea iceMethane is a potent greenhouse gas. Human activities, e.g. farming, have resulted in the release of large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. However, in locations across the world, large amounts of methane and carbon are stored in soil or the sea bed. These are released gradually as a natural process.

In a Geography Compass paper, William Bowden raises concerns over this process as Arctic ice and permafrost (frozen ground) begin to thaw in response to climate change. Bowden suggests that stored methane and carbon may be released into the atmosphere, further contributing to the volume of greenhouse gases.

Switching our attention to the Gulf of Mexico, last April’s Deepwater Horizon oil leak also caused the release of a large quantity of methane. Research discovered that methane-absorbing bacteria multiplied rapidly in response. As a result, much of the additional methane was not released into the atmosphere.

The Arctic and Gulf of Mexico may behave very differently from each other. However, research into the Deepwater Horizon oil leak offers an insight into the potential consequences of much greater environmental change.

BBC News (6th January 2011) ‘Gulf of Mexico oil leak may give Arctic climate clues’.

Bowden, William B. (2010) ‘Climate Change in the Arctic – Permafrost, Thermokarst, and Why They Matter to the Non-Arctic World’. Geography Compass 3 (10): 1553-1566

Overcoming inertia not to act on climate change

Copenhagen Climate Change Conference 2009I-Hsien Porter

In a commentary in The Observer, Robin McKie outlines some of the statistics that reinforce the argument for man-made climate change.

The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has increased significantly over the past 50 years, causing temperature rises of 0.80C. Many scientists argue that a total increase in temperature of at least 20C is inevitable by 2100, leading to more extreme weather events, water shortages and disruption to food production.

Despite the warnings, surprisingly little has been done to mitigate or adapt to the effects of climate change. In an article in Area, Andrew Sayer expresses pessimism about whether this attitude will change.

Sayer argues that in the Global North, states are too dependant on capital to meet the costs of acting against climate change. Governments are too electorally dependant on the middle classes to reduce their consumption.

Overcoming the incentives not to act on climate change provides a challenge for those in government. However, the need to do so is clear. Geographers can contribute to this debate by improving our understanding of both the physical processes driving climate change, and the human processes driving our response.

‘After a wasted year, climate change must once again be our priority.’ The Observer 26th December 2010.

Andrew Sayer (2010) ‘Geography and global warming: can capitalism be greened?’ Area 41 (3): 350-353