Much like the glass of a greenhouse, gases in our atmosphere sustain life on Earth by trapping the sun’s heat. These gases allow the sun’s rays to pass through and warm the earth, but prevent this warmth from escaping our atmosphere into space. Without naturally-occurring, heat-trapping gases—mainly water vapour, carbon dioxide and methane—Earth would be too cold to sustain life as we know it.
The danger lies in the rapid increase of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that intensify this natural greenhouse effect. For thousands of years, the global carbon supply was essentially stable as natural processes removed as much carbon as they released. Modern human activity—burning fossil fuels, deforestation, intensive agriculture—has added huge quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
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The Kyoto Protocol covers six greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride. Of these six gases, three are of primary concern because they are closely associated to human activities.
- Carbon dioxide is the main contributor to climate change, especially through the burning of fossil fuels.
- Methane is produced naturally when vegetation is burned, digested or rotted without the presence of oxygen. Large amounts of methane are released by cattle farming, waste dumps, rice farming and the production of oil and gas. Oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) operations are major sources of methane pollution, via leaks from damaged or improperly fitted equipment and intentionally vented gas.
- Nitrous oxide, released by chemical fertilizers and burning fossil fuels, has a global warming potential 310 times that of carbon dioxide.
By disrupting the atmospheric balance that keeps the climate stable, we are now seeing extreme effects around the globe. The climate changes, and it gets warmer. Extreme weather events also become more common. These effects are already having a significant impact on ecosystems, economies and communities.
Putting a price on carbon pollution in Canada is essential for a fair and effective climate plan. Economists believe that carbon pricing is the most effective way to reduce the carbon pollution that is changing our climate. The more someone pollutes, the more they ought to pay. A carbon price makes polluting more expensive and solutions like clean energy and electric vehicles more affordable.