Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The greenhouse effect is one of Earth’s natural processes. Our planet receives most of its energy from the Sun. The Earth’s surface absorbs this solar energy and releases it back into the atmosphere, and some of it passes into space. The rate at which this effect naturally occurs has kept Earth inhabitable for humans for thousands of years.

But when humans began to burn fossil fuels in large quantities, starting with the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, they began to release far more greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, nitrous oxide, and ozone – into the atmosphere, and that balance began to shift.

In particular, larger quantities of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere make it less able to convey heat into space, trapping more reflected heat on Earth. As a result, overall global temperatures are rising rapidly. While the Earth will surely survive, it may no longer be comfortable for humans.

We have a short window of opportunity to adapt to these changes. Already we have seen polar ice caps melting and sea levels rising, which could flood New England’s coastal communities. Scientists predict that some areas of the globe will see increased drought, and others will see heavier precipitation and accompanying floods. In the Northeast, summers are expected to be longer and hotter, putting a greater strain on water and electricity.

Conservation Law Foundation has been deeply involved in a variety of policy measures and technology incentives to reduce our region’s greenhouse gas emissions in a bid to avoid the worst effects of climate change. These include the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the nation’s first mandatory cap and trade program; a Low Carbon Fuel Standard and clean car initiatives that would reduce emissions from transportation vehicles; and Massachusetts’ wide-ranging Global Warming Solutions Act.