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What are Emissions?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated May 17, 2024
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Emissions are gases and other particles that are released into the atmosphere as a result of burning fuels and other processes. The most common types generally come from automobiles, power plants, and industrial companies. The result of too many emissions being released into the atmosphere is poor air quality, global warming, and heavy pollution.

Humans contribute most air emissions, although some animals such as livestock do contribute a portion of carbon dioxide and methane into the air through digestive processes. The increase in emissions brought about by the introduction of the automobile and fossil fuel power has led to government-mandated restrictions on companies and car manufacturers. Filters and other tactics have been implemented to help improve air quality and cut down on greenhouse gases. This is a good start, but it is only one step in the right direction.

As more is learned about global warming and climate change, environmental groups and some government agencies are trying to find new ways to prevent these things from happening. Technologies which allow cars and trucks to run without the use of fossil fuels are now available in many areas, and solar energy has become a popular power source for many homes and businesses. If used by enough people, these things could drastically cut down on the number of emissions produced by humans each year.

The most common emissions released by both human beings and through natural sources are carbon dioxide, methane gas, nitrous oxide, halocarbons, and hexafluoride. Both halocarbons and hexafluoride are not found on their own in nature, and come as a direct result of man-made inventions. Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are all found in nature but have increased in quantity with the regular burning of fossil fuels. Ozone is another emission that comes as result of man-made gases combined in the air with natural ones.

Despite stricter clean air guidelines, the United States has the highest level of human emissions in the world. This is followed by other industrialized nations like Japan, England, and others. Many nations are growing rapidly, thus increasing the problem of greenhouse gas emissions in certain areas. Clean energy solutions are the best way at combating this growing problem.

Clean energy refers to any energy source that does not emit toxic gases into the air. Most forms of clean energy are also sustainable, meaning that they never run out like those coming from fossil fuels and other limited sources. The most common sources of clean energy include solar energy and wind energy. Both are becoming more widely available for everyday consumers, as well as more affordable.

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Discussion Comments
By cougars — On Oct 31, 2010

@ Framemaker- I would advise that you err on the safe side. Why take the chance that your children may not enjoy the things you did? We should act as if future generations are worth just as much as we are, and try to convert our economy now. If we push the market to include externalized costs than we don't need to pass the decision on to the next generation. You can only reach a tipping point once, and once you have reached that point you must live with your decision. If everyone took the approach that we only need to do a little because what we do individually is of little significance, we may be faced with a tragedy of the commons. Our decisions may be individual, but our carbon emissions act collectively.

By GlassAxe — On Oct 31, 2010

@ Framemaker- In the world of those that are embroiled in the climate debate, what you are asking is similar to asking if the chicken or the egg came first. This is the question that every economist wants an answer for...every economist thinks they have the answer for, but it is really a scenario where economists are trying to quantify the unquantifiable.

All credible economists agree there is a future cost for the carbon and exhaust emissions we have been pumping into the atmosphere, but where their economic models differ is in the area of the social discount rate. What is the intergenerational equity associated with climate change; the value of future generations compared to our own? This is where the objective meets the subjective, and the economic models become influenced by opinion. Essentially, we are asking ourselves if future generations are worth what the current generation is worth, and whether or not we should pay for generations a few hundred years from now. Another question is whether or not we are only responsible for our children’s generation or if we are responsible for their children’s generation as well. Should your son or daughter pay the cost for her children even though it was the past ten or so generations that screwed it up for them?

By FrameMaker — On Oct 31, 2010

I don't doubt the fact that the greenhouse effect and climate change are real, but how do we as a society decide what to do about GHG emissions? How do we know to what extent we should act now, to prevent catastrophic environmental effects in the future? I don't want to see my kids grow up in a worked that is a barren wasteland, but I don't want to bankrupt their generation by killing or economy to reverse climate change. To be blunt, how do I weed through the junk that is disseminated by both sides on the issue and determine what can be done now. It's voting season, and i am at an impasse with which way I want to side. Is climate change really this horrible thing that is breathing down society's neck ready to wipe out our species if nothing is done, or is it something that only requires gradual changes to mitigate future problems?

-I'm just an independent trying to pick a side.

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