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The Greenhouse Effect Explained

The Greenhouse Effect Explained

Carbon dioxide is a key greenhouse gas that drives global climate change. It continues to rise every month. In fact, according to National Geographic, it’s at record highs. And that’s a bad thing. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are key contributors to global warming, climate change, extreme weather events and changing weather patterns. 

If the human race, as a collective, begin reducing their carbon dioxide emissions and overall carbon footprint, we have an opportunity to slow climate change and it’s very real, very dangerous consequences. 

But to begin reducing our footprint, we need to answer a few critical questions:

  1. What is a carbon footprint?

  2. What is a greenhouse gas? And what does it do?

  3. Which gasses are greenhouse gasses?

  4. What are the effects of the greenhouse effect? ;)

Here are our answers:

What is a carbon footprint?

Greenhouse Gases Emitted in South Africa - Mielie Mailer

A carbon footprint is the calculation of the total greenhouse emissions that an individual, organization or company creates both directly and indirectly. Your footprint is a way of showing your carbon emissions. It’s your impression/load on the planet.

By greenhouse emissions, we mean gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Humans produce these gases in enormous quantities by doing things such as; 

  • burning coal, oil and gas for energy, 
  • cutting down forests and, 
  • farming animals. 

Your individual emissions are built up from the energy you use personally for electricity and travel (direct), as well as the energy that’s required to produce your food and all the other stuff you buy (indirect). 

But what is a greenhouse gas? And what does it do?

According to Wikipedia: "A greenhouse gas is a gas that absorbs and emits radiant energy within the thermal infrared range. Greenhouse gases cause the greenhouse effect."

A very academic definition, we know. Maybe something more… English? ;)

This is a greenhouse, a very beautiful greenhouse...

What is the greenhouse effect? Mielie Mailer

It’s a glass structure which lets sunlight (and heat in) but doesn’t let heat out. Thus,  concentrating the heat in the confines of its space. 

By trapping heat from the sun, greenhouse gases work the same way on our planet. Naturally occurring and in-balance, greenhouse gases have kept the Earth’s climate habitable.

Greenhouse Effect - Mielie Mailer

But now, those life-giving gases are out-of-balance and are beginning to change which species can survive and where they can live. We have artificially increased the amounts and concentrations of these gases by burning fossil fuels and farming animals. 

In a natural environment, hot-air rises (heat) and cool-air sinks (cold). It’s a phenomenon which let’s space naturally regulate in temperature - by allowing heat to dissipate and escape upwards and be replaced by cooler air. 

High concentrations of greenhouse gases, however, absorb solar energy and keep that heat close to Earth's surface, rather than letting it escape into space. That’s the greenhouse effect. 

Which greenhouse gasses are included?

Where do greenhouse gases come from? Mielie Mailer

The five principal greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere are;

  1.  Water Vapour (H2O)
  2. Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
  3. Methane (CH4)
  4. Nitrous Oxide (N2O)
  5. Ozone (O3)


Industrial gases (SF6 & NF3) 

The ones we are concerned with, in our fight against climate change are carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane and industrial gases. 

Effects of the greenhouse effect. 

Greenhouse Gases Effect - Mielie Mailer

Greenhouse gases cause global warming, a generic term which describes the aggregate rise in the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere. It’s an oversimplified term which draws criticism from climate-change sceptics (yeah, those still exist). Global warming is not something you see or experience on a micro-level. Rather, it is a macro-level phenomenon which causes and changes localised climatic events. 

These localised events are summed up nicely by National Geographic:

“Greenhouse gases have far-ranging environmental and health effects. They cause climate change by trapping heat, and they also contribute to respiratory disease from smog and air pollution. Extreme weather, food supply disruptions, and increased wildfires are other effects of climate change caused by greenhouse gases. The typical weather patterns we've grown to expect will change; some species will disappear; others will migrate or grow.” - NG

How to calculate your carbon footprint?

For Business: Greenhouse Gas Protocol

Follow the guidelines set by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. Following the protocol allows for a fair and just representation of an entities true carbon footprint. The simplest way to calculate these figures is by converting an entities activity information into carbon dioxide equivalents, using standardized factors.

For individuals: Carbon Footprint Calculator

There are many carbon footprint calculators on the web, some more accurate than others. Our favourite is aptly titled “HOW BIG IS YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL FOOTPRINT?”. It was created by WWF and is intuitive to use and easy to understand. It’s four-section questionnaire (Food, Home, Travel & Stuff) lets you customize the calculation to fit your lifestyle almost perfectly. 

Carbon Footprint  WWF - Mielie Mailer

As with all calculators, bear in mind that this is just an estimation. WWF's parameters are calculated using UK sample data.

How to reduce your carbon footprint?

How to reduce carbon footprint - Mielie Mailer


We’ve written an entire blog post tackling this question:



Reducing is always better than offsetting, but sometimes carbon offsets are your only option. When this is indeed the case, we recommend our climate change fighting partners in crime, Tree-Nation. They have a stellar track record and are one of the industry leaders when it comes to carbon offsets. They also help us make every eCommerce delivery, using our courier bags, carbon negative

How do we reduce our carbon footprint?

At Mielie Mailer, our product solution reduces and offsets.

  1. Our courier satchels increase courier efficiency, allowing more parcels per delivery.
  2.  We calculate the emissions generated from eCommerce deliveries and offset those by planting trees (which sequester/absorb greenhouse gases). 

There are so many small things that you can do to reduce your carbon footprint, the most important is being educated on the issue.

We hope you enjoyed our blog post!

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