Nitrous oxide (N2O), which is a byproduct of synthetic fertilizers, is a potent greenhouse gas. N2O emissions are literally skyrocketing.
Nitrous oxide, commonly known as “laughing gas,” is a common anesthetic and pain reliever. It is also used in rocket propellants.
N2O’s most significant role is a long-lived greenhouse gas, with the power to scavenge stratospheric ozone, and so let the sun shine in – which sounds good as a song lyric, but too much radiation can turn Earth into a furnace. N2O has 300 times the greenhouse power of CO2 and lingers in the air for 120 years.
Nitrous oxide emissions rise disproportionally to fertilizer use in agriculture. Worldwide, ~200 million metric tonnes of fertilizer were applied worldwide in 2019, with production and application continuing to rise. Farming is itself a source of self-extinction.
Ishi Nobu, Spokes 6: The Fruits of Civilization, BookBaby (2019).
R.L. Thompson et al, “Acceleration of global N2O emissions seen from two decades of atmospheric inversion,” Nature Climate Change (18 November 2019).
“Pollutant’s accelerating emissions are an unwelcome surprise,” Nature (18 November 2019).
“World fertilizer trends and outlook to 2020,” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2017).