(Update 2024) Carbon’s New Math | IELTS Reading Practice Test Free

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To deal with global warming, the first step is to do the number.

A Here’s how it works. Before the industrial revolution, the Earth’s atmosphere contained about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide. That was a good amount “good” defined as “what we were used to.” Since the molecular structure of carbon dioxide traps heat near the planet’s surface that would otherwise radiate back out to space, civilization grew up in a world whose thermostat was set by that number. It equated to a global average temperature of about 57 degrees Fahrenheit (about 14 degrees Celsius), which in turn equated to all the places we built our cities, all the crops we learned to grow and eat, all the water supplies we learned to depend on, even the passage of the seasons that, at higher latitudes, set our psychological calendars.

B Once we started burning coal and gas and oil to power our lives, that 280 number started to rise. When we began measuring in the late 1950s, it had already reached the 315 level. Now it’s at 380, and increasing by roughly two parts per million annually. That doesn’t sound like very much, but it turns out that the extra heat that CO2 traps, a couple of watts per square meter of the Earth’s surface, is enough to warm the planet considerably. We’ve raised the temperature more than a degree Fahrenheit (0.56 degrees Celsius) already. It’s impossible to precisely predict the consequences of any further increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. But the warming we’ve seen so far has started almost everything frozen on Earth to melting; it has changed seasons and rainfall patterns; it’s set the sea to rising.

Carbon’s new math
Carbon’s new math

C No matter what we do now, that warming will increase some—there’s a lag time before the heat fully plays out in the atmosphere. That is, we can’t stop global warming. Our task is less inspiring: to contain the damage, to keep things from getting out of control. And even that is not easy. For one thing, until recently there’s been no clear data suggesting the point where catastrophe looms. Now we’re getting a better picture~the past couple of years have seen a series of reports indicating that 450 parts per million CO2 is a threshold we’d be wise to respect. Beyond that point, scientists believe future centuries will likely face the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets and a subsequent rise in sea level of giant proportion. Four hundred fifty parts per million is still a best guess (and it doesn’t include the witches’ brew of other, lesser, greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide). But it will serve as a target of sorts for the world to aim at. A target that’s moving fast. If concentrations keep increasing by two parts per million per year, we’re only three and a half decades away.

D So the math isn’t complicated—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t intimidating. So far only the Europeans and Japanese have even begun to trim their carbon emissions, and they may not meet their own modest targets. Meanwhile, U.S. carbon emissions, a quarter of the world’s total, continue to rise steadily. China and India are suddenly starting to produce huge quantities of CO2 as well.

E Everyone involved knows what the basic outlines of a deal that could avert catastrophe would look like: rapid, sustained, and dramatic cuts in emissions by the technologically advanced countries, coupled with large-scale technology transfer to the developing world so that they can power up their emerging economies without burning up their coal. Everyone knows the big question, too: Are such rapid cuts even possible?

F The question~is it even possible?—is usually addressed by fixating on some single new technology (hydrogen! ethanol!) and imagining it will solve our troubles. But the scale of the problem means we’ll need many strategies. Most people have heard of some of them: more fuel-efficient cars, better-built homes, wind turbines, biofuels like ethanol. Others are newer and less sure: plans for building coal-fired power plants that can separate carbon from the exhaust so it can be “sequestered” underground.

G These approaches have one thing in common: They’re more difficult than simply burning fossil fuel. They force us to realize that we’ve already had our magic fuel and that what comes next will be more expensive and more difficult. The price tag for the global transition will be in the trillions of dollars. Of course, along the way it will create myriad new jobs, and when it’s complete, it may be a much more elegant system. And since we’re wasting so much energy now, some of the first tasks would be relatively easy. If we replaced every incandescent bulb that burned out in the next decade anyplace in the world with a compact fluorescent, we’d make an impressive start on one of the 15 wedges. But in that same decade we’d need to build 400,000 large wind turbines—clearly possible, but only with real commitment. We’d need to follow the lead of Germany and Japan and seriously subsidize rooftop solar panels; we’d need to get most of the world’s farmers plowing their fields less, to build back the carbon their soils have lost. We’d need to do everything all at once.

H As precedents for such collective effort, people sometimes point to the Manhattan Project to build a nuclear weapon or the Apollo Program to put a man on the moon. But those analogies don’t really work. They demanded the intense concentration of money and intelligence on a single small niche in our technosphere. Now we need almost the opposite: a commitment to take what we already know how to do and somehow spread it into every corner of our economies, and indeed our most basic activities. It’s as if NASA’s goal had been to put all of us on the moon.

I Not all the answers are technological, of course—maybe not even most of them. Many of the paths to stabilization run straight through our daily lives, and in every case they will demand difficult changes. Air travel is one of the fastest growing sources of carbon emissions around the world, for instance, but even many of us who are noble about changing lightbulbs and happy to drive hybrid cars chafe at the thought of not jetting around the country or the world. By now we’re used to ordering take-out food from every corner of the world every night of our lives—according to one study, the average bite of food has traveled nearly 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers) before it reaches an American’s lips, which means it’s been marinated in (crude) oil. We drive alone, because it’s more convenient than adjusting our schedules for public transit. We build ever bigger homes even as our family sizes shrink, and we watch ever bigger TVs, and~well, enough said. We need to figure out how to change those habits.

J Probably the only way that will happen is if fossil fuel costs us considerably more. If what we paid for a gallon of gas reflected even a portion of its huge environmental cost, we’d be driving small cars to the train station, just like the Europeans. And we’d be riding bikes when the sun shone.

K The most straightforward way to raise the price would be a tax on carbon. But that’s not easy. Since everyone needs to use fuel, it would be regressive— you’d have to figure out how to keep from hurting poor people unduly. And we’d need to be grown-up enough to have a real conversation about taxes— say, about switching away from taxes on things we like (employment) to taxes on things we hate (global warming).

L In the end, global warming presents the greatest test we humans have yet faced. Are we ready to change, in dramatic and prolonged ways, in order to offer a workable future to subsequent generations and diverse forms of life? If we are, new technologies and new habits offer some promise. It’s our comingof-age moment, and there are no certainties or guarantees. Only a window of possibility, closing fast but still ajar enough to let in some hope


Questions 1-8 Complete the following summary of the paragraphs of Reading Passage, using no more than two words from the Reading Passage for each answer. Write your answers in boxes 1-8 on your answer sheet.


Several hundred years ago, the amount of carbon dioxide contained in the Earth’s atmosphere was 1 ………………. parts per million. However, with a growth of about 2 ………………. parts per million every year, the number has risen from 3 ………………. in late 1950s to the current 4 ………………. . As scientists believe, the figure should not exceed 5 ………………. parts per million; otherwise, humans will be faced with a significant rise of sea level. Considering the severity of the problem, various approaches are needed to tackle it. Parts of the solutions are 6 ………………. , like fuel-efficient cars and wind turbines, but many other ways to cut down carbon dioxide emission lie in our 7 ………………. . In other words, it is necessary for us to change some of our habits, such as to reduce our reliance on air travel and car use. Perhaps the most direct way will be to impose a 8 ………………. on carbon to discourage people to use fossil fuel by increasing the price.

Questions 9-13 Do the following statements agree with the information given in Reading Passage 1? In boxes 9-13 on your answer sheet, write

TRUE if the statement agrees with the information

FALSE if the statement contradicts the information

NOT GIVEN if there is no information on this

9 There has already been explicit evidence showing 450 parts per million CO2 is the point beyond which disasters will take place.

10 The developing countries have contributed the most to the total CO2 emission around the world.

11 Humans will have to pay a heavy price for the awful mess after their ease to burn fossil fuel.

12 The collective effort to cut down carbon emission is just like that of the Manhatten project or the Apollo Program.

13 Many people are reluctant to accept the idea of not travelling around by plane


Carbon’s new math answers
Carbon’s new math answers

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