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Causes of Global Warming

What Causes Global Warming?

Scientists have spent decades figuring out what is causing global warming. Theyve looked at the natural cycles and events that are known to influence climate. But the amount and pattern of warming thats been measured cant be explained by these factors alone. The only way to explain the pattern is to include the effect of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted by humans. To bring all this information together, the United Nations formed a group of scientists called the International Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. The IPCC meets every few years to review the latest scientific findings and write a report summarizing all that is known about global warming. Each report represents a consensus, or agreement, among hundreds of leading scientists. One of the first things scientists learned is that there are several greenhouse gases responsible for warming, and humans emit them in a variety of ways. Most come from the combustion of fossil fuels in cars, factories and electricity production. The gas responsible for the most warming is carbon dioxide, also called CO2. Other contributors include methane released from landfills and agriculture (especially from the digestive systems of grazing animals), nitrous oxide from fertilizers, gases used for refrigeration and industrial processes, and the loss of forests that would otherwise store CO2. In order to understand the effects of all the gases together, scientists tend to talk about all greenhouse gases in terms of the equivalent amount of CO2. Since 1990, yearly emissions have gone up by about 6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent worldwide, more than a 20% increase.

Effects of Global Warming Signs Are Everywhere

The planet is warming, from North Pole to South Pole, and everywhere in between. Globally, the mercury is already up more than 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.8 degree Celsius), and even more in sensitive polar regions. And the effects of rising temperatures arent waiting for some far-flung future. Theyre happening right now. Signs are appearing all over, and some of them are surprising. The heat is not only melting glaciers and sea ice, its also shifting precipitation patterns and setting animals on the move. Some impacts from increasing temperatures are already happening.

Ice is melting worldwide, especially at the Earths poles. This includes mountain glaciers, ice sheets covering West Antarctica and Greenland, and Arctic sea ice.

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Researcher Bill Fraser has tracked the decline of the Adlie penguins on Antarctica, where their numbers have fallen from 32,000 breeding pairs to 11,000 in 30 years. Sea level rise became faster over the last century. Some butterflies, foxes, and alpine plants have moved farther north or to higher, cooler areas. Spruce bark beetles have boomed in Alaska thanks to 20 years of warm summers. The insects have chewed up 4 million acres of spruce trees.

Other effects could happen later this century, if warming continues.


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Sea levels are expected to rise between 7 and 23 inches (18 and 59 centimeters) by the end of the century, and continued melting at the poles could add between 4 and 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters). Hurricanes and other storms are likely to become stronger. Species that depend on one another may become out of sync. For example, plants could bloom earlier than their pollinating insects become active. Floods and droughts will become more common. Rainfall in Ethiopia, where droughts are already common, could decline by 10 percent over the next 50 years. Less fresh water will be available. If the Quelccaya ice cap in Peru continues to melt at its current rate, it will be gone by 2100, leaving thousands of people who rely on it for drinking water and electricity without a source of either. Some diseases will spread, such as malaria carried by mosquitoes.

What Is Global Warming? The Planet Is Heating Upand Fast Main Content Glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising, cloud forests are drying, and wildlife is scrambling to keep pace. Its becoming clear that humans have caused most of the past centurys warming by releasing heat-trapping gases as we power our modern lives. Called greenhouse gases, their levels are higher now than in the last 650,000 years. We call the result global warming, but it is causing a set of changes to the Earths climate, or long-term weather patterns, that varies from place to place. As the Earth spins each day, the new heat swirls with it, picking up moisture over the oceans, rising here, settling there. Its changing the rhythms of climate that all living things have come to rely upon. What will we do to slow this warming? How will we cope with the changes weve already set into motion? While we struggle to figure it all out, the face of the Earth as we know it coasts, forests, farms and snow-capped mountainshangs in the balance. Greenhouse effect The greenhouse effect is the warming that happens when certain gases in Earths atmosphere trap heat. These gases let in light but keep heat from escaping, like the glass walls of a greenhouse. First, sunlight shines onto the Earths surface, where it is absorbed and then radiates back into the atmosphere as heat. In the atmosphere, greenhouse gases trap some of this heat,

and the rest escapes into space. The more greenhouse gases are in the atmosphere, the more heat gets trapped. Scientists have known about the greenhouse effect since 1824, when Joseph Fourier calculated that the Earth would be much colder if it had no atmosphere. This greenhouse effect is what keeps the Earths climate livable. Without it, the Earths surface would be an average of about 60 degrees Fahrenheit cooler. In 1895, the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius discovered that humans could enhance the greenhouse effect by making carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. He kicked off 100 years of climate research that has given us a sophisticated understanding of global warming. Levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) have gone up and down over the Earths history, but they have been fairly constant for the past few thousand years. Global average temperatures have stayed fairly constant over that time as well, until recently. Through the burning of fossil fuels and other GHG emissions, humans are enhancing the greenhouse effect and warming Earth.

Global Warming Solutions What Can We Do? Main Content The evidence that humans are causing global warming is strong, but the question of what to do about it remains controversial. Economics, sociology, and politics are all important factors in planning for the future. Even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases (GHGs) today, the Earth would still warm by another degree Fahrenheit or so. But what we do from today forward makes a big difference. Depending on our choices, scientists predict that the Earth could eventually warm by as little as 2.5 degrees or as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. A commonly cited goal is to stabilize GHG concentrations around 450-550 parts per million (ppm), or about twice pre-industrial levels. This is the point at which many believe the most damaging impacts of climate change can be avoided. Current concentrations are about 380 ppm, which means there isnt much time to lose. According to the IPCC, wed have to reduce GHG emissions by 50% to 80% of what theyre on track to be in the next century to reach this level.

Is this possible? Many people and governments are already working hard to cut greenhouse gases, and everyone can help. Researchers Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow at Princeton University have suggested one approach that they call stabilization wedges. This means reducing GHG emissions

from a variety of sources with technologies available in the next few decades, rather than relying on an enormous change in a single area. They suggest 7 wedges that could each reduce emissions, and all of them together could hold emissions at approximately current levels for the next 50 years, putting us on a potential path to stabilize around 500 ppm. There are many possible wedges, including improvements to energy efficiency and vehicle fuel economy (so less energy has to be produced), and increases in wind and solar power, hydrogen produced from renewable sources, biofuels (produced from crops), natural gas, and nuclear power. There is also the potential to capture the carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuels and store it undergrounda process called carbon sequestration.

Global Warming, the general increase in the earth's near-surface air and ocean temperatures, remains a pressing issue in a society that has expanded its industrial use since the mid-twentieth century.

Greenhouse gases, atmospheric gases that exist to keep our planet warm and prevent warmer air from leaving our planet, are enhanced by industrial processes. As human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation increases, greenhouse gases such as Carbon Dioxide are released into the air. Normally, when heat enters the atmosphere, it is through shortwave radiation; a type of radiation that passes smoothly through our atmosphere. As this radiation heats the earth's surface, it escapes the earth in the form of long-wave radiation; a type of radiation that is much more difficult to pass through the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere cause this long-wave radiation to increase. Thus, heat is trapped inside of our planet and creates a general warming effect. Scientific organizations around the world, including The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the InterAcademy Council, and over thirty others, have projected a significant change and future increase in these atmospheric temperatures. But what are the real causes and effects of global warming? What does this scientific evidence conclude in regards to our future?


Causes of Global Warming The crucial component that causes greenhouse gases such as CO2, Methane, Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's), and Nitrous Oxide to be released into the atmosphere is human activity. The burning of fossil fuels (i.e., non-renewable resources such as oil, coal, and natural gas) has a significant effect on the warming of the atmosphere. The heavy use of power plants, cars, airplanes, buildings, and other man-made structures release CO2 into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. Nylon and nitric acid production, the use of fertilizers in agriculture, and the burning of organic matter also release the greenhouse gas Nitrous Oxide. These are processes that have been expanded since the mid-twentieth century. Deforestation Another cause of global warming is land-use changes such as deforestation. When forest land is destroyed, carbon dioxide is released into the air thus increasing the long-wave radiation and trapped heat. As we lose millions of acres of rainforest a year, we are also losing wildlife habitats, our natural environment, and most significantly, a non-regulated air and ocean temperature. Effects of Global Warming

The increase in the warming of the atmosphere has significant effects on both natural environment and human life. Obvious effects include glacial retreat, Arctic shrinkage, and worldwide sea level rise. There are also less obvious effects such as economic trouble, ocean acidification, and population risks. As climate changes, everything changes from the natural habitats of wildlife to the culture and sustainability of a region. Melting of the Polar Ice Caps One of the most obvious effects of global warming involves the melting of the polar ice caps. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, there are 5,773,000 cubic miles of water, ice caps, glaciers, and permanent snow on our planet. As these continue to melt, sea levels rise. Rising sea levels are also caused by expanding ocean water, melting mountain glaciers, and the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica melting or sliding into the oceans. Rising sea levels result in coastal erosion, coastal flooding, increased salinity of rivers, bays, and aquifers, and shoreline retreat. Melting ice caps will desalinize the ocean and disrupt natural ocean currents. Since ocean currents regulate temperatures by bringing warmer currents into cooler regions and cooler currents into warmer regions, a halt in this activity may cause extreme climate changes, such as Western Europe experiencing a mini-ice age. Another important effect of melting ice caps lies in a changing albedo. Albedo is the ratio of the light reflected by any part of the earth's surface or atmosphere. Since snow has one of the highest albedo level, it reflects sunlight back into space, helping to keep the earth cooler. As it melts, more sunlight is absorbed by the earth's atmosphere and the temperature tends to increase. This further contributes to global warming. EFFECTS The effects of global warming in the 21st century and beyond are expected to be disastrous, according to the summary of a scientific report issued on April 6, 2007 by the worlds leading panel of climate change scientists. And many of those changes are already under way. Global Warming to Affect Every Person on Earth Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability [pdf], the report from Working Group II of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)which took six years to compile and draws on the research of 2,500 scientists from more than 130 countriesalso makes it clear that while poor people worldwide will suffer most from the effects of global warming, no person on Earth will escape its consequences. The effects of global warming will be felt in every region and at all levels of society. Its the poorest of the poor in the world and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies who are going to be the worst hit, said Rajendra K Pachauri, the chairman of the panel and an energy expert from India. People who are poor are least equipped to be able to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and therefore, in some sense, this does become a global responsibility, in my view. The summary report on the effects of global warming is part two of a four-part IPCC report that will be released in stages throughout 2007. The first part, released in February 2007, confirmed with 90 percent certainty that global warming is now unstoppable and humans are

to blame for a significant portion of the heat-trapping greenhouse gases that have caused global temperatures to rise dramatically since the middle of the 20th century.


Solutions to slowing or stopping global warming lie in mankind's ability to slow and stop activities that inject greenhouse gases into Earth's atmosphere. Major sources of greenhouse gases generated by mankind, and related solutions to stemming the flow greenhouse gases, are: Also read President Obama's Speech at U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Burning of Fossil Fuels: Oil and Gas, Coal, Natural Gas The largest single contributer to the rise of man-made greenhouse gases is the burning of oil and gas to power vehicles, machinery, and produce energy and warmth. Per the Union of Concerned Scientists, "Motor vehicles are responsible for almost a quarter of annual U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary global-warming gas. The U.S. transportation sector emits more CO2 than all but three other countries' emissions from all sources combined." Solutions to reduce reliance on vehicles that burn fossil fuels include: Taking mass public transportation whenever possible, rather than use of individual cars Alternative fuels, rather than fossil fuels, in vehicles Hybird vehicles, which are vehicles that combine two types of power, typically internal combustion engines , which burns fossil fuels, and electrical power y Vehicles that achieve high miles per gallon of gas consumed Solutions to reduce reliance on fossil fuels to produce energy and warmth include alternative energy sources such as: y Solar power, which is usually generated by solar panels or a solar tower y Wind power, which is usually generated by groups of wind turbines y Biomass energy, which is derived from "lumber mill wastes, urban wood waste, forest and agricultural residues and other feed stocks" as well as waste from factories and landfills. y Geothermal energy, which is derived from steam and hot water found deep beneath the Earths surface y For others, see Top 7 Renewable Energy Sources by Larry West,'s Guide to Environmental Issues.
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