What is Global Warming?
Global Warming refers to a rise in the average temperature of Earth’s atmosphere due to the presence of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.
Greenhouse gasses are comprised mainly of Carbon Dioxide, Nitrous Oxide, Methane, and Ozone.
The atmosphere is warmed naturally by the “greenhouse effect” caused by these gasses, which trap the sun’s radiation and act as a sort of “thermal blanket” keeping the Earth within a mostly livable temperature band averaging around 59 degrees Fahrenheit. If the earth had no global warming or blanket of atmospheric gasses keeping us warm, the planet would be about 90 degrees cooler than it is – very cold; you and I would not be here if it weren’t for global warming.
So Then Why Is Global Warming Considered Such a Problem?
What is discussed in the preceding paragraph is the natural greenhouse effect. When people talk of “global warming” today they generally are referring to what is probably better termed as “climate change”. What we need to be concerned with is “anthropomorphic global warming” – a fancy way of saying an increase over and above the natural greenhouse effect caused by human activity that alters the composition of Earth’s atmosphere, thereby increasing the greenhouse effect and changing Earth’s climate.
The climate is an enormously complex and finely balanced mechanism. Since the industrial revolution, modern societies have burned fossil fuels – coal, oil, and natural gas – releasing an ever increasing amount of greenhouse gasses, principally carbon dioxide or CO2, into the atmosphere. Billions of tons of CO2 are burned into the atmosphere every year, with the amount increasing by about 3% every year.
The problem with global warming is the effect this ever-increasing burning of fossil fuels has on the delicately balanced atmosphere. An average global increase in atmospheric temperature of even a few degrees will have a significant impact on Earth’s climate.
Aren’t All You “Global Warming People” Just Fear Mongering? Didn’t You Just Admit that Global Warming is a Naturally Occurring Phenomenon?
No reputable scientist or environmental advocate has ever claimed that global warming or the greenhouse effect does not occur naturally, or that there are cycles in Earth’s climate.
Many skeptics use this as an argument to claim that those concerned with climate change either don’t know what they’re talking about or simply fear-mongering, thus clouding a discussion that is essential as we face the consequences – whatever we think they may be – of the processes of our modern, industrial society.
Never before in the history of the Earth have there been so many billions of people burning so many billions of tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, or clear-cutting such great swaths of forest off the face of the earth, or otherwise altering what would indeed otherwise be the natural cycles of Earth’s climate.
Whatever natural cycle may otherwise be occurring today, it can no longer be considered purely natural by the simple fact that human activity alters or overwhelms any natural cycle.
Before the industrial revolution, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was about 280 parts-per-million (PPM). Today it is close to 375 PPM, an increase of more than 30%. The rate of increase, especially since the last half of the 20th century, is unprecedented. There has been a corresponding rise in average global atmospheric temperature.
CO2 levels and temperatures continue to rise.
Instead of “fear-mongering”, this is simply an honest and clear-headed look at the reality before us.
What About the Oceans and Forests. Can’t We Just Plant Trees to Soak Up All the Carbon?
The Amazon rainforest is a major carbon sink. Each year there is a net loss of rainforest along with the increase of carbon in the atmosphere to absorb. The rainforests and temperate forests do soak up carbon, but even if deforestation where to stop today, it wouldn’t be enough to soak up all the carbon released each year into the atmosphere.
The oceans also act as a carbon sink. But the problem here is that the effect of increased carbon in the atmosphere has made the oceans more acidic, jeopardizing sea life, bleaching corals, and further endangering the general health of all the world’s oceans. Also, the increase in air temperature has increased the surface temperature of the ocean. Warm water expands, thus helping to contribute to sea level rise, and the warmer water also leads to more intense and unusual weather patterns.
This is Just Too Overwhelming. There is Nothing We Can Do. We’re Doomed.
Granted, it is sometimes difficult to remain optimistic in the face of such a global challenge. Just as it can be difficult to understand the full implications of the problem because it is beyond the capabilities of any one person to fully perceive, the solutions can be just as elusive in their scale. As more and more people start to do little things; drive less, use energy efficient light bulbs, use less electricity, and any number of small things that help mitigate a person’s carbon “footprint”, the problem will begin to become more manageable.
We need to be honest, however. Global warming and climate change is already underway. The processes of climate are slow and don’t turn on a dime. The carbon released into the atmosphere today will stay in the atmosphere for decades. We need to realize that our climate is changing and will continue to change no matter what we do.
We should focus on mitigating the extent of that change to within reasonable levels. Most scientists agree that we still have time to keep the worst of the possible consequences of massive climate change at bay – if we act now.
The Earth will survive. It is humanity and those with whom we share this planet that will suffer. The problem started long ago, and was completely unforeseen until relatively recently. It is not a time to point fingers and attempt to assign “blame” for the situation we now find ourselves in.
But we are the generation that is here, now, and the circumstances before us are clear to any that cares to look. We are the ones obligated to do whatever we can to insure a livable planet for future generations.
This isn’t something for the far distant future. Global warming and climate change is here now. If we do nothing; if we remain concerned with short-term comforts and status quo; if we continue to fear “economic consequences” and ignore the implications of the environmental collapse that would surely make any such concerns appear foolish, then the world we know today will be gone; possibly within our lifetimes, probably within the lifetimes of our children, and certainly within the lifetimes of our children’s children.
So when you leave the room, shut down the computer and turn off the light. It isn’t enough. But at least it’s a start.
Learn more about global warming
Tom Schueneman is a writer and web publisher based in San Francisco, California. Tom publishes a global warming information site at http://www.globalwarmingisreal.com and also writes a blog on global climage change and other environmental issues. Tom owes his concern and awareness of environmental issues to his dad, who spent his career as a wildlife biologist and environmental resource planner.