You often hear about global warming in discussions, books, articles, and even in conversations at a party. And whether it interests you or not, this is not something that can be ignored anymore. It is a scientific fact, and all the signs are screaming at us to prove that. Devastating hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, massive flooding, terrible wildfire – just to name a few. Perhaps we should dig deeper and see what the fuss is all about?
What is Global Warming?
Here is a dictionary definition of global warming. “An increase in the earth’s average atmospheric temperature that causes corresponding changes in climate and that may result from the greenhouse effect (more on this later).” Let’s see what does this all mean. But first, take a look at the picture (source: Skeptical Science) below that shows signs of global warming.
Notice things like melting glaciers, rising humidity, sea level rising, arrival of early springs and more. They all tell us one thing – our planet is getting hotter. Before we delve into the causes of Global Warming, let’s briefly talk about some of the terminologies such as greenhouse effect, greenhouse gases, etc.
Causes of Greenhouse Effect
The planet earth receives sunlight from the sun. The earth then absorbs some of the energy and becomes hotter. It’s similar to the way our homes radiate heat, long after the sunset, especially during hot summer days. The reason is that the house has absorbed a lot of energy from the sun. After the sunset, the earth cools down and gives off something called infrared radiation. However, the gases in the atmosphere, known as the greenhouse gases, block some of the heat radiation from being released back into outer space. If this natural process didn’t happen, the earth would be a very cold place. This whole process between the sun, the atmosphere, and the earth is known as the Greenhouse Effect. The balance of the atmospheric gases is crucial in keeping the earth’s temperature constant. However, some things are causing an imbalance in those gases, resulting in a continued rise in the planet’s temperature, slowly but surely.
What causes Global Warming?
Believe it or not, first and foremost, it is us, the humans who are the major contributors to Global Warming. Humans emit several greenhouse gases from our cars, factories, and electricity production, and the gas that’s responsible for heating up the planet is carbon dioxide, also known as CO2. Other greenhouse gases include the methane gas from landfills and agriculture, nitrous oxide from fertilizers, gases used in refrigeration and other industrial processes. Fluorinated gases such as Hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride are synthetic, powerful greenhouse gases. These are emitted from different industrial processes. Some gases are more effective than others, and some could remain in the atmosphere up to a few thousand years. Forced deforestation is another major factor as the trees would’ve stored some of the CO2. With declining forests, more carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere.
U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions in 2012
The atmosphere is becoming like a thick blanket due to carbon dioxide and other air pollution. And this blanket is trapping the heat from the sun, causing the temperature to rise. How do motor vehicles contribute to the overall air pollution? In the US, automobiles are the second largest source of carbon dioxide pollution after the coal-burning power plants. Motor vehicles generate almost 1.5 billion tons of CO2 annually. Sixty percent of these emissions come from cars and trucks, and the remaining are from heavy-duty vehicles and airplanes.
Cars and trucks contribute to carbon emissions in three different ways:
• The amount of fuel they use.
• The type of fuel they use – meaning the amount of carbon released when a particular type of fuel is used.
• The number of miles traveled by the vehicle – more you drive your car, more CO2 is being released into the atmosphere from your car.
Should you hug a tree? Although the idea was more spiritual than scientific, today scientists are discovering the benefits of hugging a tree. No, I am not here to talk about that, but rather the relationship between deforestation and global warming. And after you’ve seen the benefits of trees in our lives, you may even want to hug one.
You’ve heard of rainforests. They are responsible for forming a cooling band around the equator. Now that more and more rainforests are being destroyed, the earth has begun to experience climatic changes. This is because carbon emission from deforestation is much greater than the damages caused by automobiles and planes. Deforestation is considered to be a hidden but a major cause of global warming.
Recent studies reveal that Indonesia has become the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. Brazil is right behind it. What is amazing is that none of these countries contains heavy industry on a comparable scale with the major industrial countries in the world. The five countries with the largest forest areas are the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, the United States and China. Together they account for more than half of the planet’s forest area and the Russian Federation alone accounts for 20% of the world total. Except for the United States and China, Indonesia and Brazil have exceeded all other countries in this respect.
So, what’s really happening there? Both rich in tropical rain forests, but losing their forests at an alarmingly high rate. The forests are being cut and burned, and you can even see the smoke stacks from space. The same could be seen in other parts of the world as well, for example, the Congo basin in Africa. More than 50 percent of the life on earth can be found in tropical forests, which occupy less than 7 percent of the planet’s surface.
The rainforests generate the bulk of rainfall worldwide. They are like the thermostat for our planet. Many people may not be aware that the forests are also home to 1.6 billion of the poorest population of the world. These people rely on the forests for their subsistence.
Coming back to global warming. With less rain, less water, and more carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere, our planet is warming up a bit more each day and although it may not be noticeable, massive destruction caused by imbalance in nature are all around us.