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Global Warming Major Causes And What We Can Do to Help

Representatives from more than 160 countries met together in the first ten days of December this year to agree on a treaty to slow down global warming by setting the limits on the countries’ greenhouse gases emissions, which include the emissions of carbon dioxide the industries, machines, and cars produce, to preserve the world as we know it, threatened by the consequences of the global warming:

‘The future is here. Greenhouse warming is no longer just a possibility; it is happening now,’ said Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, a senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund (Greenhouse Warning).

Despite the causes of global warming, people can implement the solutions to deal with its effects on the international, state, and personal levels.

Global Warming Major Causes And What We Can Do to Help

The Greenhouse Effect and Other Causes of Global Warming

Global warming is commonly referred to as an increase in the temperature of the lowest layers of Earth’s atmosphere. Global warming has occurred in the distant past due to natural influences, but the term is most often used to refer to the warming predicted to occur as a result of increased emissions of greenhouse gases. Primary greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide (C.O.), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (NO), and ozone (O) (Fiodorov). Carbon dioxide, as well as other greenhouse gases, is a significant factor in the vital cycles which sustain life on this planet: plants use C.O. in photosynthesis and release oxygen necessary to maintain the lives of animal species, who through exhaling return C.O. in the atmosphere, completing the cycle (Stencel 970). The greenhouse effect is a natural process that made life on Earth feasible. Our planet’s surface temperature would have been 33 degrees Celsius cooler, -18 C instead of present 15 C, if not naturally occurring greenhouse gases (FAQ).

The temperature of Earth’s atmosphere is regulated by a process in which the quantity of energy Earth gets from the Sun is poised by the amount returned into space. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere let the energy in and prevent it from escaping, directing it back to Earth’s surface (Krajic 24). By the greenhouse effect, in the discussions of global warming and other environmental problems, people mean “the enhanced effect which is caused by the increase of greenhouse gases from human sources.”

Science brings different theories about the primary causes of the global warming of the atmosphere. Eventually, the processes that happen in the environment are so complex even on a local scale, that analyzing the causes and effects of global processes (e.g., global warming) leads scientists to controversial conclusions. Most scientists agree on certain facts. Arguments start upon the interpretation of these facts. The concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which the scientists agree determines the temperature of Earth, has increased from a value of about 275 parts per million before the Industrial Revolution to about 360 parts per million in 1996. The rate of increase has also been accelerating in this period (Fiodorov). The researches made by different groups of scientists came nearly with the same results on the rise of the near-surface atmospheric temperature. The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) officially concluded in 1996 that it has increased by somewhere between 0.5 to 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit since the last century. The sea level has risen four to ten inches during the same period (“Scientists’ Statement”). The main issue which arises not only scientific but also political arguments is humanity’s contribution to the current warming of the atmosphere.

In 1924 M. Milankovitch, a Serbian mathematician worked out a theory about the causes of changes in the Earth’s ice cover. He supposed that small variations in Earth’s orbit could lead to the “extreme” changes. In about forty-one thousand years, the axis’ of rotation angle changes between 22 and 24.5 degrees resulting in the melting or expanding of the glacier ice sheets in the Northern Hemisphere and, consequently, in the warming or cooling of the climate. Recent techniques let scientists see that glaciers have varied according to variations of Earth’s orbit for the last several million years. This has been causing so-called ice ages. The last one lasted from one hundred thousand years ago to 10,000 B.C. (Hartmann 9-11).

A large quantity of carbon dioxide is dissolved in the ocean water. The quantity of it always comes to equilibrium with the amount of it in the atmosphere. Based on the very detailed statistical study of the correlation of the ocean’s temperature and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air, held by the Bell Telephone Laboratories from 1958 to 1988, some scientists conclude that it may not necessarily be the increase of the concentration of the atmospheric carbon dioxide that causes the warming of the atmosphere. The study showed that a rise in ocean temperature preceded the rise of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere (Bender 62).

Another theory states that the primary cause of the global increase in temperature is solar activity. Sunspot cycles, which range between 9 to 13 years, determine the amount of solar radiation released in space and received by Earth in particular (Bender 62). “Changes in this cycle on the order of 0.1 percent are equivalent to atmospheric effects on the climate during the time period” (Wildavsky 362).

Human Influence on Global Warming

A large group of scientists sees the cause of the current temperature change due to human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels in the course of the past two centuries since the beginning of the industrial revolution and active deforestation of the planet’s surface. Oil, coal, and natural gas are fossil fuels formed on Earth from plants and animals’ remains. They are rich in carbon and, when burned, produce carbon dioxide. Fossil fuels have been primarily used by humanity since the eighteenth century to produce heat. At present, they are mostly used to produce electricity (Tesar 27).

The human influence on the environment was not crucial when the population of the planet was much smaller. At the beginning of our era, approximately 250 million people lived on Earth, and by 1650 the population had grown only to 500 million. Nevertheless, the rapid growth of population, starting in the nineteenth century, coincided with the industry’s development, making the impact of humanity on the environment, particularly on the temperature change, considerable. In 1830 the planet population reached one billion, in 1930 – two billion, and four billion around 1975. In 1990 it was estimated 5.3 billion (“Growing Population” 2490). The growing population is consuming more resources, using more energy. While 90 percent of the world’s energy is provided by burning fossil fuels, according to the information received in an e-mail interview from a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington Dennis Hartmann, humanity burns more fuel to produce goods and services for itself. Comparing the rate of increasing the concentration of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with the average temperature change rate leads scientists to the logical conclusion of the strong correlation between two. Humans influence the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by cutting down the forests all around the world (which absorb the atmospheric carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen in the process of photosynthesis). In most threatening amounts, forests are cut in the tropical regions, such as the Amazon River basin of South America, where 1.5 acres are cut every second (Tesar 28-29).

If nothing is done about reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, at least about the human contribution, our planet will change in many relations. At the present rate of increase of greenhouse gases in the air, the near-surface temperatures will grow 3 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit within half a century. Some greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere for a long time: carbon dioxide stays for about two hundred years, accumulating with the new portions emitted. Therefore, the concentrations of the carbon dioxide might reach 600 parts per million in the next century, which means an even more significant increase in the temperatures (“Growing Population” 2510). The sea level is expected to rise six inches to three feet in the course of the next one hundred years (“Scientists’ Statement”).

Potential Impacts and Actions That Could Be Taken

It is clear then that Earth’s warming will lead to several severe changes in the environment. Rise of the temperature will fasten fusing of glaciers and polar ice, which will result in rising sea levels ending up in the constant flooding of vast areas of densely populated lands and the creation of hundreds of millions of environmental fugitives (FAQ).

According to the information provided by the World Meteorological Organization, the U.N. Environmental Program, the World Resources Institute, the National Academy of Sciences, and NASA by 2050, practically the whole East Coast of the USA will be flooded (Fiodorov). However, the most affected countries would be, according to the U.N. Environment Program (1989), Bangladesh, Egypt, Gambia, Indonesia, the Maldives, Mozambique, Pakistan, Senegal, Surinam, and Thailand, much of this area is between zero and sixteen feet above sea level (Tesar 62).

Weather patterns are and will be modified: several radically hot days will augment, frequency and severity of storms, hurricanes, floods, droughts, and forest fires will increase, more intense rainfall will bothersome areas, and at the same time water supplies in some regions, particularly in already affected, arid (with deserted climate) areas, will be disrupted (FAQ).

Entire ecosystems can be changed or even totally destructed (FAQ). According to the IPCC studies, climate change can be so fast soon that many forests could die off, unable to adapt (Newscientist). Warming would also assent conditions for growth in insect populations, which will harm agriculture and human health and will result in the spread of malaria and other tropical diseases (FAQ). According to the CNN Special report on global warming released on 7 December 1997 at 10:00 PM, mosquito populations caring for deadly diseases have spread far north on the USA’s territory over the last ten years. All of the climate change effects are interrelated. More consequences are eventually, directly and indirectly, related to global warming.

Many different actions can be taken in response to greenhouse warming on the different levels: options that eliminate or reduce greenhouse gases emissions, that balance emissions by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, and that help humanity, as well as plant and animal ecosystems, adjust or adapt to new climatic conditions and events. Many combinations of these actions are possible (Fiodorov).

Humans, animals, and plants can adapt to different climates but, if the climate changes as rapidly as some computer models project, the existing natural ecosystems may become fragmented and break up; some ecosystems might even disappear (Fiodorov).

Humans have developed several devices to adapt themselves and their activities to the changing climate and weather, such as air conditioners for keeping the desired indoor temperature, tractors to cultivate the broad areas of land faster and easier and others like these. If the technology continues to develop, it is feasible that humans will be able to adjust to the climate changes accordingly (Fiodorov).

Interventions at all levels could effectively reduce global warming. The action should be taken on individual, state, and international levels to effectively reduce warming. Individuals could reduce energy consumption, recycle and reuse goods. People could use cars less when possible, use public transport or walk instead. However, when having a personal car, choose from fuel-efficient models or new models that will be powered by other than fossil fuels. Such can be working on the solar-electric or hydrogen-electrical combination engines (Stencel 966-967). Individuals could buy energy-efficient appliances for their houses. These are easy to find, as the USA Federal Law requires labeling those products (Stencel 974).

To prevent the loss of the extra energy due to the leak of the conditioned air, be it in the winter or summer, families could and should insulate and caulk their houses and use climate control wisely. A light roof for the house will save one fifth (1/5) of the air conditioning in a hot climate, which will also save energy consumption. As mentioned above, trees reduce gas emissions by absorbing carbon dioxide, and they can be used to shade buildings in the hot seasons while letting the sunlight reach the houses in the cold months of the year. This will decrease the use of both cooling and heating of the houses (Stencel 974). Buying the compact fluorescent lamps will save significant money on electricity consumption, although they cost more than the regular light bulbs (Fiodorov). It is a fact that half of the energy people use goes to manufacturing the products and services people buy. People, especially in the United States, are buying a lot more things than they need. Therefore, the useful and vital contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be not buying unnecessary things, which will deter their production in the market economic system (Stencel 974). In the USA and many countries in the world, recycling programs are working, encouraging individuals to save forests and atmosphere. Reducing energy consumption, recycling, and reusing glass, plastic, and paper items are possible, saves energy, and, therefore, lessens carbon dioxide emissions. These actions individuals can participate in help save the present climate and save family budgets in the long run.

One way states can work on slowing the global warming pace is to sponsor programs that allow individuals and businesses to contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. One example of such kind will be introducing alternative sources of power, such as nuclear, solar, or wind (“Warming Treaty” 19). Solar power is already working in many countries around the world. Governments and the electrical companies of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Japan, and the USA have different programs that help people install and use solar panels on the roofs of their houses and the public use buildings relatively inexpensive, thus saving fossil fuels burn (“Solar Power”).

One of the critical actions the governments should take is improving public transport systems and encouraging their use (“Warming Treaty” 19) instead of private vehicles, as up to one-third of the emissions come from the vehicles (Stencel 967). Stopping government subsidies and introducing “carbon taxes” will raise the consumer cost of high-emission fuels and decrease the demand for them. The fuel consumption will be therefore reduced. Natural gas emits the lowest amount of carbon dioxide among fossil fuels, and the states should encourage its use for electric plants. As mentioned above, forests are critical in consuming atmospheric carbon dioxide. States should introduce the programs for planting and effectively protecting the forests and encouraging individuals to participate (“Warming Treaty” 19).

Public education is an essential factor that can considerably reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance adaptation to greenhouse warming. Programs for conservation and recycling can change energy use and consumption. For example, householders may not be aware of the savings they would gain using high-efficiency furnaces (Fiodorov). These educational programs are already working in the USA and many European countries.

By the compromise reached in Kyoto, the European Union would cut down its greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent below 1990 levels, the U.S. by 7 percent, and Japan by 6 percent. In total, thirty-eight nations have signed this agreement and will be reducing emissions by about 5 percent below 1990 levels. The protocol does not determine how the cutbacks should be achieved, in any case. A lot of further details should be discussed and agreed upon, yet (Associated Press 1A).

International organizations could and will be coordinating programs in the U.S. and other countries, managing transfers of resources and technologies, and facilitating the exchange of monitoring and other relevant data (Fiodorov).

Global warming is a very complex, complicated issue. No absolute proof of what causes it can be given. Also, the rate of temperature change may only be predicted. Therefore, the effects following atmospheric temperature change are more of a hypothetical nature. Still, humanity is taking action to possibly reduce its contribution to C.O. emissions and also to reduce pollution. If we, people, are mistaken and later will be discovered that humans contributed to global warming insignificantly, our children will have a cleaner and safer planet to live on, anyway. On the other hand, if nothing is going to be done, the present generation will leave the decedents both a lousy environment and a weak economy as the resources begin to exhaust.

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