The greenhouse effect is a term that describes an increase of the average global temperature and is often associated with global warming which is the subject of great debate and concern worldwide. Greenhouse gasses are predominantly man-made. People are the cause but their collective acknowledgement of the global warming problem has been slow. Because of this apathy, if the population of the planet were to immediately discontinue polluting the air with carbon dioxide emissions, climate changes would still continue long into the future. Humans are creating a planet that will experience major climactic changes in the near future, a shameful circumstance.
Essentially, the greenhouse effect functions in the following manner. When sunlight pierces the atmosphere and hits the earth’s surface, not all of the sun’s solar energy is absorbed. Approximately a third of it is reflected back into space. Specific atmospheric gases serve in much the same way as does the glass of a greenhouse, thus the terminology. These gases allow sunlight to penetrate then trap some of the solar energy which heats the earth (Breuer, 1980).
It is a delicate balance and because these greenhouse gases have been artificially augmented by man-made sources, more build up in the atmosphere has occurred thus trapping more of the sun’s energy and reflecting less back in to space. This occurrence is causing the earth to warm. It is vitally important that the people of the world realize that we have set in motion an experiment on planet Earth which we cannot simply turn off because we finally realized the dire consequences. If we injure the planet in this selfish, cataclysmic method, we kill future generations of humankind. Agriculture activity, land masses and the very air we breathe will suffer a radical change from the effects of global warming.
The projected rate of climate change is very alarming to many scientists but not as much to politicians as this topic isn’t as high on the political agenda as some others. It seems to me that the world leaders have no sense of urgency about them regarding global warming. They place great importance on the popular items of the day such as education, crime, economics and war so as to be reelected but if they don’t address this issue, there will be nothing to politicize in the future as we will have no future.
Effect on Ecosystem
The scientific community agrees that global temperatures are rising due to the burning of fossil fuels which are damaging the protective atmospheric Ozone layer by changing its composition. Human pollution is changing the climate of our earth and has increased global warming in the past half century. The effects are being felt worldwide, not just in the U.S. where most of the CO2 emissions are generated. (Boles, 2005).
In the UK., for example, four of the five warmest years for more than three centuries have occurred in the last 10 years. Scientists predict that in 50 years, annual temperatures in the south east of England could be at least three degrees (Fahrenheit) warmer, on average, than they are now (Climate Crisis 2000). Global warming is further evidenced by the well-documented melting of glaciers along with thermal expansion of the oceans, which have contributed to an increase in sea level over the past century of about six inches in that country. (Trenberth 1997).
One would have to wonder what enormous problems this will cause not only to people and property but to the health of the global economy as a whole. Entire sections of various countries will be forced to abandon their homes and businesses. The process will be a slow and torturous one. Scientists also worry about the effects of a changing climate on the Gulf Stream, a massive ocean current which acts to warm the continent of Europe. “Ocean currents transport large amounts of heat around the world: climatologists call it thermohaline circulation (THC)” (Climate Crisis 2000).
If it slows down or moves further south as a result of Greenland melting, Europe could end up with a climate more like that of present-day Greenland. A BBC-produced television program documented recently that Greenland is in fact melting at an alarming rate providing photographic evidence taken in the 1970’s in contrast to photographs taken in the present day.
Effect on Land
The movie An Inconvenient Truth, former Vice President Al Gore systematically describes the perils to civilization potentially caused by global warming. (An Inconvenient Truth, 2006) “The recent surge in land-based ice melting is alarming because of the implications for global sea levels. Land-based ice is ice propped up above sea level. If it melts, the runoff increases sea levels, if a big chunk of land ice were to melt, world sea levels could rise by up to 20 feet” (Beyerstein, 2006).
Gore displays a series of maps simulating the effect such a sea level rise on coastal cities in several low-lying regions of the world. Sea levels would rise by another 20 feet if a chunk of Greenland melted. If sea levels rose by 20 to 40 feet, rain patterns would radically change and flooding would inundate many regions while others experienced droughts on an unprecedented scale. “With Katrina’s devastating effects on the Gulf Coast fresh in our memories, Gore notes that we’ve seen the effects of 200,000 refugees and to then imagine the effects of a hundred million” (Chutry Experiment, 2006).
Gore then demonstrates that rising water levels and the massive human misery it would cause is not the worst effect of melting ice. As Greenland melts, cold water mixes into the warm Gulf Stream currents in the Atlantic which acts to keep Europe warmer than other regions of a similar latitude. If this warmer current turns cold, as it would if half of Greenland melted, a present-day ice age would envelope all of Europe. “Rising temperatures also give rise to more violent storms by increasing evaporation from the seas” (Fitts, 2006).
Effect on Peoples Lives
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is the most prevalent of the greenhouse gases. Trees absorb CO2 and when they die, CO2 is restored to the atmosphere. The clearing of forests by mass burning, which is happening at a phenomenal rate in the tropical rain forests, is decreasing the amount of CO2 that is absorbed and increasing the amount that is added to the atmosphere. CO2 supplies about half of the total gases that create the greenhouse effect (Breuer, 1980).
Although deforestation is contributing heavily to the excess of CO2 in the atmosphere, a larger portion is caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal. Fossil fuels are burned by factories, vehicles and electricity-producing power plants to name a few sources. The vast majority of this excessive fuel consumption and its poisonous, pollutant and greenhouse-enhancing byproducts are located in the U.S., Europe and Russia (Breuer, 1980).
Other greenhouse gases include methane, which is released when vegetation is burned during land clearing, during oil exploration activities and the coal-mining process; chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which is the substance that cools refrigerators and provides the propulsion in aerosol cans and nitrous oxide (N2O) which is the lesser cause of CO2 (Breuer, 1980). It is generated from both man-made and natural processes. It is estimated that man-made influences represents about half of the CO2 output.
Studies have been conducted by the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) have demonstrated that the past decade has been the warmest on record. At first thought, especially during the cold winter months, a little warming wouldn’t seem to be such a bad thing. Several varieties of fruits and vegetables could be produced in northern climates that today only grow in warmer climates. Warmer seas are likely to be attractive to more species of fish to the colder habitats as well. This is not to mention additional tourist currency to what would be the warm, sandy beaches of Canada or England (Climate Crisis 2000).
However, as in everything, there is a downside and in this case, one of horrific proportions. Studies in the UK have found that warming could increase rainfall by more than 20 percent during the winter by the 2080’s and decrease it by the same amount during summer months in the southern half of that country. This would cause severe droughts in some regions but areas such as East Anglia, a very low-lying region on the east coast of England, could very well be under water altogether.
The opponents to the regulation of greenhouse emissions have claimed this action would be too costly to business therefore hurt the economy. Auto companies in particular lobby against regulating automobile emissions claiming that it is not economically feasible for them. This is simply untrue because countries such as Japan, Korea and China have much stricter emission standards than the U.S. yet these country’s car sales are up while U.S. automakers are down.
The economic consequence of doing nothing is far greater than solving the problem through legislation. If ‘we’ choose not to do anything or to insist a problem does not exist, there will cease to be a ‘we’ as weather patterns become overtly hostile and air, water and food supplies will either become non-existent or too poisonous to sustain life. If the earth cannot sustain human life, the automakers will not make any money. Maybe that is an argument they can understand.
“An Inconvenient Truth.” Al Gore. Lawrence Bender Productions. (2006).
Breuer, Georg. “Air in Danger: Ecological Perspectives of the Atmosphere.” New York: Cambridge University Press. (1980).
Boles, Tracey and Orange, Richard. “Where Do You Get Your Energy From?: Latest on Alternative Liquid Fuels.” The Business. (2005).
Beyerstein, Lindsay. “An Inconvenient Truth: Review.” Magikthese. (2006). Web.
(The) Chutry Experiment. “An Inconvenient Truth.” (2006). Web.
“Climate Crisis: All Change in the UK?” BBC News. (2000). Web.
Fitts, Catherine Austin. “The Source of Hopelessness.” Solari, Inc. (2006). Web.
Miller, G. Tyler. “Living in the Environment: An Introduction to Environmental Science.” Belmont: Wadsworth. (1990).
Trenberth, Kevin E. “Global Warming: It’s Happening.” National Center for Atmospheric Research. (1997). Web.