Global Warming: its Causes and its Real Impact on the Earth

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Updated: Mar 01, 2019
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The steadily increasing temperature of our planet’s atmosphere is dubbed as global warming. Global warming has been a subject of much political and social controversy in recent years because of arguments questioning its legitimacy. When the facts of the arguments are seen in context, the relevance becomes apparent. The data clearly indicates that global warming is taking place and that it is caused by people. The anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases negatively impacts the environment in which we live causing an increase in global temperature, resulting in higher sea levels, record-breaking heatwaves and storms, depletion of food sources, and habitat destruction (including our own).

Global Warming, essentially a key factor of climate change, is a complex occurrence that is not caused by a single event or a certain type of events. This being the case, skeptics have undermined the validity of scientific arguments supporting the increase of global temperatures. These critics argue based upon their own beliefs, experiences, and ignorance. However, scientist cannot contend against them in a clear way because science is not a set of facts, it is a study (Mesarovic S260). One can argue that because researchers do not know the all-inclusive factors and details, they do not know anything. The goal of this paper is to demonstrate the evidence for global warming, its causes, and impact.

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In terms of what causes this warming, the components are divided into two categories. Global Warming is best attributed to the anthropogenic (human caused) and natural factors that influence it. Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, such as coal burning, and vehicular transit increase the temperature of the surface of the Earth. However, this fact alone is insufficient to attribute anthropogenic emissions to the warming observed in recent decades. There may be other natural processes relevant, such as volcanic eruptions, decomposition, and geysers (Baum et al 396). And though these two categories are very dissimilar to each other, they bring about the same contributors to the global warming effect. To fully grasp how these warming contributors are formed, further explanation will be needed to explain what warming is.

Warming, in its scientific sense, is the greenhouse effect and the increased temperatures associated with its occurrence. The climate of the earth is constrained by rudimentary principles, such as balance of energy, flow of energy, and its conservation. Rasmus Benestad, a Norwegian Climatologist, states that The starting point for the conceptual model is the energy flow through the solar system, being generated inside the sun, intercepted by the planets, and flowing through the planetary system before escaping back to space (Benestad 680). In laymen’s terms, the rays from the sun are filtered by the atmosphere, and infrared rays pass through only to reflect after reaching the surface of the Earth. However, the increased presence of greenhouse gases such as water vapor, methane, and carbon dioxide cause the atmosphere to increase in temperature in that given area. The reason for this is because these gases absorb the reflected rays, and then release them in various directions. This consistent trapping and release of infrared rays back into the atmosphere is the greenhouse effect. This is what is happening in our current environment, however this was not always as concerning as it is now. Understanding the current climate and current claims of global warming causes scientists to revisit the past.

A little over a century ago, the contents of the atmosphere were different. Before the industrial revolution, Oxygen and Nitrogen Dioxide were the main stable constituents of the atmosphere. The global atmospheric concentration of Carbon Dioxide was a mere 280ppm (parts per million), however, the current Carbon Dioxide levels are at 400ppm and growing- this difference in ppm has led to a 0.8° increase in global temperature (Mesarovic S262). This increase is mainly accredited to human activities and coincided with the 19th century’s pervasive industrialization period. Since that time, and in the past three decades, rapid industrialization has occurred across the developing world. And with this increase comes the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases. With this information in mind, one can assume that developed countries such as the United States and Europe have higher rates of absorption in the atmosphere. This can be caused by the mass usage of coal plants for energy and vehicle usage (Allison and Neidell 93). However, the population size of a country is also a large contributor to the release of greenhouse gases. A country such as India requires less energy usage per capita, but more energy usage as a country due to its high density. Though we only assume that these gases are produced by transit and electricity generation, there are more ways for these three gases to enter the atmosphere- anthropogenically and naturally.

Methane (CH4) can enter the atmosphere through combusting waste and decomposing waste (Xiaoyun et al 3090). The problem with waste is that it takes an immense amount of energy to relocate and dispose of. The relocation requires large machines which are filled with petroleum, and the disposal consists mainly of combustion and landfills. The rate at which methane is produced by a landfill methane is determined by a number of factors such as waste components, moisture content, temperature, pH and microbial biomass (Xiaoyun et al 3092). The decomposition of garbage and its burning at landfill sites is a major producer of methane. Of course, logic supports that places with higher population densities generate more waste, thus generating more methane from combustion and decomposition by microbes.

Water vapor is the largest greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, and though it may seem harmless to think of evaporated water in the air, it is best to think of it as shower steam in the sky. It develops during the evaporation process of the water cycle, in which it is held in the atmosphere for some time. Water vapor creates a dense layer of humid air above where it has been carried. Because this vapor is so prevalent, it can affect the Earth’s average temperature significantly- though not alone. Khandekar, et al states that the presence of water vapor in the atmosphere produces a greenhouse effect, making the earth-atmosphere system warm and comfortable enough for animal and plant life. This infers the idea that water vapor in the atmosphere alone is not such a drastic influencer of warming. However, when partnered with Carbon Dioxide’s influence, water vapor has a very potent effect on temperature. Water vapor increases the temperature change that is initially caused by excessive Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere. It serves to amplify the warming effect through humidity, and with more Carbon content comes more heat, causing higher evaporation and precipitation quantities in a given time frame. Furthermore, water vapor does not regulate the Earth’s temperature, but is instead controlled by the temperature. The increase in temperature caused by carbon dioxide results in an accelerated water cycle and a noticeable increase in humidity. However, water vapor does not necessarily have only negative consequences. Water vapor forms clouds- clouds reflect the sun’s radiation due to an albedo effect, thus cooling Earth’s surface (Baum, Seth et al. 397).

Carbon Dioxide is what one may call a keystone factor in the warming of the planet, or the driving force behind it (Banks 43). It is naturally occurring through the release of stored gases and is a part of a natural planetary process called the carbon cycle. In the past, ironically, there was a general understanding that the absorption of radiation by water vapor was so strong that the absorption by carbon dioxide was considered insignificant (Khandekar, et al. 1562). However, in the current times CO2 has a major impact on atmospheric temperatures. Although water vapor is the most prevalent GHG, Carbon Dioxide is the reason why water vapor tends to create a more humid environment. Of course, there are more potent GHGs on the list, but Carbon Dioxide displays its strength through its quantity and concentration in the air-and not to forget its steadily increasing emission. Carbon is released anthropogenically from the burning of fossil fuels (coal and crude oil) to power our society through power plants and industrial activity (Larr, 93). This compound alone has led to an 0.8 increase in less than half a century, which serves to reason why it is the most common greenhouse gas to hear of.

Though Carbon Dioxide has a significant impact on the environment, there are places where the GHG is returned to. These natural reservoirs act as storage for the GHGs. For CO2, the largest sink is the ocean and a secondary sink being photosynthesis (in which plants absorb Carbon Dioxide) (Mesarovic S262). Skeptics of global warming may argue that these reserves are major reasons why the Earth’s temperature cannot be rising unnaturally. However, the sinks for CO2 can only take in 54 percent of the atmospheric concentrations being released today (Banks 51). There is also the destruction of the photosynthesis sink due to deforestation occurring across the world. Deforestation is linked with increased atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and changes to the surface energy and mass balances that can lead to local and global climate changes (Longobardi, Patrick et al. 1). And at the rate at which we are steadily increasing emissions, we might soon be affected by the consequences of the increasing temperatures.

Excessive greenhouse gas output is an unnatural action, and it is man-made. With that being said, it is inherent that the Earth’s natural activities cannot keep pace with human innovation and emission. Therefore, we have rising temperatures which lead to a barrage of consequences. Baum, Seth et al notes that the Antarctic Peninsula, home to the northernmost fringes of WAIS, is undergoing perhaps the largest increase in temperature of any location on the planet. One can conclude that the melting of the polar ice of the WAIS (West Antarctic Ice Shelf) would bring an increase to sea levels around the globe, resulting in coastal withdrawal and inland migration. The next consequence would be the increase in rapid weather and temperatures on more local scales. Miodrag Mesoravic cites that The IPCC claims that changes in many extreme weather and climate events observed since 1950 including an increase in warm temperature extremes have been mainly linked to human influences. This century is identified with a number of extreme weather events that are expected to be observed in the 21st century at an increased frequency. Increased occurrences of some extreme weather events such as frequent heavy rainfall, hot summer spells, increased continental summer drying and associated drought risk (Khandekar, M. et al. 1579). Another result of warming is the introduction of diseases in various parts of the world where such diseases are in the low percentiles. In Texas for instance, there has been a growth in the number of Ebola, chikungunya, West Nile, and Zika virus infections (Hotez 1). Hotez states that among US states, Texas is disproportionately at risk to global warming and by some estimates, Texas is projected to reach 80-100 days over 95 F by the 2050s, compared to approximately 40 such days over the last 30 years. Of relevance and concern are the warming effects leading to the expansion and transmission of insect vectors, which could alter the current distribution of mosquito, sandfly, flea and kissing bug (Hotez 3). And a final consequence would be the yield of crops in relation to the growing temperatures, making agriculture increasingly difficult (Rtter, R. et al 166). One could argue that we are leading ourselves into a corner. As the population increases to reach its carrying capacity, we would need an increase in urban land usage, agricultural lands, and additional resources. However, the emissions of GHGs would increase by this era, and temperatures would soar fairly high- likely high enough to cause conditionally arid biomes. The severe weather caused by warming would most likely limit the yields of food production for an increasingly growing world (Rtter, R. et al 169).

Global Warming is not a myth, and if not prevented, can lead to the downfall of all that humanity has built to sustain itself. Severe weather, soaring temperatures, droughts, and disease can lead to an irreversible regression of sustainability. From decades ago it has been known that greenhouse gas concentrations of Methane, water vapor, and Carbon Dioxide play a major part in the temperature of the atmosphere. Since humanity’s industrialization, we have increased Carbon dioxide emissions enough to raise the entire world’s temperature by 0.8 degrees. And though I have only mentioned humanity a multitude of times, there is much more at stake in relation to all of Earth’s inhabitants. Plants, animals, and humans deserve to coexist without extinction. Within the near future, we should consider starting an innovation era in which more environment- friendly sources are used to supply power and industry. However, we cannot continue to emit excessive GHGs without expecting ourselves to push the limits of world-sustainability and placing the environment in which our futures thrive, at risk.

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