Greenhouse Effect

The importance of the greenhouse effect was just conceived in the mid-twentieth century. “For billions of years, cosmic forces shaped Earth, and land and air coevolved at an almost inconceivably slow pace to create a climate in which human beings and other creatures could flourish.” (Franscesca Lyman). Now, for the first time, humanity has the power to change the global climate. By releasing the huge amounts of carbon stored in fossil fuels over millions of years, we are distorting the natural carbon cycle. We are intensifying the natural greenhouse effect and turning it into a “planetary menace” when it actually makes human life possible. Thus, the German climatologist Wilfred Bach writes, “The carbon-dioxide problem becomes a central question for the co-existence of humans and the survival of mankind.” If we do not deal with our problems now, such as global warming, the consequences will amplify and the consequences could mean our health, our life, our future. Could we, as humans, mend what we have destroyed? From the words of J.Stephen Bottum, “Constructive action begins with an understanding of what’s causing the problem and what each of us can do about it.” The greenhouse effect has been described by Vice President Al Gore as the potentially most dangerous environmental problem facing mankind, with consequences second only to nuclear war (The Greenhouse Trap). The greenhouse effect can be visualized as follows: Imagine the Earth has been encircled by a giant glass sphere. The heat penetrates through the glass. Some of the heat is absorbed by the Earth and some is radiated back towards space. The radiated heat reaches the glass sphere and is prevented from dispersing any further. Similarly, the Earth is surrounded by a blanket of gas which traps energy in the atmosphere. This results in the overall warming of the atmosphere. “For two hundred years we’ve been conquering nature. Now we’re beating it up,” says Tom McMillan. The greenhouse occurs naturally, but when humans put more greenhouse gases (carbon, methane, water vapor, and, nitrous oxide) and pollutants in the air the natural balance is off set. Since the beginning of industrialization, two hundred years ago, the gases have risen substantially, mainly from fossil fuels. This has produced a reduction in environmental quality and an increase in global warming. It is estimated that the Earth’s average temperature has risen by five tenths to six tenths degrees Celsius since the 1880’s because of emissions of greenhouse gases from human activity (America Online). Although, this temperature increase may not seem like much, over the years it will make a considerable difference in the way we live. With further increases, the consequences of global warming could very well include the eradication of the entire ecosystems, increased frequency and intensity of storms, hurricanes, floods, and droughts. It could also cause melting of glaciers and polar ice which would cause rising sea levels resulting in the permanent flooding of vast areas of heavily populated lands and the creation of hundreds of millions of environmental refugees. Finally, global warming could result in an increased frequency of forest fires, spread of tropical diseases due to insect proliferation and diseases such as skin cancer caused by the sun’s rays. All of this together will cost billions of dollars. If we act now, we can dampen the damages caused by our warming world. Over time, public awareness of the threat to their lives and the environment. This heightened public awareness set in motion legislative actions such as the Clean Air Act passed in 1963. This act has been considerably successful and the air is thought to be cleaner than it was thirty years ago. Also, in September of 1987, four nations signed the “Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer,” which calls for CFC consumption to be cut in half by 1999. Today, there are 28 nations signed to it. In June of 1988, at in international conference in Toronto, “The Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Warming Society,” the Prime Minister Of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtana, called for a global convention on the greenhouse effect. The conference statement requested a twenty percent cut of carbon dioxide emissions by 2005. Other measurements such as projects like “Topex”, a topographic experiment, have helped us to learn