Is the temperature rising or is it just us? One of the most highly debated topics in today’s society is global warming. Are we humans destroying the Earth we live on without knowing its devastating effects or is it the inevitable? Some say that the burden we put on the Earth is causing a rise in the greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide emissions. Others argue that global warming is naturally occurring or it truly does not exist. How can something not exist when all the evidence points to it? Recent studies have shown that an increase in carbon dioxide concentrations and other greenhouse gases caused by human activity is warming up the planet. Researchers and scientists have been studying the climate changes from the late 1950s up till today and no findings have pointed towards anything but humans causing this disaster.
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A way to define global warming is through the Greenhouse Effect. The process starts with the solar radiation to the Earth’s surface which absorbs the rays and heats up the surface. Since the Earth does not absorb all the radiation from the sun, it is simply reflected off its surface back into space. It is here where the problem occurs. When the rays reflect off the Earth’s surface they are not leaving the lower atmosphere due to greenhouse gases and other emissions. This causes the infrared rays to stay inside the Earth’s atmosphere and cause the temperature to rise. When an infrared ray strikes a molecule like carbon dioxide or a greenhouse gas it causes the bond to vibrate and it gains kinetic energy. Now that this molecule has more kinetic energy, it can transfer it to one of the two major gases in the atmosphere, oxygen and nitrogen. When the gases receive this extra energy it causes a general heating of the atmosphere. The diagram on the next page depicts how the process works.
FIGURE 1: The Greenhouse Effect
In the late 1950s, researchers carefully studied the amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. At that time, scientists agreed that the amount of carbon dioxide in parts per million was 315. Now today in 2008, that parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is about 385. What caused this increase of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases? Human activities such as fossil fuel burning, cement, production, and deforestation caused this increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. How do we know that these numbers are accurate? Scientists can measure the amount of greenhouse gases in from bubbles of air that were naturally preserved in ice in Antarctica and Greenland dating back to more than 650,000 years ago. The amount of carbon dioxide concentrations in the last 400,000 years had a cyclical pattern. The amounts would rise to just about 300 parts per million and decrease to about 200 parts per million in a 100,000 year time frame then rise again. Just recently the parts per million have skyrocketed. Today that number of parts per million is still increasing and is almost at 400. Why is it now that this number has increased rapidly? The population today of the entire world is booming to more than six billion people. In the United States the population is currently more than 300,000,000. No more than twenty years ago the population in 1990 was around 249,000,000. In that little of time the population grew more than 50,000,000. Now think of all the countries in the world. The population is putting the Earth at risk and this is why the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are increasing.
Another argument that proves the global is heating up is evidence from the I.P.C.C. (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Last year the I.P.C.C. published a six year long study on the science of global warming and picked up the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts. (Monastersky) The I.P.C.C. has gathered information from nine different global using land stations. Each of these land stations cover large regions and record the surface temperature. Each land station from around 1950 has shown an increase of land temperature from 0°C to 0.4°C. Overall, in the last century the Earth’s surface temperature has increased by 1.3°F. (Schneider) Even though this is the tiniest increase it still effects how the Earth emits radiation. The hotter the temperature of the Earth’s surface gets the more it needs to emit the radiation. This causes a problem because the greenhouse gases and other molecules are reflecting the rays back to the Earth and are staying in the atmosphere, once again causing a rise in temperature.
Figure 2: Global Temperature Time Series
The figure above shows the Earth’s surface temperature in nine different locations
Now that the evidence proves the Earth’s surface is heating up and the atmosphere is being ruined by carbon dioxide emissions, how can we prove that humans are doing this? In a recent study from Purdue University, they named the U.S.A.’s top cities for carbon dioxide emissions. A few of the top cities were Los Angeles, Chicago, Pennsylvania Carbon County, and Indiana County. From the image below, the key shows that levels with red or brown areas are top producers of carbon dioxide emissions. What makes these areas red? Studies show that the reason is the burning of fossil fuels. Examples of fossil fuels are coal, oil, and natural gas. These three sources of energy play a huge role in the world because they are used everyday in excessive amounts. When fossil fuels are burned or used they produce carbon dioxide emissions.
Figure 3: Top Carbon Dioxide Emitters in the United States
The figure above shows areas in the United States that emit carbon dioxide. The areas that emit the most are shown in red or brown.
The Earth can only absorb so much of these emissions that eventually it cannot anymore and it causes excessive amounts in the atmosphere. How do humans burn fossil fuels? Everyday activities like driving a car, using an aerosol can, working at a factory, and working at power plants. Each of these burn fossil fuels and destroys the atmosphere. Think of how many cars are on the road right now driving and burning gas. The amount of the carbon emissions coming form vehicles is overwhelming and is causing this change in climate. Finally, car manufacturers are realizing that this is becoming a huge epidemic and they are now producing hybrid vehicles and more gas efficient vehicles. Factories and power plants produce a ridiculous amount of pollution each day that is doing irreversible damage to the Earth.
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An argument against global warming is that it is naturally occurring. This is a possibility because no expert or researcher has completely understood the Earth’s cycle of ice ages and warm periods. There is a slight possibly that this could be just one of the Earth’s warm periods. Evidence proves otherwise. According to researchers it is nearly impossible to explain this climate change without external force. This means that something other than a natural cause is a factor in the climate change. Another counterargument against global warming is that the rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are from the ocean. When researchers studied the oceans, they saw that levels of the carbon dioxide in the ocean were high like the amount in the atmosphere. If the ocean was emitting carbon dioxide then the levels in the ocean would be lower.
With all the evidence, it is clear that humans are contributing to global warming. This has only become a problem now because our economy is going as well as our population. Fifty years ago, the economy was not even close to being as advanced and big as it is today. Our population is still growing and we are only taking baby steps to fix this problem. If harsh action does not take place soon we will destroy the Earth forever. The warming of the oceans and atmosphere could trigger irreversible environmental changes in coming decades. (Monastersky)
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