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The Greenhouse Effect The greenhouse effect, as defined in the dictionary, is the effect produced as greenhouse gases allow incoming solar radiation to pass through the Earths atmosphere, but prevent most of the outgoing infrared radiation from the surface and lower atmosphere from escaping into outer space. Even though this process occurs naturally and has kept the Earths temperature about 60 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it would otherwise be, current life on Earth could not be sustained without the natural greenhouse effect. Weather stations, balloons, ocean buoys, and satellites tell us the Earth? s temperature today. Ice cores, sediment layers, and tree rings tell us about what the Earth? s climate has been like in the past.
With this evidence, scientists are learning how climate changes over time. Climate is the long-term average of a regions weather events lumped together. Climate change represents a change in these long-term weather patterns. They can become warmer or colder. Annual amounts of rainfall or snowfall can increase or decrease. Human activities are increasing greenhouse gas concentrations and trapping more heat.
The Earth? s climate is predicted to change due to the buildup of greenhouse gases; the associated rate of temperature change is mostly faster than any observed changes in the last 10, 000 years. Climatic changes could have adverse effects on ecological systems, human health, and socioeconomic sectors. Earth has warmed by about 1 f over the past 100 years. Scientists say the Earth could be getting warmer on its own, but many of the worlds leading scientists think that things people do are helping to make the Earth warmer. Scientists are sure about the green house effect.
They know that greenhouse gases make the Earth warmer by trapping energy in the atmosphere. Global warming refers to an average increase in the Earths temperature, which in turn causes changes in climate. A warmer Earth may lead to changes in rainfall patterns, a rise in sea level, and a wide range of impacts on plants, wildlife, and humans. When scientists talk about the issue of climate change, their concern is about global warming caused by human activities. Scientists know for certain that human activities are changing the composition of Earths atmosphere. Increasing levels of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times have been well documented.
There is no doubt this atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is largely the result of human activities. It is well accepted by scientists that greenhouse gases trap heat in the Earths atmosphere and tend to warm the planet. By increasing the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, human activities are strengthening Earths natural greenhouse effect. The key greenhouse gases emitted by human activities remain in the atmosphere for periods ranging from decades to centuries. A warming trend of about 1? F has been recorded since the late 19 th century.
Warming has occurred in both the northern and southern hemispheres, and over the oceans. Confirmation of 20 th-century global warming is further supportable by melting glaciers, decreased snow cover in the northern hemisphere, and even warming below ground. In the United States, approximately 6. 6 tons (almost 15, 000 pounds) of greenhouse gases are emitted per person every year. Most of these emissions, about 82 %, are from burning fossil fuels to generate electricity and power our cars. The remaining emissions are from methane from wastes in landfills, raising livestock, natural gas pipelines, and coal, as well as from industrial chemicals and other sources.
Once, all climate changes occurred naturally. However, during the Industrial Revolution, we began changing our climate and environment through changing agricultural and industrial practices. Before the Industrial Revolution, human activity released very few gases into the atmosphere, but now through population growth, fossil fuel burning, and deforestation, we are affecting the mixture of gases in the atmosphere. The U. S. presently emits more greenhouse gases per person than any other country.
Emissions also vary based on the state you live in. Several factors can affect the emissions per person in a state, for example, the types of fuel used to generate electricity, population and vehicle miles traveled, and whether fossil fuels are extracted or processed within the state. As an individual, you can affect the emissions of about 4, 800 pounds of carbon equivalent, or nearly 32 % of the total emissions per person, by the choices you make in three areas of your life. These areas are the electricity we use in our homes, the waste we produce, and personal transportation. The other 68 % of emissions are affected more by the types of industries in the U. S. , the types of offices we use, how our food is grown, and other factors.
The effects of global warming and a changing climate will not be felt equally across our planet. Regional climate changes will likely be very different from changes in the global average. Differences from region to region could be in both the magnitude and rate of climate change. Furthermore, not all things, whether they be natural ecosystems or human settlements, are equally susceptible to changes in climate.
And finally, nations vary in their ability to cope and adapt to global warming and a changing climate. Some nations will likely experience more effects than others, while other nations may benefit more than others. Poorer nations are generally more vulnerable to the consequences of global warming. These nations tend to be more dependent on climate-sensitive sectors, such as agriculture, and lack the resources to guard themselves against the changes that global warming may bring.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has identified Africa as the continent most vulnerable to the impacts of projected changes because widespread poverty limits adaptation capabilities. Average global temperature has increased by almost 1? F over the past century; scientists expect the average global temperature to increase an additional 2 to 6? F over the next one hundred years. This may not sound like much, but it could change the Earths climate as never before. At the peak of the last ice age (18, 000 years ago), the temperature was only 7?
F colder than it is today, and glaciers covered much of North America. Even a small increase in temperature over a long time can change the climate. When the climate changes, there may be big changes in the things that people depend on. These things include the level of the oceans and the places where we plant crops. They also include the air we breathe and the water we drink. Scientists dont know for sure what global warming will bring.
Some changes brought about by global warming will be good. If you live in a very cool climate, warmer temperatures might be welcome. Days and nights could be more comfortable and people in the area may be able to grow different and better crops than they could before. But it is also true that changes in some places will not be very good at all. Climate change may alter the worlds habitats and ecosystems? all living things are included in and depend on these places.
Many of these places rely on a delicate balance of rainfall, temperature, and type of soil. A rapid change in climate could upset this balance and seriously endanger many living things. Most past climate changes occurred slowly, allowing plants and animals to adapt to the new environment or move somewhere else. However, if future climate changes occur as rapidly as scientists predict, plants and animals may not be able to react quickly enough to survive.
The oceans ecosystems also could be affected for the same reasons. Even a small increase in temperature over a long time can change the climate. When the climate changes, there may be big changes in the things that people depend on. These things include the level of the oceans and the places where we plant crops. They also include the air we breathe and the water we drink. Sea level may rise as much as 2 feet during the next century.
This will effect both natural systems and man-made structures along coastlines. Coastal flooding could cause saltwater to flow into areas where salt is harmful, threatening plants and animals in those areas. For example, an increase in the salt content of the Delaware and Chesapeake bays is thought to have decreased the number of oysters able to live in those waters. Oceanfront property would be affected by flooding, and beach erosion could leave structures even more vulnerable to storm waves. Whether people move back from the water or build barricades in the face of a rising sea, it could cost billions of dollars to adapt to such change.
Coastal flooding also may reduce the quality of drinking water in coastal areas. Global warming may make the Earth warmer in cold places. People living in these places may have a chance to grow crops in new areas. But global warming also might bring droughts to other places where we grow crops. In some parts of the world, people may not have enough to eat because they cannot grow the food that they need. Climate change may affect peoples health both directly and indirectly.
For example, heat stress and other heat related health problems are caused directly by very warm temperatures and high humidity. Untreated, heat stress can be a very serious medical problem. Scientists suspect that, in many places, global warming will increase the number of very hot days that occur during the year. More hot days increases the possibility of heat related health problems. Indirectly, ecological disturbances, air pollution, changes in food and water supplies, and coastal flooding are all examples of possible impacts that might affect human health. How people and nature adapt to climate change will determine how seriously it impacts human health.
Some people and places are likely to be affected more than others. Generally, poor people and poor countries are less likely to have the money and resources they need to cope with preventing and treating health problems. Very young children and the elderly adults will run the highest risks. Gases in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide and methane trap the suns energy and warm the earth.
This natural greenhouse effect is intensified by human activities, especially the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Increased energy use in cars, homes, and factories raises the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The steady accumulation of these greenhouse gases can cause a variety of impacts on global climate. As the climate changes, natural systems may be destabilized, which could pose a number of risks to human health. In general, these risks affect whole populations rather than individuals or groups of people. Exactly how much risk is posed to human health by climate change is difficult to quantify in terms of numbers of increased deaths or illnesses.
For one thing, human populations differ in vulnerability. Factors such as crowding, food scarcity, poverty, and local environmental decline make populations in some developing countries especially vulnerable. Likewise, in industrialized countries, the demographic trend toward an aging population raises the health risks. Climatic changes may have wide-ranging effects on human health, via both direct and indirect pathways. Direct health effects include increases in heat-related mortality and illness resulting from expected increases in the intensity and duration of heat waves (although temperature increases should also result in fewer cold-related deaths). Deaths, injuries, psychological disorders, and exposure to chemical pollutants in water supplies could increase if extreme weather events, such as storms and floods, become more frequent.
Indirect effects include increases in the potential transmission of vector-borne infectious diseases caused by the extensions of ranges and seasons of some vector organisms and acceleration of the maturation of certain infectious parasites. Some increases in non-vector-borne infectious diseases could occur (especially in tropical and subtropical regions) because of climate impacts on water distribution, temperature, and microorganism proliferation. Climate-induced changes in pollens and spores and temperature increases that enhance the formation and persistence of certain air pollutants could result in increases in respiratory illnesses. Though still uncertain, the regional effects of climate change on agricultural, animal, and fisheries productivity could increase the local prevalence of hunger and malnutrition (particularly in developing countries). Finally, sea level rise could result in physical and demographic disruptions, with consequences for public health. Public health and medical professionals are focusing not only on the risks but also adaptive options to mitigate adverse impacts.
Adaptive options to minimize health impacts include improved and extended medical care services; enhanced disaster preparedness and relief, increased use of protective technology (air conditioning, water purification, vaccination, etc. ), public education directed at personal behaviors, and appropriate professional and research training. However, any technological adaptations such as use of pesticides to control disease-transmitting insects should also be assessed for potential health risks. In addition, improved and internationalize monitoring of health-risk indicators in relation to climate change are needed. Throughout the world, the prevalence of particular diseases and other threats to human health depend largely on local climate.
Extreme temperatures can directly cause the loss of life. Moreover, several serious diseases only appear in warm areas. Finally, warm temperatures can increase air and water pollution, which in turn harm human health. The most direct effect of climate change would be the impacts of hotter temperatures themselves. Extremely hot temperatures increase the number of people who die on a given day for many reasons: People with heart problems are vulnerable because one?
s cardiovascular system must work harder to keep the body cool during hot weather. Heat exhaustion and some respiratory problems increase. Higher air temperatures also increase the concentration of ozone at ground level. The natural layer of ozone in the upper atmosphere blocks harmful ultraviolet radiation from reaching the earth?
s surface; but in the lower atmosphere, ozone is a harmful pollutant. Ozone damages lung tissue, and causes particular problems for people with asthma and other lung diseases. Even modest exposure to ozone can cause healthy individuals to experience chest pains, nausea, and pulmonary congestion. In much of the nation, a warming of four degrees (F) could increase ozone concentrations by about 5 percent. Statistics on mortality and hospital admissions show that death rates increase during extremely hot days, particularly among very old and very young people living in cities.
In July 1995, a heat wave killed more than 700 people in the Chicago area alone. Studies based on these types of statistics estimate that in Atlanta, for example, even a warming of about two degrees (F) would increase heat-related deaths from 78 today to anywhere from 96 to 247 people per year. If people are able to install air conditioning and otherwise acclimatize themselves to the hotter temperatures, the lower estimate is more likely. Warmer temperatures may decrease the number of people who die each year from cold weather. However, in the United States, only 1000 people die from the cold each year, while twice that many die from the heat. Moreover, of the ten states with the greatest number of cold-related deaths, Alaska and Illinois are the only northern states.
For the most part, cold-related deaths occur during occasional cold spells in areas with mild winters where people prepare less for the cold, or during extreme events like the severe snow storm that struck Colorado in November of 1997. Global warming is unlikely to reduce either of these situations. Finally, deaths due to the heat are more sensitive to temperature changes than deaths due to the cold; the difference between - 20? F and - 15? F, for example, has a much smaller impact than an increase from 95? F to 100?
F. Global warming may also increase the risk of some infectious diseases, particularly those diseases that only appear in warm areas. Diseases that are spread by mosquitoes and other insects could become more prevalent if warmer temperatures enabled those insects to become established farther north; such vector-borne diseases include malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, and encephalitis. Some scientists believe that algal blooms could occur more frequently as temperatures warm, particularly in areas with polluted waters, in which case diseases such a cholera that tend to accompany algal blooms could become more frequent.
In spite of these risks, increased mortality is not an inevitable consequence of global warming. Malaria, for example, is rare in the United States even in warmer regions where the mosquito that transmits the disease is found, because this nation has the ability to rapidly identify and contain outbreaks when they appear. Heat-related deaths can be prevented by emergency measures to move vulnerable people to air-conditioned buildings, and by reducing the emissions of photochemical oxidants which cause ground-level ozone. Many of the impacts of climate change on health could be avoided through the maintenance of strong public health programs to monitor, quarantine, and treat the spread of infectious diseases and respond to other health emergencies as they occur. Although air-conditioning and public health programs may impose additional costs on the public and private sectors, they would often be preferable to the impacts on human health that would otherwise occur. Like many pioneer fields of research, the current state of global warming science cant always provide definitive answers to our questions.
There is certainty that human activities are rapidly adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and that these gases tend to warm our planet. This is the basis for concern about global warming. The fundamental scientific uncertainties are these: How much more warming will occur? How fast will this warming occur? And what are the potential adverse and beneficial effects?
These uncertainties will be with us for some time, perhaps decades. Global warming poses real risks. The exact nature of these risks remains uncertain. Ultimately, this is why we have to use our best judgement? guided by the current state of science? to determine what the most appropriate response to global warming should be.
Today, action is occurring at every level to reduce, to avoid, and to better understand the risks associated with climate change. Many cities and states across the country have prepared greenhouse gas inventories; and many are actively pursuing programs and policies that will result in greenhouse gas emission reductions. At the national level, the U. S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) coordinates the worlds most extensive research effort on climate change.
In addition, the Clinton Administration is actively engaging the private sector, states, and localities in partnerships based on a win-win philosophy and aimed at addressing the challenge of global warming while, at the same time, strengthening the economy. At the global level, countries around the world have expressed a firm commitment to strengthening international responses to the risks of climate change. The U. S.
is working to strengthen international action and broaden participation under the auspices of the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Did you realize that the computer you are using is contributing to global warming? So are the lights in the room. The hot water that you used for your last shower did, too. In fact, anything that uses energy derived from fossil fuels increases greenhouse gas emissions every time it is used.
Most electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels? coal, natural gas, and oil. These forms of non-renewable energy? meaning they have a limited supply? produce greenhouse gas pollutants as they are burned. Today, there are ways of generating electricity that do not cause pollution.
Improved technologies allow us to use sunlight, wind, water, biomass, and even the heat within the earth to make the electricity we use everyday. Because these resources are either continuously available (such as sunlight and wind), or are capable of replenishing their stocks (such as wood), they are called renewable energy sources. Generating electricity from renewable energy sources can result in substantial reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.
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