Global Warming & Climate Change:
The term global warming is a reference to a gradually increasing trend in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere. Depending on one’s perspective, the roots of this problem can be dated back to the beginning of the industrial revolution, around the mid to late 1700’s, when humanity first began using fossil fuels for large-scale industry. And although there are skeptics, it is generally accepted that during the time period following the industrial revolution, the progress of global warming began to grow at a historically unprecedented rate. In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us that it is ‘extremely likely’ that human activity, in the form of the burning of fossil fuels, is the predominant cause of global warming. Some of the specific human activities that have an influence on climate change include our means of transportation, (the gasoline and oil that we burn), the cutting down of our forests, as well as our agricultural practices, just to name a few. In order to understand how these factors effect climate change, let’s start by discussing a basic concept referred to by scientists as the greenhouse effect.
What are greenhouse gases?
The gases ammonia, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane gas, and a class of gases collectively known as the chlorofluorocarbons, are referred to as the greenhouse gases. Together they produce the effect referred to by scientists as the greenhouse effect. To state it in its most simplest terms, the greenhouse effect is like a blanket. In the same way that you might cover yourself up with a blanket to stay warm, the greenhouse gases are like a blanket for our planet. They wrap around the Earth and retain the sun’s energy in our atmosphere, holding in the heat. In this important way, the greenhouse effect is a natural part of our environment, and critical for making life possible. Without the greenhouse effect, the warmth provided by the sun would just bounce off the surface of the planet and radiate away into outer space, leaving our world far too cold for life to exist. We depend on the greenhouse effect for our very lives.
“Global warming has many effects on climate change, including the melting of ice caps, glaciers, as well as rising sea levels, just to name a few.”
The greenhouse effect and global warming.
On the other hand, when human activities add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, like carbon monoxide and methane, this naturally occurring greenhouse effect is increased too much… And this is the result that scientists refer to as global warming. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is extremely likely that human activity became the dominant cause of global warming following the industrial revolution. And of the aforementioned human activities contributing to global warming, the extracting and burning of fossil fuels is considered by many to be the principal cause. In fact, NASA estimates that humans have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration by more than a third since the Industrial Revolution began, mostly as a result of the burning of fossil fuels. A global effort and initiative towards low-carbon renewable energy is the most critical aspect in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.
Deforestation is what occurs when large strands of trees are cut down to make room for urban development, industrial development, or to make room for agricultural needs, such as grazing cattle or growing crops. You might be thinking that while the razing of our forests sounds like a terrible thing, but yet wondering,- how does deforestation contribute to global warming? The answer is that trees absorb carbon dioxide, mitigating and partially offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions produced by burning fossil fuels. Scientists refer to this as “carbon sequestration,” and it is defined as the capture and storage of excess carbon dioxide. Since trees play an important role in carbon sequestration, we refer to our forests as “carbon sinks” because they remove and store harmful carbon dioxide. Tropical trees by themselves are estimated to provide a large share of the climate mitigation that’s needed to offset climate change. But the process of deforestation not only removes the vegetation we need, but the act of clearing forests by burning them down actually does the opposite,- by releasing the stored carbon dioxide. The smoke from burning trees contains carbon that has been stored inside the trees for years. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations tells us that deforestation is the second-leading cause of climate change.
“Global warming contributes to the drying out of vegetation, resulting in forest fires, desertification, and loss of habitat and biodiversity.”
Agriculture is the largest single cause of deforestation that there is, with the most significant drivers being soy plantations, palm oil, and cattle ranching. And while this deforestation is occurring on a ongoing basis to make room for crops, as well as to make room for animals to graze, there are a number of additional ways that modern agricultural practices contribute to global warming. For example, the the fertilizers used on crops emit the greenhouse gas, methane. Furthermore, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the animal agriculture sector, which includes the production of feed crops for animals, the manufacturing of fertilizer, as well as the shipment of meat, eggs, and milk, is a primary contributor of green house gas emissions. This includes methane emissions directly from the livestock, carbon emissions resulting from the transport, as well as decay of the organic waste, including manure used as fertilizer.
As you may be seeing already, the issues involved with global warming are intertwined and very complex,- forever linked with the challenges of providing transportation for, and feeding, an ever-growing human population. Global warming has a multi-faceted relationship with our actions and our environment, beginning with each of us as individuals, and extending to our cities and states, our nations, and the world, finally resulting in a multitude of different effects on climate change. These symptoms and effects include an impact on both rainfall and weather patterns, including extreme weather events ranging from heat waves, to droughts, to forest and brush fires, to hurricanes, the melting of ice caps and glaciers, and the rising of sea levels, just to name a few. Solving the global warming problem by replacing fossil fuels with clean energy, and improving our agricultural practices are arguably some of the most daunting challenges the human race has ever faced. But yet, what are the answers? Are they all here, right before our eyes? Please explore this website and the links provided to learn more.
“The Food and Agriculture Organization tells us that deforestation is a leading cause of climate change, with some of the most significant drivers being soy plantations, palm oil, and cattle ranching.”
References & Resources:
Established by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to assess available scientific, technical, and socio-economic information in the field of climate change. Links to full-text papers, meeting schedule, speeches and press releases, and an information center offering data viewed as statistics, graphically, and by map.
Vital Signs of the Planet: Global Climate Change and Global Warming. Current news and data streams about global warming and climate change. This NASA website is based on the evidence, causes, effects, and solutions of climate change.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger and improve nutrition and food security.
The greenhouse effect is a process that occurs when gases in Earth’s atmosphere trap the Sun’s heat. This process makes Earth much warmer than it would be without an atmosphere. The greenhouse effect is one of the things that makes Earth a comfortable place to live.
Gases that trap heat in the atmosphere are called greenhouse gases. This section provides information on emissions and removals of the main greenhouse gases to and from the atmosphere.
Key points, articles, pros and cons, and resources regarding climate change.
Reports on the science of climate change, its impacts and possible mitigation strategies. Collection of indicators, reports, links, data sets and targets on climate change.
Discover how researchers study climate change; examine the latest scientific data on this global problem. From the US National Science Foundation.
A directory of descriptions of data sets of relevance to global change research. The GCMD database covers climate change, agriculture, the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and oceans, geology, geography, and human dimensions of global change.
Online newsletter concerning issues on and about the UN’s convention on long term weather change. Page includes list of meetings and the background behind the Kyoto Protocol.
Scientific research, links, educational resources, U.S. national assessment of the potential consequences of climate variability and change.