What is Global Warming?

What is Global Warming?

Photo Credit: Mountains

Earth from Space

Our world is getting warmer. . .

And based on the measurements that we have available to us since record keeping first began in 1880’s, the facts seem to bear this conclusion out. This is the trend is what we are referring to when we use the phrase ‘global warming.’ The term ‘global warming’ is defined as the gradually increasing trend in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere. In searching for the roots of this problem, we can trace it 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.

Historians inform us that the main features of the Industrial Revolution involved the use of new basic materials, such as iron and steel, as well as the first wide-spread use of new energy sources, including coal, petroleum, and most importantly, the internal-combustion engine. These energy sources, coupled with a new organization we know as the ‘factory system’, enabled a whole new world of specialization and mass production. These technological changes are just a few of the things that made possible a tremendously increased use of our natural resources and the resulting mass production of manufactured goods.

The Release of Greenhouse Gases

But the burning of fossil fuels, harvested from deep inside the earth, resulted in the release of what scientists call ‘greenhouse gases’ into the atmosphere. And it is generally accepted today that the time period following the industrial revolution is when the progress of global warming began to grow at a historically unprecedented rate. These gases trap in the warmth provided by the sun, and as a result cause surface and air temperatures to increase. 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.

Photo Credit: Glacier Bay

Dawes Glacier

The Warming Trend

This warming trend is something that scientists have known about for a long time. Even when the industrial revolution was just a baby, long before computers existed, the basics of global warming and the greenhouse effect were figured out and described by chemist Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish scientist and eventual Nobel Prize winner. Arrhenius estimated the effect of industrial activity and the burning of fossil fuels on global temperature, but if anything, he may have underestimated how much warming would take place.

Here are the numbers that we have available for us today:- According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the earth’s combined land and ocean temperature has increased at an average rate of 0.13 degrees Fahrenheit ( 0.08 degrees Celsius) per decade since 1880. In addition, the average rate of increase after 1981 has more than doubled to 0.32°F (0.18°C ) per decade.

What are the Primary Causes?

Some of the specific human activities that have an influence on global warming? Our means of transportation, (the gasoline and oil that we burn in our automobiles), the cutting down of our forests, and our agricultural practices, just to name a few. In order to understand how these factors effect climate change, let’s take a closer look at them, starting with the greenhouse gases and the concept called the greenhouse effect..

Photo Credit: Polar Bear

Mojave Desert

Forest Fire

Next up: What are greenhouse gases?