Global warming, by definition is the increase in the earth’s ocean and near surface temperatures. In the last several decades, there have been numerous debates regarding global warming. The vast majority of the scientific community now agrees that global warming is caused by the increase in greenhouse gasses, but there is an ongoing debate on whether the increase is due to human activity or from natural sources, such as volcanoes and forest fires. The controversy gained a lot of public attention in 2005 when politician and former Vice President Al Gore created a documentary titled An Inconvenient Truth. The documentary was a compilation of scientific research, theories, and facts – all colorfully illustrated – that served to blame human activity as the culprit of global warming. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) created the Kyoto Protocol in response to the threats associated with global warming (Hawkins 1). The Kyoto Protocol is an agreement among industrialized nations whom have pledged to reduce their annual emission of greenhouse gasses. The protocol currently consists of over 160 nations representing over 55% of the world’s greenhouse gases. Ironically, the United States , the biggest contributor of greenhouse gases, accounts for 20.6% of the worlds greenhouse gases, and has not signed the protocol (Clemmit). Our nation’s political leaders are at a debate on whether money should be spent in order to decelerate or prevent global warming. George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States , and most of the Republican Party members do not believe it is necessary to spend money in an effort to combat global warming (Clemmit 4). Barack Obama, the President of the United States acknowledges the problem, and has created the Clean Energy Act. The Clean Energy Act serves to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel over the course of the next 15 years through government spending. However, much of the original funding intended for the recovery act has been cut to meet other demands. Other governments, including New Zealand , have imposed a tax on carbon emissions to encourage the use of renewable and/or lower emission technologies (Clemmit 5).
What is more important, cheap energy or sustaining human life for the next 100+ years? Global warming is no longer fiction; scientific studies have proved that the earth’s climate is under going a period of rapid change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims that the average global temperature has increased by 0.74°C since the mid-20th century and predicts that it will continue to rise by another 1.1°C to 6.4°C by the end of the 21st century (Lynas, 1). Our high dependence on fossil fuels as a source of energy has raised the atmospheric content of greenhouses gases to levels which are higher than almost any point in history. These gasses serve as a powerful insulator, and contain excess heat within our atmosphere. An overall warmer climate disrupts the ecosystem and causes disastrous impacts to take place. One of the most prominent dangers associated with global warming is the melting of the polar ice caps (Hansen 2). These enormous blocks of ice that serve as a habitat for many species of wildlife creatures are quickly melting into the ocean. The devastating impact this has on human life is that it sea levels are rising, and if not controlled, it will submerge large costal portions of the earths landmass which are currently occupied by humans. Rainfall patterns are also rapidly changing, causing droughts in some areas and flooding in others. Agriculture production will be greatly effected if these weather patterns intensify. Relatively speaking, global warming is still in its early stages, and changes can be made to prevent further disastrous impacts from occurring. Most of the greenhouse gasses emitted into our atmosphere are from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum and natural gas. However, there are also clean technologies in use today that do not emit these dangerous gasses into the atmosphere. Increasing the prevalence of clean energy technologies from renewable energy sources and from nuclear fuels would help to restore greenhouse gasses to their normal levels. Most scientists believe in the tipping point theory, which is a set point in time at which global warming will act on itself and will increase exponentially. Projections vary as to when this event will occur, but the commonality exists that it this set point, global warming will be unstoppable and irreversible. Global warming needs to be dealt with by way of intervention as soon as possible. Global warming is the result of human activity, and action must be taken in order to prevent a series of catastrophic events that would forever change life as we know it.
Global Warming exists because of something called the greenhouse effect. Under normal conditions, the greenhouse effect is what makes life sustainable by keeping the earth within a constant range of temperatures (Gore). Essentially what happens is our sun emits solar radiation in the form of light rays, which strike the earth and cause the temperature to rise. After being absorbed by the earth, some of the solar radiation escapes out into space and some of it is trapped by the atmosphere and is reused to produce more heat. The atmosphere serves as an insulator to keep the earth warm at night when the sun is down. However, the problem we are experiencing with global warming is that the earth’s atmospheric insulator has become too efficient, and retains more heat than necessary, causing the earth’s temperature to rise. Researchers have identified that there is a direct relationship between the earth’s temperature and the presence of greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere. Higher levels of greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, correlate to an overall hotter global climate (Bushnell 25). Humans are directly responsible for global warming because nearly every aspect of our lives involves the emission of these dangerous greenhouses (Bushnell 25). Carbon dioxide concentration has remained at a near constant level at 280 parts per million, but in the last century, that number has reached 381 parts per million. Coal, petroleum and natural gas are all examples of widely used fossil fuels that release greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere (Clemmit 2). Consequently these fossil fuels are used everyday to meet our power, heating and transportation needs. Passenger vehicles account for about 20% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Deforestation has also contributed towards higher greenhouse gas levels and global warming because plants naturally reduce carbon dioxide through a process called photosynthesis. Conventional methods of directly measuring greenhouse gas levels began in 1958 and the data collected has indicated a steady upward rise each succeeding year (Gore). Other alternative methods of measuring greenhouse gas levels, such as analyzing tree rings or the content of glacial ice samples, indicate that the current greenhouse gas levels are at the highest they have been over the last 750,000 years (Clemmit 2).
Global Warming will disrupt the ecosystem and can lead to devastating consequences. There are already undesirable effects occurring in our environment due to the mere 0.74°C temperature increase. Current visual evidence of global warming include: fast-melting glaciers and ice sheets, rising sea levels, the earlier bloom of plants, the destruction of animal habitats, and the interruption of migratory bird patterns (Ralston 822). Warmer temperatures have also played havoc with the earth’s weather patterns. “Snowfall and snowmelt patterns are changing and rainfall patterns may also be unstable, threatening fresh water supplies in vulnerable regions” (Ralston 827). Other regions will experience the opposite effect and will receive continual rainfall with reoccurring floods. From the results based on two different studies, warmer ocean temperatures have doubled the amount of category 4 and 5 tropical storms (Kluger 6). One deadly concern that many people overlook or underestimate are positive feedback loops, which can cause environmental changes to occur at exponential rates (Kluger 2). According Dr. James E. Hansen, the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and former President George W. Bush’s top climate modeler, states, “[a] satellite study of the Greenland ice cap shows that it is melting far faster than scientists had feared – twice as much ice is going into the sea as it was five years ago” (Hansen 1). Hansen also states “I think sea-level rise is going to be the big issue soon, more even than warming itself” (Hansen 2). The Greenland ice sheet is composed of enough water to raise the sea level by 20 feet, and if entirely melted it would submerge an estimated 20,000 square miles of land, including most of Bangladesh, The Netherlands and the State of Florida (Gore). According to British Politician Tony Blair, if the sea level were to rise by 20 feet, then a new map would need to be drawn (Blair qtd. in Gore). Nearly 1.2 billion people would lose their homes in this event (Gore). Likewise, millions of polar animals, who depended on the ice sheets, would struggle for life, and those species who could not adapt would become extinct. The Gulf Stream is a natural ocean current that moves warm water through the Atlantic Ocean and gives the continent of Europe a warmer climate. If enough of the polar ice caps and glaciers were to melt, the Gulf Stream would become diluted by freshwater and would fail to operate. This event could create a year-round freezing climate which would completely seize agricultural production, and would make certain countries in Europe nearly uninhabitable (Kluger 4).
Preventing Global Warming will require a series of changes in order to maintain a similar lifestyle to the one we are accustomed too. According to Hansen, we have to stabilize carbon emissions by the year 2016, before inexorable changes take place. In order to accomplish this, we need to act immediately and use the technologies we have. Our focus needs to be on energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy that do not burn carbon (Hansen 2). The majority of greenhouse gasses are created from the burning carbon fossil fuels to meet human energy needs. The first step in combating global warming is by using energy more efficiently, and there-by reducing the total amount needed. Everything we use in our daily lives can be made to work at a higher efficiency so that it uses less energy. Some examples include a sub-zero refrigerator, heat reflective windows or hybrid automobiles. The next step in preventing global warming is by replacing carbon emitting forms of power generation for clean forms. Current renewable energy sources include sunlight, wind, rain, and tides which are harnessed through photovoltaics, windmills, and hydroelectric turbines (Bushnell 26). Renewable energy is currently used throughout the world, and accounts for about 5% of the world’s total energy demands. It is inevitable that someday the earth will eventually be depleted of all finite sources of fuel, and at that point, human life will only be sustainable through the use of renewable energy sources. Unfortunately, switching to renewable sources of energy as the sole provider of energy is not a feasible immediate solution because of technological and financial barriers (Clemmit 17). Another form of power generation that does not contribute to global warming is Nuclear power and it currently accounts for 15% of the world’s power. Nuclear power requires the consumption of radioactive elements such as uranium and plutonium, which are non- renewable, finite resources like fossil fuels (Bushnell 26). However, unlike fossil fuels, power derived from nuclear fuels does not create greenhouse gasses. Increasing the prevalence of both nuclear power and renewable will decrease, and may eventually put a stop to global warming.
Not everybody is convinced that human activity is the blame for global warming. Some argue that global warming is a naturally occurring phenomenon and hold their own theories (Clemmit 5). One argument is that the increase in greenhouse gasses is from natural sources. Active volcanoes both under water and on land are emit a variety of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere similar to the burning of fossil fuels. Many of the greenhouses gasses released from volcanoes are the same as those that are emitted from burning fossil fuels including methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide (Bushnell 25). When released into the atmosphere, they are said to create the same greenhouse effect that is already widely accepted. However, there is also a variety of different substances released into the atmosphere by Volcanoes such as s ulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride. Volcanoes also emit microscopic particles including dust and ash into the atmosphere which may further insulate the earth. This is known as the haze effect because as sunlight passes through the particles, they reflect a different spectrum of light and can temporarily turn the sky’s color to a bright red color. Much of the vapor released by volcanoes has a higher acidic content than the normal atmosphere. Some advocates believe that this level of acidity can burn holes in the atmosphere which allows dangerous forms of solar radiation to enter our atmosphere including gamma rays and cosmic rays. All of these different theories about volcanoes as a contributor to global warming are false. The amount of greenhouse gasses emitted by volcanoes is a miniscule amount in comparison to the amount caused by human activity. According to NASA scientist Dennis Bushnell, the amount of Carbon Dioxide we are releasing into the atmosphere is 100 times greater than from volcanoes (Bushnell 25). The theory that volcanoes acidic vapors released from volcanoes are putting holes in our atmosphere is also a hoax. The acidic vapor emitted from factories is also a greater quantity then from volcanoes. Finally, the haze effect which is believed to insulate the earth and heat it up actually does just the opposite – it actually cools the earth. The bright red color that fills the sky resembles fire, and fools people into thinking the earth is hotter.
Another counterargument against global warming is the validity of scientific predictions. Almost all the predictions about global warming are made through computer simulations (Bushnell 25). The computer simulations rely on the input of future greenhouse gas expectations, which itself is an estimation based on predicted energy requirements. Many global warming skeptics believe that future estimates on the effects of global warming are greatly exaggerated. They also believe that these numbers may be intentionally skewed to capture the media’s attention. There are several reasons that disprove this counterargument. People fail to understand the power of positive feedback loops. A positive feedback loop will cause global warming to increase at an exponential rate (Hansen 1). Relatively speaking, the earth is still in the early stages of global warming. Changes have occurred very slowly and most people have not personally noticed them. People think that the future will hold the same results but they are dead wrong. Positive feedback loops will cause temperatures to rise by a greater amount for every succeeding interval of time. It is also important to note that Global warming projections are just that, and they will never be 100% accurate. This is why scientists create a range of values when making a prediction. For example, the IPCC believes that the earths average temperature will increase anywhere between 1.1°C to 6.4°C by the end of the 21st century (Lynas 1). They take a lot of consideration into account when making such predictions. The low end of the spectrum may represent a prediction that a drastic change would to take place such as a ban on all carbon fuel sources.
Mankind is responsible for the onset of global warming, and it is our responsibility as humans to make the right choices to avert future consequences on our ecosystem. Fossil fuels are burned each day, which releases more and more harmful greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere. The atmospheric levels of these greenhouse gases are at their highest concentration levels in the last 750,000 years (Clemmit 2). These gases over-exaggerate the earth’s natural greenhouse effect and cause the earth’s temperature to rise. Rising temperatures lead to potential devastating effects in our ecosystem. The glaciers and polar ice caps are melting, which disrupts life for the animals that depend on these habitats. Melting is also raising the sea level, and if uncontrolled, large amounts of human-inhabited landmasses will become submerged. The potential amount of damage that can occur if the ice caps were to fully melt is almost unthinkable as the ice caps contain enough water to raise sea levels by a staggering 20 feet (Gore). Abnormal precipitation patterns further threaten animal habitats, especially in dry regions where fresh water is already scarce. Global warming Small increases in technology do very little to combat global warming because industrialization and the demand for energy are increasing at a faster rate. Global warming is mainly caused because of an imbalance of greenhouse gases. Up to a certain point, the effects caused by global warming are reversible as long as the greenhouse gases are brought back down to their normal levels. Most of the greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere are released from the burning of fossil fuels for their energy. However, clean forms of energy generation exist and switching to them will help to bring greenhouse gasses down to their appropriate levels. Scientists argue that is important that we act now, because at a certain point global warming may become unstoppable. Global warming will forever be a problem until humans decide to take responsibility for their actions.
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