General Biology. Greenhouse Effect & Human Impact

Introduction

The greenhouse effect is a term that describes an increase of the average global temperature and is often associated with global warming which is the subject of great debate and concern worldwide. Greenhouse gasses are predominantly man-made. People are the cause but their collective acknowledgement of the global warming problem has been slow. Because of this apathy, if the population of the planet were to immediately discontinue polluting the air with carbon dioxide emissions, climate changes would still continue long into the future. Humans are creating a planet that will experience major climactic changes in the near future, a shameful circumstance.

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Main Text

Essentially, the greenhouse effect functions in the following manner. When sunlight pierces the atmosphere and hits the earth’s surface, not all of the sun’s solar energy is absorbed. It is a delicate balance and because these greenhouse gases have been artificially augmented by man-made sources, more build up in the atmosphere has occurred thus trapping more of the sun’s energy and reflecting less back in to space. This occurrence is causing the earth to warm. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is the most prevalent of the greenhouse gases. Although deforestation is contributing heavily to the excess of CO2 in the atmosphere, a larger portion is caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal. Fossil fuels are burned by factories, vehicles and electricity-producing power plants to name a few sources. The vast majority of this excessive fuel consumption and its poisonous, pollutant and greenhouse-enhancing byproducts are located in the U.S., Europe and Russia (Breuer, 1980).

It is estimated that man-made influences represents about half of the CO2 output. The rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere are becoming increasingly disconcerting. “The concentrations of CO2 in the air around 1860 before the effects of industrialization were felt, is assumed to have been about 290 parts per million (ppm). In the hundred years and more since then, the concentration has increased by about 10 percent” (Breuer, 1980, p. 67). Eighty percent of the world’s population accounts for just 35 percent of CO2 emissions while the United States and Soviet Union combined are responsible for generating half. Worldwide, “carbon dioxide emissions are increasing by four percent a year.” (Miller, 1990, p. 450).

The scientific community agrees that global temperatures are rising due to the burning of fossil fuels which are damaging the protective atmospheric Ozone layer by changing its composition. Human pollution is changing the climate of our earth and has increased global warming in the past half century. The effects are being felt worldwide, not just in the U.S. where most of the CO2 emissions are generated. In the UK., for example, four of the five warmest years for more than three centuries have occurred in the last 10 years. Scientists predict that in 50 years, annual temperatures in the south east of England could be at least three degrees (Fahrenheit) warmer, on average, than they are now (Climate Crisis 2000). Global warming is further evidenced by the well-documented melting of glaciers along with thermal expansion of the oceans, which have contributed to an increase in sea level over the past century of about six inches in that country.

The film by Al Gore An Inconvenient Truth is pointed directly at citizens and politicians of the U.S. who, for reasons unknown to Gore and the rest of the civilized world, are either unaware or deny global warming exists except in the mind of liberal environmentalists. To this end, Gore attacks the misconceptions perpetrated by large corporations such as oil and auto companies which believe they will be the losers if limits to CO2 emissions are legislated in the U.S. According to their propaganda, the planet’s climate is experiencing a normal cycle of change. Television commercials in the U.S. distributed by the oil and gas companies demonstrate how CO2 is an essential component of the economy and an integral element of the cycle of life itself and therefore should not be regulated. “Gore debunks the wishful thinking that all of this climate change is simply cyclical and will cure itself” (Goldstein, 2006). Gore further argues that new industries that supply solar, nuclear, wind and battery power will replace any jobs lost by the old pollution producing industries and likely produce more. The economy will be enhanced by aggressively pursuing alternate energy sources rather than destroyed.

Some particular facts in the movie have been disputed but no credible evidence exists that denies global warming is happening and most sources from all political leanings applaud the intention if not the complete accuracy of the movie. However, the message is compelling and designed to inspire the public into playing a more active role on the global warming issue by pressuring politicians and taking steps themselves to reduce CO2 emissions. “Gore doesn’t let anyone off the hook when it comes to the global-warming crisis. Whether it’s driving a hybrid car, using solar power, buying more efficient appliances, planting trees, or conserving energy overall, he makes an impassioned plea for everyone, everywhere, to play a part in protecting the earth’s endangered atmosphere” (Goldstein, 2006). Gore shows that the nations that produce the most energy efficient autos also sell the most cars and suggests that if U.S. auto makers followed suit, their profits would rise, not fall as they claim. Gore concludes his appeal by asking “Are we as Americans capable of doing great things though they are difficult?” He then uses historical references to show that the country has a track record of such accomplishments. Americans “formed a nation, fought a revolution and brought something new to this earth, a free nation guaranteeing individual liberty” (“An Inconvenient Truth”, 2006).

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In 1997, the Kyoto Treaty, which has now been signed by more than 160 countries, is, to date, the most comprehensive global effort to decrease CO2 emissions. Though the agreement was signed by the U.S. and then President Clinton consented to decrease greenhouse emissions in the U.S. by 40 percent, it has been dismissed by the Bush administration and has yet to be ratified by the U.S. CO2 greenhouse gases have since increased in the country that produces well more than any other (Melinin, 2005). Unfortunately, the country that causes the most harm is lead by a person that seems to have ‘cause the most harm’ as his calling card. The solution to automobile emissions may lie in alternative fuels. Promising future alternatives to crude oil, vegetable oil can be substituted for diesel fuel while ethanol is an effective petrol additive. Brazil began converting to ethanol in the 1970’s and today does not import a drop of oil. Britain and other countries of Western Europe are following suit. Iceland is already well on its way to becoming the first nation to generate its power needs by means of hydrogen fuel-cells and France is leading the way in building nuclear power plants (“Alternatives to Oil”, 2002).

The projected rate of climate change is very alarming to many scientists but not as much to politicians as this topic isn’t as high on the political agenda as some others. World leaders, outside of the U.S. have demonstrated a sense of urgency about them regarding global warming. The U.S. is lagging behind in not only addressing the problem but the technology involved in this growing alternative energy market as well. The consequences are devastating the economy of the U.S. and more importantly, the future of the world.

Works Cited

“Alternatives to Oil.” Disposable Planet? BBC News UK. (2002). Web.

“An Inconvenient Truth.” Al Gore. Lawrence Bender Productions. (2006).

Breuer, Georg. “Air in Danger: Ecological Perspectives of the Atmosphere.” New York: Cambridge University Press. (1980).

“Climate Crisis: All Change in the UK?” BBC News. (2000). Web.

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Goldstein, Gary. “An Inconvenient Truth.” Reel.com. (2006). Web.

Malinin, Sergei. “USA, China and India Outlaw Kyoto Protocol and Set Forth New Climate Change Initiative.” Pravda. (2005).

Miller, G. Tyler. “Living in the Environment: An Introduction to Environmental Science.” Belmont: Wadsworth. (1990).

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