Climate Change and Global Warming

With television commercials for hybrid vehicles, and constant news coverage on global warming, it seems our awareness of climate change is growing. And the sudden increase in hurricanes, tornadoes, and winter storms leaves little doubt that human activity has affected the Earth’s atmosphere. But despite our growing awareness of global warming, there is still a great deal of misunderstanding surrounding climate change.

Everyone has heard the term, "greenhouse gases", but what exactly does this term mean? This term refers to certain atmospheric gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, tropospheric ozone, and chlorofluorocarbons, which trap the sun’s heat and energy within the Earth’s atmosphere. Normally, when energy from the sun strikes the Earth’s surface, a large portion of this energy is radiated back into space. But greenhouse gases effectively trap this excess energy and reflect it back to Earth (1).

But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Greenhouse gases are one of the qualities which make Earth habitable for life; without them, Earth would become an arctic wasteland. But an excess of these greenhouse gases can cause global warming and changes in Earth’s climate. According to the EPA website for climate change, it is an "unequivocal" fact that humans have caused an increase in the global levels of greenhouse gases. It is also a fact that the average temperature on Earth has risen 1 to 1.7 °F from 1906 to 2005 (2).

However, keep in mind that the Earth has experienced multiple climate changes in its history.
Global Warming
Although the average global temperature is higher than it has been in thousands of years, the Earth’s temperature has been much higher in the distant past, long before humans began burning fossil fuels. The question then becomes: to what extent are we causing global warming? As the EPA’s website points out, it is very likely that human activity is causing global warming; however, it is not known with absolute certainty to what extent we are contributing to global warming (2).

However, it is certain that our current energy program is not sustainable. The supply of non-renewable fossil fuels such as coal and gasoline are not infinite. What are needed are sources of renewable energy, such as wind, solar, hydrogen, hydropower, and geothermal energy. These forms of renewable energy are also good sources of clean energy, meaning they do not produce greenhouse gases. Only by replacing fossil fuels with renewable forms of clean energy can we stem the tide of global warming (3).


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