October 10, 2011
In order to understand the issue of global warming (also referred to as climate change), you must first understand what it means and how it happens. Global warming is a result of a process known as the greenhouse effect, in which the light and heat from the sun are trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere by greenhouse gases; which subsequently raises the average temperature on Earth. The greenhouse gases responsible for this process are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and tropospheric ozone, all of which are released into the atmosphere through naturally occurring processes (Warrick, R. & Farmer, G., 1990). As the global air and water temperatures rise, snow and icecaps melt leading to rising sea levels and the warmer water temperatures spawn more powerful tropical storms (hurricanes, tsunamis, etc.). Although global warming is a natural process and has been occurring since Earth’s creation, scientists have noticed a significant increase in the average temperature on Earth since the beginning of industrialization and a subsequently increasing use of fossil fuels. The greatest debate surrounding the issue of global warming is whether human activity is responsible for the rapidly increasing temperature of Earth’s atmosphere and whether there is anything we can do to change it. The Human Factor
In 1896, it was discovered by Svante Arrhenius that humans could alter the greenhouse effect with the release of excess carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide is the most important of the greenhouse gases in terms of trapping heat and causing global climate change, therefore, the slightest alteration could have a short term effect on temperature. Since Arrhenius’s discovery, there have been various scientists who have discovered in what ways human activities impact the greenhouse effect and the subsequent climate on Earth (Uppenbrink, J., 1996). Before the Industrial Revolution, the main causes of human related greenhouse gas releases was related to agriculture, the keeping of livestock, and the burning of biomass; the overall impact was relatively low due to stagnant population growth. Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have discovered ways to improve their quality of life with the use of various natural resources, including quadrupling the use of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) (Turk, J. & Bensel, T., 2011). Since the late 19th century, the average temperature on Earth’s surface has increased by 0.74 degrees Celsius, with the ten warmest years having occurred since 1995 (Easterling, D. & Karl, T., 2008). As the population has increased, our dependence on Earth’s natural resources has also grown, including the use of fossil fuels. Oil, natural gas, and coal are heavily relied on for the production of energy to be used for residential, commercial, and industrial purposes, as well as transportation; the burning of these fuels, along with the burning of biomass (trees, leaves, etc.) and solid waste, as well as some chemical processes, produce greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere. These human-related activities have led to the levels of carbon molecules in our atmosphere to reach 387 parts per million, a startling jump from 280 parts per million during pre-industry times (Turk, J. & Bensel, T., 2011). Electricity production is the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. One of the ways in which the Environmental Protection Agency is attempting to curb these emissions from this source is to use an energy rating system, called the ENERGY STAR program. Under this program, new major appliances (refrigerators, air conditioners, washers, etc.) are rated according to their energy efficiency and their overall environmental impact. Then when they are presented for...