In January 200l the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of scientific experts assembled by the United Nations, released a frightening report on the potential consequences of the climate phenomenon known as global warming. The panel found that the 1990s had been the warmest decade on record and predicted that temperatures will rise anywhere from 2.5 to 10.4 degrees around the world over the next century, causing changes to global weather patterns. Indeed, unusual and frequently destructive weather had been occurring around the globe: twenty-seven inches of rain in one day in Hilo, Hawaii; an unheard-of thunderstorm in Barrow, Alaska; a huge ice storm in Atlanta, Georgia; massive floods in Europe; and an unprecedented high temperature of eighty-two degrees Fahrenheit in Iqaluit, a town in the Canadian Arctic. If these new weather patterns continue, the panel warned, the whole world could be facing a devastating environmental catastrophe resulting in massive floods, rising seas that wipe out coastal communities, rampant epidemics, millions of people left homeless, plant and animal extinctions on an unprecedented scale, and widespread starvation. What Causes Global Warming?
Approximately two-thirds of the energy earth receives from the sun is absorbed by land masses and oceans and is then released into the atmosphere as warm, long-wave radiation. The atmosphere of earth is full of so-called greenhouse gases such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, ozone, methane, and nitrous oxide that act like a blanket, trapping some of the heat radiating from the land and oceans and preventing too much energy from escaping into space. The gas blanket works in much the same way as the glass panels of a greenhouse, serving to trap energy and keep temperatures at a steady level. The trapped heat keeps earth at a comfortable average temperature of about sixty-three degrees Fahrenheit. This process is known as the greenhouse effect. Without the protection of the...
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