Global warming occurs when the levels of greenhouse gasses rise and less infrared light, or heat, escapes the earth's atmosphere. Thus, the temperature experienced on Earth begins to rise. Climate change is a part of the Earth's history. There have been dramatic fluctuations in overall average temperature for the past 150,000 years that suggest a direct association with carbon dioxide levels.
In the past the temperature highs and lows have been in tandem with carbon dioxide level highs and lows, this does not seem to be a mere coincidence. Carbon dioxide currently accounts for 0.03% of the gas content within the atmosphere. However, it has a disproportionate impact on the earth's temperature. Thus, minor fluctuations in the percentage of atmospheric carbon dioxide will likely have a significant effect on the global temperature. The percentage of atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen over the past century at an alarming rate.
Industrial civilization is essentially driven by fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gasoline, all major contributors to the rise in carbon dioxide emissions. Deforestation also releases carbon dioxide via burning of plant life, and exposing the soil to sunlight. Also, since trees are a major factor in the natural processing of carbon dioxide, needing it to make up their mass, when trees are cut down they can no longer serve to absorb carbon dioxide. (Watanabe, 1995)
Our practices are altering the environment and endangering society in return. Carbon dioxide is put into the atmosphere in many ways; some of which are naturally occurring and others are from human activity. Over 95% of the carbon dioxide emissions are from natural sources, and would occur even if humans were not on Earth. However, Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, due to the cyclic nature of the carbon cycle, would change little if not for human activities that produce so much every year.
The present addition of 3% annually to emissions is enough to throw off the balancing effect of the carbon cycle. The result is a build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is currently at about a third higher than pre-industrial levels worldwide. Throughout the last century our world, reshaped by dams, irrigation, logging and so forth, has seen drastic human population growth. Resulting technologies produced an industrial age that transformed the land, sky, waters, and distribution of the biota of the worlds' nations. The engines and power plants, which evolved from this historical transformation of science and technology, threaten our stability.
A reshaped environment presents a new set of possibilities for cultural reproduction, thus setting up a new cycle of mutual determination. The root of the problem is the historical separation of man from nature. The consumption patterns and lifestyles of the U.S. people clearly indicate our cultural values have shifted far from our perception of our dependence upon the health of ecosystems. Destruction of the ozone layer is predicted to increase the incidence of skin cancer, damage crops and the marine food web, and to lead to an increase in carbon dioxide, possibly stimulating global warming by decreasing the number of absorbers; trees, plankton, etc. (Adamson,2002)
The prospects of future generations being born into a world affected by human-induced warming seem probable unless we act pro-actively as an international community to examine how we contribute to global warming on an individual basis, and correct it. The future of earth's climate is in the hands of humans. With simple measures we, as inhabitants of this planet, can not seal our fate in rising temperatures, but rather we must change our views completely. We must take responsibility for our home. We have but one Earth, one chance.
Adamson, S. and A. Sagar (2002). "Managing climate risks using a tradable contingent security approach." Energy Policy 30(1): 43-51.
Watanabe, C., "Mitigating Global Warming By Substituting Technology For Energy - MITI's Efforts and New Approach" Energy Policy Vol. 23, No. 4-5 (1995): 447-461.