When one starts a car or burns wood, the last thought on their mind is the consequences to these actions. Unfortunately, the daily dangers to earth are not widely know. Due to the constant change of society, this planet must cope with various problems. One of the most important ecological structures is the ozone layer. The same shield that protects us from the sun's deadly radiation, can also act as a blanket engulfing us in heat. This situation is know as the greenhouse effect. What is the greenhouse effect, what causes it, and what can be done to control it?
The problem of global warming has been around for some time now. Though not until recently has it become a priority. So important, that figures such as Vice President Al Gore have spoken out. Many are realizing that the greenhouse effect is not something to be put aside, yet rather something to be worked on and studied. "The greenhouse effect displays that nature is not immune to our presence" (Kralijic, 1992). Ways must be found to lessen the threat of this growing crisis. If this effect were to continue and grow, the earth's population would be exposed to serious threats.
Carbon dioxide is essential for plants who use it for photosynthesis, yet too much can lead to serious threats. The problem lies in the disruption of the balance between how much carbon dioxide plants intake, and what our population produces. If this natural filtering process is unbalanced, the atmosphere will receive too much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Once these gases form in the atmosphere, they act as barriers trapping in heat and warming the earth.
This process is not new. In fact, without the greenhouse effect, the average surface temperature of the earth would be about 59 Fahrenheit degrees lower than it is today. "Long before civilization intervened , the thin blanket of gases that surround the earth was efficiently trapping a tiny portion of the sun's heat and keeping it near the surface to warm up the air just enough to prevent temperatures from plunging to frigid extremes every night- which, of course, is exactly what happens on the moon and on planets like Mars that have very thin atmospheres" (Gore, 1992).
The greenhouse effect received its name because the atmosphere of the earth acts much like the glass roof on a greenhouse. Sunlight enters the greenhouse through the glass as it heats up the plants. Then, the warmth is trapped as the glass slows the withdraw of heat. Similarly, the earth's atmosphere lets most of the sun's light enter and heat the surface. The earth then sends this energy, called Infrared Radiation, back into the atmosphere (showed in the diagram on page 7). This is when the actual effect takes place. Not all of the Infrared Radiation is sent freely into space. Certain gases in the atmosphere absorb it and send it back toward earth. Such gases are Carbon Dioxide, Ozone, and water vapor. As stated earlier, this process becoming more important. Due to the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas, carbon dioxide is increasing thus increasing the amplitude of the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect would have disastrous on this planet's population. "Climate changes will threaten agriculture and our food supply, probably eliminating the Great Plains or prairies of North America as a region in which crops may be grown, for example. Also, melting of parts of the Antarctic ice sheet will cause flooding of coastal cities such as London , New York, Beijing, Amsterdam, St. John's, Halifax, Vancouver , even Montreal and of entire countries, such as Bangladesh" (Johnson, 1990). The greenhouse effect is not limited to certain countries or states. The entire world will suffer if it is allowed to grow. "Some scientists think that from the late 1990's to the late 2000's the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could double. If this doubling were to occur, it would intensify the greenhouse effect and result in an increase of 2.7 to 11 Fahrenheit degrees (1.5 to 6 Celsius degrees) in the earth's average temperature" (Gille, 1988). The results are real and quite intense. The outlook is not good.
Something must be done quickly to slow the growth of the greenhouse effect. It is not a hopeless situation. "Reverse your oxygen debt. The less fuel you burn and the more oxygen-producing plants you grow, the more you will add oxygen to the atmosphere and lower your output of greenhouse gases" (British Columbia Medical Association, 1990). Solar power also plays a part in this. Although just recently taking hold, solar power could greatly lessen the output of the greenhouse gases as could hydroelectric power could. Besides different power sources, many companies are producing environment safe products and even air cleaners. It may be a nuisance, but it is possible to lessen the greenhouse effect.
The issue of the greenhouse effect is not seriously taken by many people. If it doesn't jump out in front of their faces or directly and immediately concern them, they pay no attention. If we do not take action,
Gille, J. (1988). Greenhouse effect. World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago, IL: Scott Fetzer company.
Gorder, C. (1991). Green Earth Resource Guide. Tempe, AZ: Blue Bird Publishing.
Gore, A. (1992). Earth in the Balance. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Hammond, Scully, Mast, & Powell. (1991). Environmental Almanac. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Johnson, G. (1990). Environmental Tips on how you can save this planet. Calgary, Alberta: Detselig Enterprises.
Kralijic, M. (1992). The Greenhouse Effect. New York, NY: The H.W. Wilson Company.