Gases & Global Warming
Greenhouse gases naturally blanket
the Earth and keep it about 33 degrees Celsius warmer than
it would be without these gases in the atmosphere. This is
called the "Greenhouse
Over the past century, the Earth has increased in
temperature by about .5 degrees Celsius and many scientists
believe this is because of an increase in concentration of
the main greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous
oxide, and fluorocarbons. People are now calling this
climate change over the past century the beginning of "Global Warming."
Fears are that if people keep producing such gases at
increasing rates, the results will be negative in nature,
such as more severe floods and droughts, increasing
prevalence of insects, sea levels rising, and Earth's
precipitation may be redistributed. These changes to the
environment will most likely cause negative effects on
society, such as lower health and decreasing economic
development. However, some scientists argue that the global
warming we are experiencing now is a natural phenomenon, and
is part of Earth's natural cycle. Presently, nobody can
prove if either theory is correct, but one thing is certain;
the world has been emitting greenhouse gases at extremely
high rates and has shown only small signs of reducing
emissions until the last few years. After the 1997 Kyoto
Protocol, the world has finally taken the first step in
The "greenhouse effect" is the
heating of the Earth due to the presence of greenhouse gases.
It is named this way because of a similar effect produced by
the glass panes of a greenhouse. Shorter-wavelength solar
radiation from the sun passes through Earth's atmosphere,
then is absorbed by the surface of the Earth, causing it to
warm. Part of the absorbed energy is then reradiated back
to the atmosphere as long wave infared radiation. Little of
this long wave radiation escapes back into space; the
radiation cannot pass through the greenhouse gases in the
atmosphere. The greenhouse gases selectively transmit the
infared waves, trapping some and allowing some to pass
through into space. The greenhouse gases absorb these waves
and reemits the waves downward, causing the lower atmosphere
help explain the process of global warming and how
greenhouse gases create the "greenhouse effect"
shows the distribution of GHG in Earth's atmosphere. Carbon
Dioxide is clearly the majority.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a
colorless, odorless non-flammable gas and is the most
prominent Greenhouse gas in Earth's atmosphere. It is
recycled through the atmosphere by the process
photosynthesis, which makes human life possible.
Photosynthesis is the process of green plants and other
organisms transforming light energy into chemical energy.
Light Energy is trapped and used to convert carbon dioxide,
water, and other minerals into oxygen and energy rich
organic compounds. (Encyclopaedia Britannica Volume 25)
Carbon Dioxide is emitted into the air as humans exhale,
burn fossil fuels for energy, and deforest the planet.
Every year humans add over 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide
in the atmosphere by these processes, and it is up thirty
percent since 1750 (www.envirolink.org/orgs/edf/sitemap.html).
An isolated test at Mauna Loa in Hawaii revealed more than a
12% (316 ppm in 1959 to 360 ppm in 1996) increase in mean
annual concentration of carbon dioxide. Mauna Loa, located
in Hawaii, is the worlds largest volcano at 40,000 cubic km
and 4,170 meters above sea level. (Encyclopedia Britannica
Volume 27) . Ice core samples have also shown a
dramatic increase in carbon dioxide levels. Drilling deep
into glaciers and polar ice caps and taking out samples of
ice, then melting the ice and capturing the gas has shown an
increase in carbon dioxide concentrations over the past 100
years. Ice core samples are essentially "drilling through
time", because the deeper the ice is, the older the ice is.
In 1996, carbon dioxide world emissions increased by
2.8%. The U.S. reported a 3.3% increase in CO2
concentrations. The U.S. continues to emit more than any
other country in the world, accounting for 25% of all
emissions. The European Union had an increase of 2.2%, much
larger than a small increase of 1.1% in 1995. Eastern
Europe had a decreasing rate of -2.4%. China's increase in
1996 was 4.7%.
Fossil Fuels were created chiefly by the decay of
plants from millions of years ago. We use coal, oil and
natural gas to generate electricity, heat our homes, power
our factories and run our cars. These fossil fuels contain
carbon, and when they are burned, they combine with oxygen,
forming carbon dioxide. The two atoms of oxygen add to the
total weight. The World Energy Council reported that global
carbon dioxide emissions from buring fossil fuels rose 12%
between 1990 and 1995. (www.eb.com:180) The increase from
developing countries was three times that from developed
countries. Middle East carbon dioxide emissions from burning
of fossil fuels increased 35%, Africa increased 12%, and
Eastern Europe increased rates by 75% from 1990-1995.
graph shows the increase of carbon dioxide in the air over
the past few centuries
samples and samples at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, reveal an increase
shows how CO2 is produced
contribute to CO2 in the atmosphere.
Deforestation is another main producer of carbon
dioxide. The causes of deforestation are logging for lumber,
pulpwood, and fuel wood. Also contributing to deforestation
are clearing new land for farming and pastures used for
animals such as cows. Forests and wooded areas are natural
carbon sinks. This means that as trees absorb carbon
dioxide, and release oxygen, carbon is being put into trees.
This process occurs naturally by photosynthesis, which
occurs less and less as we cut and burn down trees. As the
abundance of trees declines, less carbon dioxide can be
recycled. As we burn them down, carbon is released into the
air and the carbon bonds with oxygen to form carbon dioxide,
adding to the greenhouse effect. About 860 acres, the size
of Central Park in New York, is destroyed every 15 minutes
in the tropics.
Deforestation and Forest Fires contribute to an increase in
Rain Forest, which is in parts of Brazil, French Guiana,
Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama,
Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, is subjected to a
great deal of deforestation
Methane is a colorless, odorless,
flammable gas. It is formed when plants decay and where
there is very little air. It is often called swamp gas
because it is abundant around water and swamps. Bacteria
that breakdown organic matter in wetlands and bacteria that
are found in cows, sheep, goats, buffalo, termites, and
camels produce methane naturally. Since 1750, methane has
doubled, and could double again by 2050. Each year we add
350-500 million tons of methane to the air by raising
livestock, coal mining, drilling for oil and natural gas,
rice cultivation, and garbage sitting in landfills.(www.envirolink.org/orgs/edf/sitemap.html)
It stays in the atmosphere for only 10 years, but traps 20
times more heat than carbon dioxide.
on the rise since 1750
Rice cultivation has developed into a large business;
farmland has doubled in the past 45 years. It feeds 1/3 of the World's population. It grows mostly in
flooded fields, where bacteria in waterlogged soil releases
Livestock such as cows, sheep, goats, camels,
buffaloes, and termites release methane as well. Bacteria
in the gut of the animal break down food and convert some of
it to methane. When these animals belch, methane is released.
In one day, a cow can emit ½ pound of methane into the air.
Imagine 1.3 billion cattle each burping methane several
times per minute!
Cows such as
these contribute a large amount of methane to the air.
Nitrous oxide is another colorless
greenhouse gas, however, it has a sweet odor . It is
primarily used as an anesthetic because it deadens pain and
for this characteristic is called
gas." This gas is released naturally from oceans and by bacteria
in soils. Nitrous oxide gas risen by more than 15% since
1750. Each year we add 7-13 million tons into the
atmosphere by using nitrogen based fertilizers, disposing of
human and animal waste in sewage treatment plants,
automobile exhaust, and other sources not yet identified.
It is important to reduce emissions because the nitrous
oxide we release today will still be trapped in the
atmosphere 100 years from now. (World Book Volume 13)
Oxide has been on the rise since 1750
Nitrogen based fertilizer use has doubled in the
past 15 years. These fertilizers provide nutrients for
crops; however, when they breakdown in the soil, nitrous
oxide is released into the atmosphere. In automobiles,
nitrous oxide is released at a much lower rate than carbon
dioxide, because there is more carbon in gasoline than
Fluorocarbons is a general term for
any group of synthetic organic compounds that contain
fluorine and carbon. Many of these compounds, such as
chlorofluorocarbons(CFCs), can be easily converted from gas to
liquid or liquid to gas. Because of these properties, CFCs can be used in aerosol cans,
refrigerators, and air conditioners. Studies in the 1970's
showed that when CFCs
are emitted into the atmosphere, they break down molecules
in the Earth's ozone layer (World Book). Since then, the
use of CFCs has significantly decreased and they are
banned from production in the United States.
The substitute for CFCs
are hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs
do not harm or breakdown the ozone molecule, but they do
trap heat in the atmosphere, making it a greenhouse gas,
aiding in global warming. HFCs
are used in air conditioners and refrigerators. The way to
reduce emissions of this gas is to be sure that in both
devices the coolant is recycled and all leaks are properly
fixed . Also, before throwing the appliances away, be sure
to recover the coolant in each.
Refrigerators and Air Conditioners using CFC's were a huge
problem for the ozone layer, but now HFC's are a problem for
Warming is Here
Naturally, if there are more
greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, this greenhouse effect
will be more significant and raise the temperature of Earth
more than if humans didn't emit as much greenhouse gases.
Peter Tans, a physicist with National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administrations (NOAA) Climate Monitoring and
Diagnostics Lab says,
is no doubt that both land and ocean surface temperatures
have gone up significantly in the last 100 years or so." This statement
supports the trend of global warming, but does not
acknowledge the source. The director of NOAA's
Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab at Princeton, Jerry Malhan,
says, "The Earths surface temperature has warmed about one
degree Fahrenheit in the last 100 years, and there is no
credible hypothesis for this, other than the net effect of
greenhouse gases." Jerry Malhan offers a quote supporting the theory of global warming and also states that it is directly related to the
increase of greenhouse gases. "The
planet is heating up and the evidence suggests that human
activities are having a significant impact."
Jane Lubchenco said. Jane was the past President of the American Association for
the Advancement of Science, who briefed President Clinton on
global warming in July, 1997. The world's leading authority
on global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC), is a United Nations sponsored organization
made up of 2500 scientists from around the world. They have
concluded by consensus that "The balance of evidence
suggests a discernible human influence on global climate."
They project that global warming will have severe impacts on
human health, natural ecosystems, agriculture, and coastal
communities. This evidence supports the common belief that Global
Warming is occurring due to the increased concentration of
greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, nitrous
oxide, methane, and HFCs.
yearly temperature rise: 1860-1998
of Global Warming on Environment
There are many environmental
problems coming from the increase concentration of
greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere. As Jeff Rubin of
ABC NEWS reported,
�Several signs indicate that we've begun
changing Earth's climate: increased water vapor in the
atmosphere, glaciers and polar ice caps appear to be melting,
floods and droughts are becoming more severe, and sea levels
have risen, on average, between 4 and 10 inches since 1990. Experts concur,
are already beginning to see this (global warming) taking
place - a lot more flooding, a lot more droughts."
Jane Lubchenco said. Jerry Malham added, "By
2100, we might get a 2 foot sea level rise, but the catch
is, levels might continue to rise 2 or 3 feet per century,
for 1000 years." These rises in sea level can increase the salinity of
freshwater throughout the world, and cause coastal lands to
be washed under the ocean. Warmer water and increased
humidity may encourage tropical cyclones, and changing wave
patterns could produce more tidal waves and strong beach
erosion on the coasts.
form global warming may be already happening.
Picture of a
typhoon from space
of droughts on crops
of Global Warming on Society
Agriculturally, Dr. Sylvan H.
Wittwer believes that global warming is good for the human
race, because it helps increase food production. "The most
determinant factor in agriculture production is climate.
History reveals that for food production, warming is better
than cooling." Dr. Wittwer says that carbon dioxide is an
essential nutrient for the production of food, and food is
one of the most important things in our lives. As the
temperature rises, more farmland will be open towards the
poles and the length of the growing season will also
lengthen. With all the people who go hungry each day, Dr.
Wittwer believes food production should be one of our main
concerns. Dr. Wittwer is the scientific pioneer who
conducted the original studies on atmospheric CO2
enhancement of the production of food crops.
Increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the
atmosphere and global warming could also lead to more health
concerns. A statement released from the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said, "Climate change is
likely to have wide-ranging and mostly adverse impacts on
human health, with significant loss of life." As
temperatures increase towards the poles, similar to farmland,
insects and other pests migrate towards Earth's poles. These
insects and pests could be allowed to migrate up to 550 Km
or 550 miles. Some insects carry diseases such as malaria
and dengue fever. Thus, an increase in these particular
insects and pests closer to the poles results in an increase
in these diseases. This could lead to 50 to 80 million
additional cases of Malaria annually, a 10-15% increase. "Malaria
and dengue fever are already beginning to spread pole wards",
said Jane Lubchenco, past president of American Association
for the advancement of science. (www.epa.gov/oppeoeel/globalwarming/impacts/health/index.html)
Physician Paul Epstein, of Harvard's School of Public Health,
says "Climate change is already a factor in terms of the
distributions of malaria, dengue fever, and cholera."
The most obvious health effect is directly from the heat
itself. With an increase in heat waves, there will be more
people who will suffer from heatstroke, heart attacks and
other ailments aggravated by the heat. According to the EPA,
"In July 1995, a heat wave killed more than 700 people in
the Chicago area alone."
If this is happening already from heat, imagine what
would occur in the future with global warming. Hot
conditions could also cause smoke particles and noxious
gases to linger in the air and accelerate chemical reactions
that generate other pollutants. (www.envirolink.org/orgs/edf/sitemap.html)
This leads to an increase in risk of respiratory diseases
like bronchitis and asthma.
Global warming causes the oceans to warm and expand,
inducing a rise in sea level. Eventually, the rising waters
could take away land inhabited by people, forcing them to
move. Dr. Robert Buddemieir, of the Kansas Geological
Survey said, "Bangledesh is massively populated, achingly
poor, and something like a sixth of the country is going to
go away" (www.envirolink.org/orgs/edf/sitemap.html)
Bangladesh cannot afford to build barriers to hold back the
sea, so people would have to move inland, increasing the
populations density and leading to an increase in hunger and
disease. (www.envirolink.org/orgs/edf/sitemap.html) The
Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean have the same problem
They are a nation of 1190 islands with an average height of
about 1.5 meters above sea level. If the sea level rises,
more than 200,000 people will have to abandon their homes. Warming of
the oceans could also promote toxic algae which can lead to
showing history of sea level and extrapolating possible
increases in sea level over the next century
line represents the history of sea level. The yellow line
is a high estimate of sea level extrapolated. The red line
a central estimate, and the green line is a low projection.
Present ways of Producing Energy
graph shows the breakdown of how the world produces its
Fossil fuels, chiefly coal, oil and
natural gas, now supply most of the world's energy. Only a
small amount comes from renewable sources , which do not
release gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. If we could
get more of our energy from renewable sources, we could
reduce the amount of fossil fuels we burn. By the year
2050, renewable sources could provide forty percent of the
energy needed in the world. Use of renewable energy can help
both to slow global warming and to reduce air pollution.
These fossil fuels, coal, oil, and natural gas also
emit greenhouse gases when burned. Coal emits high amounts
of greenhouse gases, and the world may be supplied with
enough of it to last over 100 years. Oil emits high
amounts of greenhouse gases and also other types of air
pollution harmful to the environment. The world's oil supply
is also estimated to last over 100 years. Natural Gas is
the lowest of all fossil fuels in greenhouse gas emissions;
supplies are projected to last over 100 years.
1996 Processes Carbon Dioxide was Produced
shows what percentage of CO2 comes from Oil, Natural Gas,
and Coal. For example, in 1996, 44.7% of the world's CO2
emissions came from the combustion of oil.
shows how much coal different areas of the world have
produced and consumed over time
accounts for 24% of the worlds energy; Natural gas 18%
One of the major conventions
concerning global warming resulted in the Kyoto Protocol,
held in Kyoto, Japan, between December 1-11, 1997. Delegates
from all over the world were present in order to find a
universal agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The
results had most developed nations doing most of the
reducing; the United States must cut emissions 7%, Japan 6%,
and the European Union 8% below 1990 levels.
The United States proposed a plan to have these
levels cut over a five year period between 2008-2013. The
United States also said it will not sign the protocol if
other developing/undeveloped countries do not sign it as
well, fearing the economy will falter. The U.S. was
successful in emissions trading with other countries who
have less emissions. This means that the U.S. or other
developed countries can purchase emission permits from other
countries who have extra permits. This stresses the
importance of flexibility the U.S. was looking for when it
said it cannot lower the emission levels until at least
2008. Again, the U.S. is trying to look out for it's own
economy first. If a country shall fail in completing its
goal, the country will then not be able to receive joint
implementation projects. However, this Protocol is not yet
law; it must be ratified by at least 55 countries,
accounting for 55% of the world's total greenhouse gas
emissions.. It can be signed by countries starting in March
of 1998. The next convention is in November 1998, in
If the Kyoto Protocol becomes the law of the land,
there are potential economic problems that may lead to a
change in quality of life for many Americans. By reducing
greenhouse gas emissions, people will be more healthy due to
better air quality and water quality. However, there may be
a reduction in the rate of economic development because
industries will have to adapt and find different ways of
producing goods. People will have to drive smaller, lighter
cars, ride bicycles more often, and increase efficiency in
The world's leading scientists
project that during our children's lifetimes global warming
will raise the average temperature of the planet by 2 to 6
degrees Fahrenheit, or 1-3.5 degree Celsius. In contrast the
Earth is only 5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit or about 3-6 degrees
Celsius warmer today than it was 10,000 years ago during the
last ice age. Man-made global warming is occurring much
faster than at any other time in at least the last 10,000
information would suggest that the warming Earth is
experiencing now is not a natural phenomenon, but caused by
the increased concentration of greenhouse gases.
While evidence is strong to support the notion of human
contribution to the global warming problem, an alternative
view is that recent global warming is a natural occurrence.
Some theorists believe that the Earth's climate works in a
cycle, cooling, and then warming itself. Scientists point
out the fact that 75 million years ago, the Earth's average
temperature was ten degrees higher than it is today.
Conditions were warmer and more humid, but life sustained.
Another phenomenon to take into account is the "little
ice age", which occurred from 1550-1850 A.D. Conditions
around the world were cooler than usual; many bodies of
water froze over. The average global temperature since the
little ice age has risen by one degree Fahrenheit!
Shouldn't it be expected that after that ice age was over
that the temperature on Earth would rise at least one
The bottom line is that it may seem that only human
actions are causing global warming, but it is very possible
that global warming is nothing to worry about and is just
part of the global temperature cycle. Both theories are
credible, but neither has yet been proven.
1. Carbon Dioxide - a heavy
colorless gas that does not support combustion, dissolves in
water to form carbonic acid, is formed especialy in animal
repiration and in the decay or combustion of animal and
vegetable matter, is absorbed from the air by plants in
photosynthesis, and is used in the carbonation of beverages.
2. Methane- a colorless odorless flammable
gaseous hydrocarbon that is a product of decompositions of
organic matter and of the carbonization of coal, is used as
a fuel and as a starting material in chemical synthesis, and
is the simplest of the alkanes.
3. Photosynthesis- synthesis of chemical compounds
with the aid of radiant energy and especially light;
especially formation of carbohydrates from carbon dioxide
and a source of hydrogen in the chlorophyll-containing
tissues of plants exposed to light
4. Greenhouse Effect- warming of the surface and
lower atmosphere of a planet that is caused by conversion of
solar radiation into heat in a process involving selective
transmission of short wave solar radiation by the atosphere,
its absorption by the planet's surface, and reradiation as
infared which is absorbed and partly reradiated back to the
surface by atmospheric gases.
5. Nitrous oxide - a colorless gas that when
inhaled produces loss of sensibility to pain preceded by
exhilaration and sometimes laughter and is used as an
anesthetic in dentistry and that is an atmospheric pollutant
produced by combustion and a suspected contributor to
greenhouse warming -- also called laughing gas.
6. Malaria - a human disease that is caused by
sporazoan parasites in the red blood cells, is transmitted
by the bite of anopheline mosquitoes, and is characterized
by peo\riodic attacks of chills and fever
7. Dengue - an acute infectious disease caused by
an arbovirus, transmitted by aedes mosquitoes, and
characterized by headache, severe joint pain, and a
rash--called also dengue fever.
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local level: A Low cost approach for local authorities."
Atmospheric Research and Information Center. http://doc.mmu.ac.uk/aric/gcc/cell.html#pos6
(March 8, 1998)
2. "Global Warming is Happening." Envirolink.
http://www.envirolink.org/prgs/edf/sitemap.html (March 8,
3. "Global Warming Campaign." Sierra Club.
http://www.toowarm.org/factsheets/basfact.html (March 12,
4. "Methane" World Book Encyclopaedia. Volume 7.
Friend, 1982, p. 270
5. "Fluorocarbons" World Book Encyclopedia.
Volume 13. Hatch, 1982, p. 358
6. "Clinton: We're Energy Hogs." ABC News.
http://www.abcnews.com/sections/us/global106.html (March 8,
7. "Global Warming." United States Environmental
Protection Agency. http://www.epa.gov/globalwarming/ (March
8. "The Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change." U.S.
Department of State http://www.state.gov/www/global/oes/fs_kyoto_climate_980115.html
(March 9, 1998)
9. Sylvan H. Wittwer. "It's Good for Food Production"
The Global Environment. http://www.comnett.net/~wit/food.html
(March 8, 1998)
10. "Greenhouse Effect" Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Volume 5. 1988, p. 470
11. "Photosynthesis" Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Volume 25. 1988, pp.808-816