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The Greenhouse Effect

Climate change is largely happening because of the greenhouse effect.

Climate change is happening mostly due to the greenhouse effect. The name “greenhouse effect” is due to the way greenhouse gases (the chemicals responsible for the greenhouse effect) in the atmosphere act like the glass in a greenhouse, bringing sunlight in and never letting it go. Greenhouse gases act the same way: they let the sun’s heat energy through the Earth’s atmosphere and do not let it out, so that it is absorbed by the Earth’s surfaces, making them warmer. In turn, they emit infrared radiation, which causes climate change. The main greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (chemical formula CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (NO), and the human-made chemicals chlorofluorocarbon-12 (CCl2F2) and hydrofluorocarbon-23 (CHF3), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3).

The unfortunate truth is that most of these gases have been for the most part emitted, and sometimes even created, by humans. For instance, before the Industrial Revolution, there were 280 parts per million (ppm) or less of carbon dioxide in the air; now, there are 410 ppm, and the amount is rising at 2 ppm a year. How did that happen? People have been burning wood and coal for centuries, but the breakthrough that kickstarted the Industrial Revolution was using the heat of a coal fire for steam power. Railways and steam-powered factories sprang up, burning coal to get their energy. The burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) generates carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming.


 Methane is most often emitted by landfills (organic waste decaying), agriculture (cows), coal mining, crude oil, natural gas (of which methane is a primary part), stationary and mobile burning, the treatment of wastewater, and some industrial processes. Humans are responsible for 50-65% of all methane emissions. Nitrous oxide is emitted by agriculture, burning fuels, wastewater management, and industrial processes. Chlorofluorocarbons are emitted by aerosol cans, which has led to a ban on the cans because chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) eat a hole in the ozone layer, which protects the Earth from ultraviolet radiation.

The effect of the greenhouse effect is clear: Since 1880, Earth’s average global temperature has grown by at least 1.1 degrees Celsius (or 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit). Most of the warming has happened since 1975, at the speed of about 0.15 to 0.20 degrees Celsius per decade. Unfortunately, some pretend that the global warming we are seeing is not real, or is part of the Earth’s warming itself on a natural cycle. However, the vast majority of signs point to the most uncomfortable truth: We are causing global warming, and that’s final.

Image: Creative Commons; this photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY

Helping combat greenhouse gas emissions is fairly simple to say, but may be harder to actually do. If you plan to cut back on your emissions, here are things to do:

  • If your car runs on gasoline or diesel, the next time you get a car, consider getting an electric or hybrid, or at least a more fuel-efficient one. An electric car may be an investment, but does counter gas-station costs.

  • Alternatively, try to use public transit as much as you can, which may call for improving the public transit in your area, to avoid emitting CO2 from cars.

  • Consider eating less meat, becoming vegetarian or pescatarian, or at least eating less beef. A pound of beef uses at least 1800 pounds of water in its production, and besides, cows emit methane.

  • If your energy comes from fossil fuels, consider switching to solar, which is the easiest option to install (on the roof of your house).

  • If your energy comes from fossil fuels, use less of it. Click here to read Greenguide’s tips on saving energy.

If you can reduce your carbon footprint, try convincing others to do so too. Spread the word. The planet will thank you.

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