Global warming is a term commonly used to describe the consequences of man- made pollutants overloading the naturally-occurring greenhouse gases causing an increase of the average global temperature, the subject of great debate and concern worldwide.
According to all peer-reviewed scientific studies, if the amount of greenhouse gasses being pumped into the air by factories, power plants and automobiles is not severely curtailed and soon, the earth and its inhabitants will suffer cataclysmic consequences in the near future.
The Greenhouse Effect
What is It?
Essentially, the greenhouse effect functions in the following manner. When sunlight pierces the atmosphere and hits the earth’s surface, not all of the sun’s solar energy is absorbed. Approximately a third of it is reflected back into space. Specific atmospheric gases serve in much the same way as does the glass of a greenhouse, thus the terminology.
These gases allow sunlight to penetrate then trap some of the solar energy which heats the earth (Breuer, 1980). It is a delicate balance and because these greenhouse gases have been artificially augmented by man-made sources, more build up in the atmosphere has occurred thus trapping more of the sun’s energy and reflecting less back in to space. This occurrence is causing the earth to warm.
The Cause of Global Warming
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is the most prevalent of the greenhouse gases. Although deforestation is contributing heavily to the excess of CO2 in the atmosphere, a larger portion is caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal. Fossil fuels are burned by factories, vehicles and electricity-producing power plants to name a few sources.
The vast majority of this excessive fuel consumption and its poisonous, pollutant and greenhouse-enhancing byproducts are located in the U.S., Europe and Russia (Breuer, 1980). The rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere are becoming increasingly disconcerting.
If the balance between the CO2 levels in the ocean and atmosphere is disturbed by interjecting increasing amounts of CO2, the oceans would continually absorb higher concentrations than it does naturally.
The subsequent warming ocean waters are less effective in their ability to absorb CO2 and when the oceans can no longer keep pace with the intrusion of this naturally equalized cycle, then more CO2 will remain in the atmosphere.
Increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is expected to result in a warming of the Earth’s surface accelerating the greenhouse effect. “Currently carbon dioxide is responsible for 57 percent of the global warming trend.” (Miller, 1990, p. 498).
Effects of Warming
A Global Climate Crisis
The scientific community agrees that global temperatures are rising due to the burning of fossil fuels which are damaging the protective atmospheric Ozone layer by changing its composition. Human pollution is changing the climate of our earth and has increased global warming in the past half century.
The effects are being felt worldwide, not just in the U.S. where most of the CO2 emissions are generated. In the UK., for example, four of the five warmest years for more than three centuries have occurred in the last 10 years. Scientists predict that in 50 years, annual temperatures in the south east of England could be at least three degrees (Fahrenheit) warmer, on average, than they are now (Climate Crisis 2000).
Global warming is further evidenced by the well-documented melting of glaciers along with thermal expansion of the oceans, which have contributed to an increase in sea level over the past century of about six inches in that country. (Trenberth 1997).
A Global Health and Economic Crisis
One would have to wonder what enormous problems this will cause not only to people and property but to the health of the global economy as a whole. Entire sections of various countries will be forced to abandon their homes and businesses. The process will be a slow and torturous one. Scientists also worry about the effects of a changing climate on the Gulf Stream, a massive ocean current which acts to warm the continent of Europe.
“Ocean currents transport large amounts of heat around the world: climatologists call it thermohaline circulation (THC)” (Climate Crisis 2000).
If it slows down or moves further south as a result of Greenland melting, Europe could end up with a climate more like that of present-day Greenland. A BBC-produced television program documented recently that Greenland is in fact melting at an alarming rate providing photographic evidence taken in the 1970’s in contrast to photographs taken in the present day.
Ignoring the Problem Won’t Help
Although science has identified a radically changing climate as the result of human activity, many will not admit it to themselves. “A parallel here is trying to link lung cancer to smoking. There are always some people who smoke who do not get lung cancer, and some who get lung cancer who do not smoke.
Yet the evidence is compelling that there is a link. Still there are always people who do not want to believe and justify their beliefs by feeding on the legitimate uncertainties that exist” (Trenberth 1997).
This is, essentially, the same faction of those who think that change is inevitable, that our advancing technologies will enable us to adapt to climate change as it happens. In other words just ignore the problem by continuing to pollute for economic reasons and the problem will just go away. That doesn’t work for any other type of problem and won’t with this one either.
A World Solution
In 1997 the Kyoto Treaty, which has now been signed by more than 160 countries, is, to date, the most comprehensive global effort to decrease CO2 emissions. Though the agreement was signed by the U.S. and then President Clinton consented to decrease greenhouse emissions in the U.S. by 40 percent, it has been dismissed by the Bush administration and has yet to be ratified by the U.S. CO2 greenhouse gases have since increased in the country that produces well more than any other.
World leaders and environmentalists alike have proclaimed the treaty as a vital step on the road to abating the potentially cataclysmic global warming problem. Former President Bush rejected the treaty because of economic concerns and his reservations regarding the scientific uncertainties of the greenhouse effect. (Malinin, 2005)
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is the most prevalent of the greenhouse gases. The major contributor (70 percent) of man-generated CO2 release is the emission from those motor vehicles that are powered by fossil fuels. The solution to automobile emissions may lie in alternative fuels.
The conversion of beets or corn into ethanol is touted by scientists today as an economically and environmentally sound solution to global warming concerns. (Boles, 2005). Promising future alternatives to crude oil, vegetable oil can be substituted for diesel fuel while ethanol is an effective petrol additive. Ethanol is a type of alcohol that can be made using crops such as sugar beets, wheat or corn.
As a fuel additive, ethanol boosts octane and substantially reduces toxic carbon monoxide emissions. Unfortunately, it takes considerably more energy (from high-grade petrol) to create ethanol than it produces. It takes about 70 percent more energy to make a liter of ethanol than is contained in a liter of ethanol.
In addition, fossil fuel is used in the production of corn or any crop used for ethanol and by “increasing ethanol production will increase degradation of vital agricultural and water resources and will seriously contribute to the pollution of the environment” (Pimentel, 1998, p. 5).
Solar power is widely used and is projected to be becoming a prolific energy source for the future. Today, solar energy supplies electric power to hundreds of thousand of people worldwide. More than ten thousand are employed in the solar energy market that produces revenues of at least $1 billion dollars. The advantages of solar power are obvious. It is an abundant, non-polluting and free energy resource as long as the sun shines.
The sun provides the earth with 10,000 times more energy than its people consume, however, this resource remains essentially unexploited. At present, its expense is prohibitive for most consumers but this is changing with time. “Solar power is a prime choice in developing an affordable, feasible, global power source that is able to substitute for fossil fuels in all climate zones around the world” (“Solar Generation”, 2003).
Nuclear plants could provide all the electricity that would power all businesses and residences and will also provide the power for electric cars. Nuclear power is the only viable substitute that could replace the massive power needs of the planet and could be built in time to save the planet.
The environmentalists who oppose nuclear power plants should realize that this may be the only way to avoid the looming affects of irreversible global warming. The concern primarily revolves around the disposal of nuclear waste. “Nuclear waste is to be deposited in deep geological storage sites; it does not enter the biosphere.
Its impact on the ecosystems is minimal. An intelligent combination of energy conservation, and renewable energies for local low-intensity applications, and nuclear energy for base-load electricity production, is the only viable way for the future” (Comby, 2006).
The opponents to the regulation of greenhouse gasses have claimed this action would be too costly to business therefore hurt the economy. Auto companies in particular lobby against regulating automobile emissions claiming that it is not economically feasible for them.
This is simply untrue because countries such as Japan, Korea and China have much stricter emission standards than the U.S. yet these country’s car sales are up while U.S. automakers are down. The economic consequence of doing nothing is far greater than solving the problem through legislation. If the earth cannot sustain human life, the automakers will not make any money. Maybe that is an argument they can understand.
Boles, Tracey and Orange, Richard. (October 3, 2005). “Where Do You Get Your Energy From?: Latest on Alternative Liquid Fuels.” The Business.
Breuer, Georg. (1980). “Air in Danger: Ecological Perspectives of the Atmosphere.” New York: Cambridge University Press.
“Climate Crisis: All Change in the UK?” (November 12, 2000). BBC News.
Comby, Bruno. (October 2, 2006). “The Benefits of Nuclear Energy.” TNR Editions.
Malinin, Sergei. (July 27, 2005). “USA, China and India Outlaw Kyoto Protocol and Set Forth New Climate Change Initiative.” Pravda.
Miller, G. Tyler. (1990). “Living in the Environment: An Introduction to Environmental Science.” Belmont: Wadsworth.
Pimentel, D. (1998). “Energy and Dollar Costs of Ethanol Production with Corn.” Hubbert Center Newsletter. Vol. 98, I. 2, M, King Hubbert Center for Petroleum Supply Studies
“Solar Generation Report.” (July 10, 2003). Greenpeace.
Trenberth, Kevin E. (1997). “Global Warming: It’s Happening.” National Center for Atmospheric Research.