Global warming. It’s a term used often in today’s world, but do Americans take it seriously? Are people making an effort to change? Do people know what it really means or what it can do?
This issue is centered on the greenhouse effect which was discovered by Joseph Fourier in 1824. It is the process by which absorption and emission of infrared radiation by atmospheric gases warm a planet’s atmosphere and surface. During this process, heat waves that come from the sun, in the form of short waves, pass through our atmosphere to heat the planet. Some of the heat is absorbed, but many waves bounce off Earth’s surface and radiate back toward the atmosphere in the form of long waves. Normally, most of the heat waves penetrate through the atmosphere and are lost in space. There are always some rays that hit the atmosphere and bounce back to Earth.
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These waves stay inside, continuing to heat the planet. The thicker the atmosphere, the more heat waves are trapped inside. The gases that cause this thickening are water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane. Because of the fossil fuels burned more and more to run our cars, trucks, factories, planes and power plants, there has been an increase in the natural supply of greenhouse gases. The gases—which can stay in the atmosphere for at least fifty years and up to centuries—are building up beyond the Earth’s capacity to remove them and, in effect, creating an extra-thick heat blanket around the Earth (fightglobalwarming.com, par 3).
Industry took off in the mid-1700s, which caused people to start emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases. The average two-person American household emits 16.9 tons of CO2 per year. Already, people have increased the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere to 31 percent above pre-industrial levels between 1800 and 2000 (fightglobalwarming.com, par 6). The atmosphere went from carbon dioxide levels at 280 parts per million to 367 parts per million. There is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than at any time in the last 650,000 years. Scientists predict that carbon dioxide levels could be as high as 970 parts per million by the year 2100 (ezinearticles.com, par 5).
The first and most obvious sign of extreme global warming is the temperature. The rate of warming has accelerated over the past 30 years, increasing at a rate of three times faster than the century-scale trend. Twice in the last ten years, we’ve had the hottest temperatures on average ever recorded in our planet’s history (ezinearticles.com, par 1-3). The Earth’s temperature in 2005 was ranked as the hottest year by NASA, and 2006 was ranked as the hottest year for the continental United States (environmentaldefense.org , par 5). In fact, the past nine years have all been among the 25 warmest years on record (ezinearticles.com, par 1-3). Scientists expect that, in the absence of effective policies to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, the global average temperature will increase up to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 (fightglobalwarming.com, par 7).
Many people might ask, “So what if my summer gets a little hotter?” What they don’t know is that warmer weather is believed to increase the intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes. According to an MIT study, there’s been a 100% increase in the intensity and duration of hurricanes and tropical storms since the 1970s. In 2005 alone, there was approximately 100 billion dollars worth of damage caused by hurricanes hitting the US coast according to the National Climatic Data Center (environmentaldefense.org, par 2-3).
Due to the increased surface temperature, 400,000 square miles of Arctic sea ice has melted in the last 30 years, threatening polar bear habitats and further accelerating global warming worldwide, according to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (environmentaldefense.org, par 4). As a result, the sea level has risen by 4”-8” (10-20 cm) over the past 100 years, which can lead to devastating effects for coastal communities. When the sea comes in-tide, more erosion can occur, and if coastal communities are present, more damage is done to them. There will be approximately 200 million people around the world displaced by more intense droughts, sea level rise and flooding by 2080 (environmentaldefense.org, par 7). In addition, losing the glaciers reduces the amount of usable fresh water on our planet. According to the US Geological Survey, 2030 is the year when Glacier National Park is predicted to have no glaciers left (ezinearticles.com, par 8-9).
The United States is the number one ranked global warming polluter compared to other large nations, contributing 25% of emissions, even though the US only makes up 5% of the world’s populations. There has been a 20 percent increase of America’s carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels since 1990. To prevent future disaster due to global warming, it is required that an 80 percent decrease in global warming pollution occurs by 2050 (environmentaldefense.org, par 5). 15-37 % of plant and animal species could be wiped out by this same year (ezinearticles.com, par 10-12). The US fire season has already increased by 78 days over the past 20 years – tied closely to increased temperatures and earlier snowmelt (environmentaldefense.org, par 6). Even though the US gives off the highest amount of greenhouse gases, President Bush has only mentioned “climate change” or “global warming” once in his previous six State of the Union speeches (environmentaldefense.org, par 8). Not one bill has been passed by Congress to cut global warming pollution (environmentaldefense.org, par 9). At a meeting attended by scientists called “Global Response to Climate Change” in 2005, it was stated that “The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action. It is vital that all nations identify cost-effective steps that they can take now, to contribute to substantial and long-term reduction in net global greenhouse gas emissions.” (fightglobalwarming.com, par 11). Six leaders of the US Environmental Protection Agency 6 say the US is not doing enough to fight global warming. 358 US mayors representing, 55 million Americans, have signed the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, pledging to meet, or beat, Kyoto goals in their communities (environmentaldefense.org, par 6). Kyoto protocol is set within a treaty that legally binds developed countries to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for global warming by 2012 compared with 1990 levels. The world map on the right shows the green countries that have ratified this treaty, yellow states in which ratification is pending, and red states that declined ratification. Why has the number one polluter of the world not signed the treaty? It has been open for signature since March 16th, 1998 at United Nations Headquarters, New York (unfccc.int, par 1-3). What is making the US act as if the economy is more important than the planet?
Just because our government will not fight global warming does not mean we do not have to. One of the simplest ways to prevent global warming is by using more efficient light bulbs. The Union of Concerned Scientists states that if every American household replaced just one incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent one, then over the life of the bulbs 90 billion pounds of CO2 emission would be prevented from going into the atmosphere. This is equivalent to taking 6.3 million cars off the road. Amazingly about 11% of residential electricity consumption is used by “phantom loads.” A phantom load is caused when an electrical appliance draws electricity when it isn’t in use. An easy way to eliminate these phantom loads is to plug your computers, DVD players, televisions, and other electrical appliances into multi-plug electrical surge protectors, which will ensure that the appliances plugged into your surge protectors are drawing no electricity (acoolerclimlate.com, par 1-7). Insulating your walls and ceilings will also help prevent wasted electricity. Since plants use carbon dioxide in the same way we use oxygen, planting trees will help reduce the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as well, especially around highways. Try to use your car less by taking buses, trains, or carpooling with a friend. Hybrid cars are also more energy efficient and could save you money as well as help the Earth. While buying new appliances, make sure they are environmentally friendly. Everyone’s choices have measurable impacts. If the human race would collectively fight global warming, we could make a difference and save this delicate planet we call home.
“Global Warming by Numbers.” Environmentaldefense.Org. 30 Aug. 2007. 10 Mar. 2008 .
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Wong, Bryan. “Alarming Global Warming Statistics.” Ezinearticles.Com. 10 May 2007. 10 Mar. 2008 .