Eco-friendly products and sustainable living has made its way into the homes of many people around the world. While most joined the movement in a conscious effort to save Earth, many are still unaware of why they made the switch to sustainable living and using eco-friendly products. Many joined the bandwagon without knowing the exact reason why people are opting to go for a waste-free life. The main reason is to significantly reduce the devastating effects of greenhouse gasses. This sample research paper will discuss the greenhouse effect and what causes it.
Over the past years, the effects of global warming – mainly depicted by the melting polar caps – are being featured on magazines, television, and other forms of media. Recently, the public are being shown how much nature is being affected by the Earth’s continuous warming. Images, video clips, and studies regarding the rising of sea levels, melting of glaciers, and animals losing their natural habitat is constantly being put on the spotlight to remind people that the greenhouse effect is largely affecting global warming.
A scientist by the name Svante Arrhenius worked out the basics of the greenhouse effect in his paper and had it published in the Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science. He was the first one to quantify the effects of excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases, which includes carbon dioxide, are not completely caused by man and it actually makes the Earth warmer on the average of 15 degrees Celsius or 59 degrees Fahrenheit. But in the past centuries, the balance of the helpful greenhouse effect has been disturbed by humans.
However, since the Industrial Revolution, the world bear witness to a rapid growth of industries. This rapid industrialization increases the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, a tendency that has the potential of bringing about the devastating effect of global climate change. Climate change happens due to the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is not all bad. Again, it is the natural warming of the earth and without it, planet Earth would not have been livable. But with the constant rising of the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere, the Earth’s temperature will continue to rise. Thus, an unbalanced greenhouse effect causes global warming.
Every day the sun shines on Earth, enormous amounts of radiation, ultraviolet, and infrared enters the planet. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) about 30% of radiation from the sun that enters the Earth bounces back to space after being reflected by reflective surfaces like clouds and ice. The remaining 70% gets absorbed by the land and oceans and some of it is trapped within our atmosphere. As the land, oceans, and atmosphere absorb radiation and increase heat, they also release some of the very same heat back into space in the form of infrared thermal radiation.
Simply put, the greenhouse effect results from the heat being trapped near the surface of the Earth. But because of the excessive use of fossil fuel and other greenhouse gases, it results to an increase of natural occurring gases in the atmosphere. The greenhouse effect occurs when greenhouse gases absorb thermal radiation from the earth surface. The gases then re-radiate the thermal radiations in all directions. Because some of this re-radiation gets back to the surface of the earth, it brings about an increase of the average temperature of the earth that is above the normal average in the absence of the greenhouse gases.
As humans are partly responsible for the unbalanced greenhouse effect which is the main cause of global warming, it is important that everyone is educated about the causes and effects of greenhouse gases so that a solution can be brought up and enforce. Humans can only hope to one day save the planet Earth as the greenhouse effect and global warming keeps on worsening as each day passes. To keep it simple, here are the steps on how the greenhouse effect naturally occurs along with how human activity intervenes with it:
- The sun releases radiation along with ultraviolet and infrared into the Earth – with most of them being reflected right back to space.
- The remaining radiation, ultraviolet, and infrared is then absorbed by the land and oceans which in turn heats up the Earth.
- Heat radiates from Earth towards space while some of it is retained in the atmosphere.
- The remaining heat that has been trapped by the greenhouse effect keeps the Earth at just the right temperature to sustain life.
- Human activities like burning of fossil fuels, usage of certain chemicals, agriculture, emitting of harmful fumes, and clearing of trees increase the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.
- The excess greenhouse gases trap extra heat thus causing the Earth's temperature to rise above normal.
Solar radiation normally passes through the atmosphere in order to warm the surface of the earth just enough for it to be livable. The solar radiation emits solar energy at reduced frequencies of infrared radiation. In the case of the greenhouse effect, greenhouse gases absorb the infrared radiations and re-radiate much of energy to the earth surface and lower atmosphere.
The re-radiation of heat to the earth planet leads to high temperatures or global warming. The high temperatures have the potential of destroying the Ozone layer – a layer in the earth’s atmosphere that has relatively high ozone concentration and serves to absorb approximately 98% of the sun’s ultraviolet light. Destruction of the ozone layer has the potential to damage much of life on earth.
So what are greenhouse gases and where does it come from? According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC, greenhouses gases caused by man are mainly based on a country’s population size, the citizen’s lifestyle, economic activity, technology, and climate policy among others. In addition, the main sources of greenhouses gases according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) are electricity and heat production, agriculture and deforestation, industrial processes and emissions, the use of petroleum-based fuel for transportation, building operations, and other energy-related activities.
There are 5 main greenhouse gases, 4 of which occur naturally. The natural occurring ones are water vapor, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane and the gas caused by human activity is the fluorinated gas which includes chlorofluorocarbons are CFCs which is commonly used at home. All greenhouse gases have different chemical properties and can be removed from the atmosphere. However, the greenhouse effect only happens if the greenhouse gases is collected in the Earth’s atmosphere.
- Water vapor – Water vapor is the largest contributor to the greenhouse effect out of all the greenhouse gases. Although, if compared with the other gases, it stays in the atmosphere for the shortest time. Most of the water vapor comes from evaporation and a small amount of it is from the plants’ transpiration. Water vapor has the power to enhance the heat caused by the other gases in the atmosphere.
- Carbon dioxide – is the one who has a significant impact on the imbalance of the greenhouse effect because it is abundant in the Earth’s atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is caused by the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation and it stays in the atmosphere for a very long time – it lasts in the atmosphere for about a thousand of years. However, carbon dioxide may be lessened when absorbed by the soil, plants, and oceans.
- Nitrous oxide – Nitrous oxide, while naturally occurring, also comes from human activities such as fuel combustion, industrial processes, and agriculture. This gas stays in the planet’s atmosphere for about 116 years. Aside from being a greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide has the ability to destroy the Earth’s ozone layer.
- Methane – certain agricultural practices and products like manure from livestock produce methane. This gas is more powerful in absorbing radiation than carbon dioxide but it only stays within the Earth’s atmosphere for 10 years compared to carbon dioxide’s one thousand years.
- Fluorinated gas – this gas is created due to industrial processes and includes hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. Chlorofluorocarbons were commonly used in households as aerosol propellants and refrigerants until it has been phased out after studies have found that its usage contributes much to the greenhouse effect. Even if its presence in the atmosphere is in minimal concentrations, its ability to effectively trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere poses a danger but it can be destroyed by sunlight in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.
Each greenhouse gas affects the Earth differently depending on its capacity to absorb infrared radiation and its abundance in the atmosphere. However, there are three major factors to consider in order to tell how greenhouse gases may influence the unbalanced greenhouse effect. The first, the amount of the gas that exists in the atmosphere as some gases, as mentioned earlier, are only found in traces in the atmosphere. The second is how long it can stay trapped in the atmosphere – remember, carbon dioxide can stay up to a thousand years. Lastly, the gas’ effectivity on trapping heat in the atmosphere.
What causes the greenhouse effect?
Human activity is the main cause of an enhanced greenhouse effect. This primarily arises from activities of the human beings that increase the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Such activities include fossil fuel burning, cement production, deforestation of tropical forests, and the use of petrol engines, among others. As a result, humans play a crucial part in enhancing the greenhouse effect. This means that human beings should control and decrease the undesirable outcome of the greenhouse effect.
Industrialization is the main culprit that contributes to an enhanced greenhouse effect in the world. The 17th century saw substantial changes in manufacturing, mining, technology, transportation, as well as agriculture. This period saw the replacement of manual labor with machine-based labor. This led to the creation of a society based on machines and technology like the steam power, railways, electrical power generators, canal, cotton mills, gas lighting, power-based coal mining, and paper machines, among others.
Many of these industrial processes used to depend on organic fuel like wood but the revolution introduced energy from fossil fuels – mainly coal – that can produce flames. Aside from that, the revolution brought about an increase in the invention of chemicals and factories that enhanced production. However, while this was happening, greenhouse gasses – especially carbon dioxide – were also increasing in the atmosphere.
It took the effort of Joseph Fourier in 1824 to point out to the world the potential problems likely to occur because of the increased production of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In the same century, research by Claude Pouillet, John Tyndall and Svante Arrhenius strengthened Fourier’s argument about the greenhouse effect. From that time on, there have been many suggestions on how humanity can decrease the devastating effects on human life and nature of the greenhouse effect.
How to prevent or lessen greenhouse effect
Decreasing the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will in turn reduce the harmful effects of the greenhouse effect. Decreasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere lies in the elimination and/or reduction of the emission of greenhouse gases – specifically those cause by humans. As a result, humans should focus on how to do away with the greenhouse gases. It is crucial to note that the world does not have anti-greenhouse gases. If scientists were able to come up with anti-greenhouse gases to counteract the greenhouse gases, then the problem of the greenhouse effect would have already ended.
However, the only thing humans can do to control the amount of greenhouse gases is by eliminating them in exhaust streams, absorbing them, or using chemical combinations to make them inactive. These processes require large amounts of money and expertise. The first proposition is that scientists should intensify their effort in research in order to come up with easier and cost-effective ways of chemically eliminating greenhouse gases.
In addition, controlling deforestation is another way of reducing the greenhouse effect. The United Nations Environment Program notes that 20% of the greenhouse emissions in the world results from massive deforestation. Normally, human beings cut down forests in order to allow room for urbanization. This is because new cities and towns around the world need to use the space that forests originally occupy. People also cut down trees in order to produce coal. Though the industrial revolution saw the replacement of coal with other modern sources of energy, usage of coal is still common in many parts of the world.
For instance, in Africa, charcoal production remains one of the popular income generating activities. This practice contributes to massive deforestation. In addition, there is cutting down of trees to make furniture and other construction materials. It is a fact that most furniture in the world is wooden. On the same note, most buildings consist of wooden materials. Other materials present in daily use like paper also comes from trees. The world should realize that deforestation is also a huge contributing factor to the increase of the imbalance of the greenhouse effect.
Deforestation amount of carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere. Trees use carbon dioxide through the process of photosynthesis in order to make food. As a result, trees reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. This means that if the world does not have trees, carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere will increase. The increased carbon dioxide will lead to the greenhouse effect. The world should preserve remaining forests in order to combat the worsening greenhouse effect. Humans may also plant trees, and reduce reliance on products made from trees, enforce strict laws illegalizing the cutting down of trees, provide alternative income generating activities, and control urbanization.
Another way of controlling the greenhouse effect is using sources of energy that are environment-friendly. The use of fossil fuels to drive industries leads to the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. As mentioned earlier, industrialization is the main cause of the greenhouse effect. Industries should explore other means of conducting their business so as not to contribute to the increase of greenhouse gases. This may be done by switching to solar energy, hydroelectric energy, geothermal energy, wind energy, or any of the renewable sources of energy. Apart from the absence of the production greenhouse gases, these alternative energy sources are renewable.
Is global warming real?
A simple way of reducing the greenhouse effect is by reducing the use of fossil-fuel driven vehicles. In this point, people should avoid using private cars in favor of the public means of transport. Vehicles emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, thus contributing to enhancing the greenhouse effect. A small number of vehicles in the street will lead to few carbon emissions in the atmosphere. This means that people leave their private vehicles at home and use trains, buses, subway, or bicycles to travel. This practice will go a long way in reducing the greenhouse effect.
In addition, humans should adopt other means of disposing waste products apart from combustion. Disposing of waste products – such as plastics – through combustion increases the amount of carbon emissions in the atmosphere. To control this, we could dig pits where we could bury such wastes. Another way is through reusing such wastes. In the case of recycling, governments should foster the development of industries where waste products can be recycled. Governments should also adopt pro-active measures like banning the use of plastic products. Plastics are remarkably difficult to dispose, leading many countries opting to burn them. A complete ban on plastic, which is already enforced in some countries, would go a long way in controlling the greenhouse effect.
Another pro-active approach of controlling the greenhouse effect is by controlling the increase of population. If population growth remains uncontrolled, the greenhouse effect will increase proportionately. This arises from the fact that a large population number would increase carbon emissions. For instance, there would be cutting down of forests in order to make room for the additional population. Besides, there would be the use of plastics, the use of fossil fuels, the use of vehicles, and so on. As a result, people should plan their families by use of contraceptives or other methods. This is to control the excessive growth of the world population.
There are many ways in which people can effectively control the increase of the greenhouse effect in turn helping save the environment. The challenge in achieving this goal depends on countries as a whole and an individual’s discipline and willingness to create a better environment for future generations. The future of the greenhouse effect relies on how humans will cooperate to manage the ever-growing problem.
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