The Threat of Global Warming

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Global warming is primarily caused by an imbalance of the "greenhouse gases." Greenhouse gases in of themselves are not malevolent; in fact, the earth's atmosphere is essentially a by-product of the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect keeps some of the heat generated on earth from escaping into space. Without the greenhouse effect and its corresponding gases, the average temperature of the earth would be about zero degrees Fahrenheit, and not the current 57 degrees Fahrenheit. However, numerous scientific institutions have concluded that the ratio of c02 in the atmosphere, as measured in parts per million, is much higher than it was during the last 650,000 years, and is only projected to increase throughout the twenty-first century.

The creation of this extreme amount of carbon dioxide is linked to recent post-industrial human activities such as deforestation and fossil fuel combustion. Deforestation is a particularly heavy contributor to global warming. Trees process carbon dioxide and release oxygen. As forests are destroyed, this natural processing center is eradicated. Fossil fuel combustion from the burning of gas, oil, and coal releases a 'light' isotope of carbon into the atmosphere.

The oceans have become increasingly acidic from carbon dioxide absorption. Additionally, the trapped heat causes glaciers to recede, which increases sea levels. These rapid environmental changes result in the extinction of wildlife. In the case of the arctic, polar bears are dwindling. In the Antarctic, certain predatory crustaceans are now moving into waters that were previously too cold, disrupting and sometimes outright destroying the ecosystems of the Antarctic sea bottom.

While there are a few other non-human causes of global warming, such as volcano blasts and solar radiation, carbon dioxide is the most potent contributor to global warming. Carbon dioxide has one of the highest 'radiative forcing' indexes, meaning that a substantial amount of energy is retained in an average molecule of carbon dioxide. Although there are several other gases in the atmosphere that can actually absorb and trap heat more efficiently than carbon dioxide, scientists have observed that there is simply more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than, for example, methane, which has the highest radiative forcing index of any gas. Additionally, once carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, it takes an average of one hundred years, and in some cases, up to 800 years, for it to leave the atmosphere. Because of this delay, the temperatures currently being experienced on earth are the result of activities carried out approximately 100 years ago; the effects of the activities carried out today will not be felt for roughly another century.

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