The Natural Greenhouse Effect:
Earth’s atmosphere is ninety-nine percent nitrogen and oxygen. The remaining one percent includes water vapor (H20), carbon dioxide (C02), and methane (CH4). These trace gases act as an insulating blanket, trapping some of the heat trying to radiate away from the planet. As in a garden greenhouse, this warmth remains within the atmosphere. Without this protective blanket, Earth’s surface would be almost sixty degrees colder.
“We should be very grateful for the natural greenhouse effect because Earth is some 60 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it would be without it. It has made Earth the water planet, the blue planet, instead of just another white snowball in orbit around the sun.”
– Henry Pollack, geophysicist and author of A World Without Ice, 2009.
Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, FAQ 1.3, Figure 1. Cambridge University Press.
The Human-Produced Greenhouse Effect: Tipping the Balance
The natural greenhouse effect has been around since Earth’s earliest days billions of years ago, whereas the human-produced greenhouse effect has developed in just the last few centuries. Earth’s rapidly growing human population has altered the atmosphere by burning massive amounts of fossil fuels – coal, oil, and natural gas – which emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
World Resources Institute diagram showing the amount of greenhouse gases (one percent of the atmosphere) in 2005.
Burning and cutting down forests and unsustainable agricultural practices also contribute to rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the eighteenth century, Earth’s atmosphere has experienced a 40% increase in carbon dioxide.
Global communities now have an opportunity to change the existing paradigm and forge a more balanced, sustainable relationship with the planet. The future of humanity and other forms of life depend on it.
COLD FACT: Carbon emissions remain in the atmosphere for more than a century.
Top Banner image: David Abby Paige, Halo; Wingof the Fokker Airplain Crashed on March 1934, oil, Ohio State University Archives, Papers of Admiral Richard E. Byrd.