Climate change is neither new nor unusual. Throughout the history of the earth, the average surface temperature, climate and greenhouse gas concentrations have changed, sometimes gradually other times quite sharply. During the past 10,000 years the earth has been in an interglacial period with a fairly stable climate, surface temperature, and greenhouse gas concentration1. The problem that has arisen in recent times is when scientists analyze the past 150 years, especially the last 50. Scientists have found an increased greenhouse gas concentration, making the 20th century the hottest in the last 10,000 years.
Although the earth has undergone periodic changes known as global cooling and global warming, today’s global warming is unique, due to human influences. The greenhouse effect is essentially gasses in the atmosphere trapping heat, rather like a car window does in the summer. The major heat trapping gasses found in the atmosphere are; CO2 and water vapor- which are found in large quantity, 03(ozone), ch4(methane), and N2O(nitrous oxide)-which are better heat trappers but found in smaller quantity, CFC’s and PFC’s- which are very potent and destroy ozone. The rapid elevation of these gasses in the past fifty years have been the cause for concern of scientists calling it a global warming problem.
Global warming is a natural process as well as a human assisted process. Solar flares and sunspots along with natural elevation of greenhouse gasses due to volcanic activety are the natural causes for global warming. Dr. Judy Lean, a leading astrophysicist, looked at global warming trends from 1860 to the present day. Her research has found from 1860 to 1970, global warming was largely due to natural sources. But from 1970 to the present natural sources accounted for only one-third the increase while human influence accounted for the remaining two-thirds of the increased greenhouse effect.
The increase in greenhouse gasses from human sources comes from a variety of things. Elevated Co2 levels, which have been increasing at a rate of 0.5% per year, largely come from the burning of fossil fuels(70-75%), especially coal. Deforestation and plant burning account for the remainder. Increased Methane and Nitrous oxide in the atmosphere are mostly due to agriculture; rice patties, cattle, termites and decomposition of dead...
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...ns in order to stop the increase. In order to slow the increase, the efficient use of fossil fuels must be adapted. Natural gas gives off very little co2 and methane if burned properly. Deforestation must also be stopped in order to give natural co2 scrubbers, plants, a chance to aid in the process. Governmental programs have also been implemented. A carbon tax has been considered along with the passing of the 1990 Clean Air Act, aimed at lowering emissions and cleaning air pollution. On a world wide scale, the Kyoto Accord in 1997, in which 159 nations agreed to work together to decrease Co2 emissions by 5.5% by 2012. The United States agreed, since it accounts for 25% of the worlds total emissions by 1990 figures, to cut its emissions by 7%.
Global warming is still a major issue in world and U.S. politics. Conservatives argue for more market-orientated solutions, resulting in the imposition of taxes, resulting in higher prices for environment polluting goods. Liberals on the other hand advocate stiffer industry regulation and more direct controls. Any action taken, whatever the ideology, can only help to solve an increasing problem but at what cost to the consumer?
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