The Problem of Global Warming
"The climate of the Earth is changing" (Melillo 1999:183). These
words sum up exactly what is happening to the environment today; it is
changing. Yet, what has brought on this change? There are many factors
that contribute to climate change, however, the most important one that
has become a very relevant issue to humans today is global warming.
Global warming is the increase in the Earth's average surface temperature
from an increase of greenhouse gases (primarily Carbon Dioxide) in the
atmosphere. These extra gases act as a blanket, trapping in radiation
received from the sun and warming the Earth's surface. This effect can be
brought on from a number of different sources. The burning of fossil
fuels, deforestation, volcanic eruptions, and the decomposition of organic
materials are only a few of the ways that extra greenhouse gases are
released into the atmosphere causing what is known to the general public
as the "Greenhouse Effect".
One may ask how the Greenhouse Effect is so detrimental to the
environment. The burning of fossil fuels expels extra greenhouse gases
into the atmosphere. The most abundant gas released from this process is
Carbon Dioxide. When Carbon Dioxide levels are high, this in turn causes
the temperature to rise causing many different things to happen, such as
the melting of the polar ice caps. Should the polar ice caps melt, this
would not only wash out many different ecosystems from the excess water on
land, but it would also release a great deal of Carbon Dioxide into the
atmosphere that had been trapped in the ice caps. This would again raise
Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere and cause the temperature to rise,
displaying a positive feedback mechanism. There are absorbers of the
extra greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, however, when the amount
released into the atmosphere exceeds the ability of absorption is when global warming occurs.
Deforestation contributes to global warming by taking away one of
these absorbers discussed above. Green plants and trees take in Carbon
Dioxide from the atmosphere and expel oxygen, which all living organisms
need for survival. The destruction of these plants results in a lack of
Carbon Dioxide absorption.