Carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide are all ‘greenhouse gases,’ which allow sunlight to enter the atmosphere freely but which also absorb and trap infrared radiation, or ‘heat,’ providing a blanket of gases that protect the planet from the sun’s rays. Without these gases, life on earth would be unsustainable, and the earth’s atmosphere would be like that of Mars.
Natural and Human-Made Processes
Greenhouse gases are also produced by human-made processes, through the hydrocarbons used as fuel, which includes petroleum, coal, and natural gas, all of which consist mostly of hydrogen and carbon atoms. Generating and releasing energy to heat homes, power automobiles, operate factories, and fuel airplanes, trains, and other transportation conveyances, also involve hydrocarbons and the release of greenhouse gases.
When hydrocarbons are burned, they are oxidized, and the release of energy provides the fuel which society depends on for its day-to-day operation, whether it is fueling manufacturing processes or public transportation, heating homes and offices, or powering Internet servers.
Global Warming Issues
The key issues revolving around ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ have a lot to do historically with what happened when and where and what the causes were. Are they mostly natural, or is there a significant impact from man-made sources? And what can society and governments of the world do to change the situation? Scientists cannot agree on answers to these issues, and there are many of them on both sides of the controversy.
Temperature cycles, natural disasters, and changes in the earth composition have all contributed to the state of the earth today. The science is far from proven that human-made forces have been more influential than nature in causing the temperature changes which have been the subject of so much analysis and controversy. However, there is general agreement that the industrial revolution was the beginning of man’s influence on the global climate, and that changes in the environment have been affected by man’s increasing use of fossil fuels, which generates greenhouse gases.
Warming the Earth’s Surface
Does warming the surface of the earth cause harm to the planet? Not according to Christopher C. Horner, who states that “We cannot even be sure the Earth’s warming is a bad thing. Plants appreciate warmer temperatures (as well as higher CO2 concentrations).” (The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism, p.66).
In many countries of the world Increasing CO2 emissions have been increasing crop yields and, according to Lawrence Solomon, writing in the Financial Post, “Since humans began adding CO2 to the planet’s atmosphere, taking plants off their starvation rations by creating a planet-wide greenhouse, plants have thrived.”
Data from NASA satellites, which began tracking the earth’s biota in the early 1980s, show that as CO2 emissions grew, so did plants, and the earth is much greener than it was when the data began to be collected although the growth in greenery varies from country to country.
As it stands, there are pros and cons to the increase in greenhouse gases which has occurred over the last century or more, and scientists and politicians will continue to wrestle with solutions.