Last modified: April 6, 2017
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Global warming is nothing new. The earth has cooled and warmed and cooled many times since its beginning as a planet. These changes in temperature were mostly due to the small changes in its orbital path that controlled the amount of sunlight it received, or because of the changes in the surface and atmosphere or when the amount of energy emitted by the sun varied.
But the global warming that is being debated on now is caused by man’s intervention into the surface and atmospheric regions through the various activities carried on. It has been calculated that the average surface temperature of the earth has risen by one degree Fahrenheit since 1900. But in the past four decades, the increase has risen three-fold of the century’s average rise.
The main causes for the rise in temperatures have been the emission of what are called the ‘greenhouse gases’. These gases, like carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, are being released into the atmosphere through the industrial and domestic smoke produced by burning fossil fuels, smoke emitted by vehicles, forest fires and so on (see figure below). The greenhouse gases form a layer in the atmosphere that allows sunlight in but prevents the heat from escaping back into space. This is similar to the effects produced inside the greenhouse, where the carbon dioxide produced by the plants is kept inside by glass enclosures and help to retain the heat for the plants’ functioning and growth during the winter months.
Scientist are now predicting that the temperature could rise another three to eight degrees by the end of the century, unless the emission of the greenhouse gases are controlled. Because of this rise in temperatures, there could be widespread melting of the ice sheets and polar ice-caps that would result in the sea levels rising by several feet and inundating the coastal and low lying areas all over the earth. This would be as destructive as being hit be an asteroid.Moreover, there would also be drastic changes in the rainfall and the frequency of extreme weather would increase.
The effect of the increase in the carbon dioxide levels also affects the sea pH levels and the resulting acidification would be highly destructive to the marine ecosystems. The growing season of the plants would also change and while this could be advantageous in some regions, could also be detrimental to the proper growth and harvest of food crops in other regions.
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