Global warming as a subject has drawn reactions across the world in recent times. As a result, the paper focuses on providing an understanding of what global warming is and explaining its causes, based on the thesis that it is a manmade phenomenon. Global warming results from an increase in the greenhouse gas cover in the earth’s atmosphere which comes about due to human activities such as deforestation, combustion of fossil fuels, industrialization, agriculture and use of electricity. The resultant global warming has several effects on the physical environment such as changes in precipitation patterns, glacial retreats reduction in fresh water supply among others. Similarly, global warming results in food supply fluctuations and various economic effects. In order to resolve this issue, it is therefore necessary to take steps such as planting of forests, avoiding fossil fuels, recycling and sustainable use of resources such as electricity.
Keywords: Global Warming, greenhouse gases, fossil fuels, deforestation
Human Contribution to Global Warming
Global warming is a subject that has attracted immense attention in the recent times due to its effects on the environment as well as on human life in general. Conferences have been held towards understanding global warming and its effects as well as proposing solutions to the menace that has resulted in critical changes in the environment. Nations and groups of nations have come together for the advancement of ideas to be applied in the management of industrialization to the advantage of the environment. The key objective for the control of global warming is normally to preserve the environment for future generations through sustainable development. Global warming is believed to be the result of mainly human actions such as deforestation and industrialization which lead to the increase in the amount of greenhouse gases in the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (2010), the key indicators associated with global warming include increase in the occurrence of extreme events such as droughts, cyclones and storms; as well as the increase in the rate of glacial retreats.
While most of the effects discussed rally around environmental issues, the effects of global warming are more diverse than can be imagined. Christiansen et al (2011) purport that changes in the environmental conditions due to changes in global temperatures have even more adverse effects on other aspects such as agriculture, availability of water resources and food supply. Because of these assertions, it is necessary to effectively comprehend the nature of the global warming phenomenon and subsequently reach a conclusion as to what constitutes this aspect as well as how solutions to the occurring changes can be developed and understood. Several authors have addressed the subject of global warming but their works are still limited in scope since the subject is sufficiently wide and cannot be wholesomely understood through a single piece of literature. To gain more understanding into this subject, the present study carries out an in-depth consideration of various pieces of literature with the objective of understanding the background to the problem of global warming; its purported causes and the effects of the problem across the globe as well as the solutions that address this issue.
To effectively achieve the study objectives, the focus of the study will be maintained through the following questions.
- What are the human related causes of global warming?
- What effects does global warming have on the environment and on other sectors?
- What solutions have been proposed for the problem of global warming?
Global warming: An overview
The concept of global warming is best understood through the description given by Lindell (2014). According to this author, global warming involves a general increase in the temperature of the atmosphere near the earth’s surface close to water bodies and land masses. Lindell suggests process of global warming occurs through a natural process which is founded on the changes in the atmospheric composition. However, from the study of existing literature on global warming, it can be concluded that the process of global warming is a result of human activities. For instance, Riebeek (2010) describes the process of global warming as “the unusually rapid increase in Earth’s average surface temperature over the past century primarily due to the greenhouse gases released by people burning fossil fuels.” This implies that without the actions of humans who trigger the process, global warming would not occur. The description given by Riebeek is exemplified by many authors who describe the process through its causes which are majorly man-made The phenomenon can thus be concluded to be manmade rather than natural since without the greenhouse gases released by humans through industrial processes, combustion of fossil fuels, use of aerosols and others, the global warming would not occur. Moreover, Riebeek exempts the effects of natural processes on global warming with the claims that the natural processes have been occurring since the pre-industrial ages without significant effect and that “these natural causes are still in play today, but their influence is too small or they occur too slowly to explain the rapid warming seen in recent decades (Riebeek, 2010).”
Some of the key components of the earth’s atmosphere are greenhouse gases. These gases are referred to in this way due to the impact that they have on the environment, which is similar to the impacts of green houses. Gases such as carbon IV Oxide, nitrous oxide, ozone and water vaporexist at the lower levels of the atmosphere to keep the planet warm by preventing warm air from the area close to the earth’s surface from escaping.The gases therefore provide an insulator effect to the earth’s surface, thereby ensuring that the earth remains warm. An increase in the amount of greenhouse gases in the environment causes the warming effect to be extreme, which results in the gradual increment of the earths near surface temperatures. According to the United States Department of State (2002), the greenhouse gases are what result in the effects often associated with global warming and a reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions can lead to a general reduction in the rate of global warming.The contribution of each of these gases to the greenhouse effect varies depending on their concentration in the environment. For the mentioned gases, the typical concentrations include: 36 – 70% water vapor, 9-26% carbon IV oxide, 4-9% methane and 3-7% ozone (Kiehl et al., 1997).
The mechanism through which greenhouse gases result in global warming is described by Rosenzweig et al (2007) who say that the greenhouse gases in the environment trap long wave radiation while releasing the short wave radiations emitted from the earth’s surface to go through. Because of the increase in the percentage of long wave radiations in the atmosphere, the temperature of the earth’s near surface increases naturally due to the insulating effects of these waves. The end result is an increase in the temperature of the earth’s surface as well as that of the water bodies. Because of this effect of greenhouse gases, it has been universally agreed among environmentally conscious agencies that changes in the rate of emission of greenhouse gases in the environment. Human activities have been recognized to be the main causes of greenhouse gas emissions and the resultant global warming. This implies that in order to curb global warming, it is mandatory to address the human activities that result in the release of greenhouse gases into the environment.
Causes of global warming
According to Recer (2001), deforestation is the key cause of global warming in the world today. This report is supported by arguments from various other authors such as Riebeek (2010) and Biello (2007) who describe the means through which deforestation results in global warming. In the natural balanced system, trees have the role of extracting carbon IV oxide from the environment in the photosynthesis process. A reduction in the percentage of green plant cover therefore means an inevitable reduction in the rate in which carbon IV oxide can be removed from the environment. With increased population, increased rate of release of carbon IV oxide from industrial and other processes all result in increased concentration of the gas as part of the overall greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere. This implies that deforestation alone has the potential of causing an imbalance in the environmental composition of gases. In addition to this, deforestation reduces the percentage of oxygen released into the environment making both the sequestration and dilution of carbon a challenge. In addition to this, it has been reported that agricultural activities such as use of aerosols for pest control result in the release of Nitrogen oxide gases and sulphurous oxide into the environment. These gases contribute to the increase in the concentration of the greenhouse gases in the environment making environmental activities a key concern in the control of global warming.
Activities such as burning fossil fuels in transportation and in industrialization have been cited as the key causes of global warming. From a report by Biello (2007), industrialization processes contribute to global warming through the use of machinery, electricity and running of factories which mainly depend on the combustion of fossil fuels for operation purposes. From the report given by Biello, machines which consume oil and factories that run on fuel oil and coal all contribute to global warming through the release of greenhouse gases such as nitrogen oxides into the environment. The rate at which fossil fuel combustion results in the release of greenhouse gases is very high, which makes this the key culprit in the increase of global warming rates in the contemporary times. Increase in the levels of industrialization across the world has led to deforestation which has previously been discussed as a cause for global warming. Through efforts for expansion and development of new factories, human activities make it impossible to control deforestation. In terms of the consumption of electricity, the main reasons that have been cited by Biello include running of mining industries to extract copper and other minerals for the production of electricity transmission materials and the running of thermal power generation units which run on coal and fuel oil.
Riebeek (2010) describes other human causes of global warming. According to this author, energy supply, agriculture, waste and waste water and the transport industries all contribute to increasein global warming. Energy supply through both electric power transmission and the use of fossil fuels contribute through the use of various materials and equipment, as well as the gases released into the environment. Waste and waste water contribute through the release of greenhouse gases due which are produced due to decomposing matter. Gases such as sulphur oxides, nitrogenoxide and methane which characterized decomposition of organic matter all contribute to the greenhouse effect which is associated with global warming (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2011). Riebeek asserts that “we produce millions of pounds of methane by allowing our trash to decompose in landfills and by breeding larger herds of methane belching cattle” (2007). It is because of the contribution of wastes and waste water to global warming that it has been reported that domestic applications lead to global warming. This implies that the management of global warming requires a solution that is tied to the management of causing agents.
Effects of Global Warming
Effects of global warming go beyond the environmental impacts. In a research carried out by Rosenzweig et al (2007), environmental impacts of global warming are described in details. The key issue that is related to global warming in the environmental context is the impact on precipitation. Rosenzweig et al report that global warming has resulted in multiple changes in the precipitation types, intensities and frequency across the globe. While the tropical regions have continued to experience reduced rates of precipitation, sub-polar regions as well as some equatorial regions continue to experience increases in the rates of precipitation. These changes are best described through the assertion that precipitation changes have occurred in the manner in which precipitation occurs as well as in the locations in which precipitation occurs. Besides the changes in the precipitation structures and types, Bindoff et al (2007) report that apart from precipitation changes, extreme events in the weather have occurred in recent times due to climatic changes associated with global warming.
Extreme weather changes such as increased rates of cyclone occurrence increase in the likelihood of high temperature days and nights have all been attributed to global warming. Oceans and other water bodies which act sinks for carbon IV oxide have been affected negatively through global warming. Ebi et al (2006) report that global warming has resulted in the acidification of water bodies, which has subsequently led to the reduction of the carbon IV oxide carrying capacity of those water bodies. In addition to this, the earth’s heat content has increased significantly as a result of global warming. Because of the impacts of global warming on the earth and water bodies, the environmental quality is believed to have been reduced tremendously, with effects being detrimental to a wide range of plant and animal life. Because of the impacts of global warming, various benthine marine creatures and planktons have been impaired.
The most common effect of global warming has been identified as the retreat of glaciers and snow packs. Barnett et al (2005) researched on the possible impacts of global warming and came to a conclusion that the disappearance of the arctic cover and other glacial retreat forms have resulted in the increase of sea levels across the globe. While this may seem to be a positive impact in that it is expected that rising sea levels should increase the amount of water supply across the world, it proves to be problematic through the reduction of the volumes of fresh water covers. While sea levels rise, the salty sea water is spilled into estuaries and also results in the salinization of underground water. All these effects make it difficult to obtain sufficient clean water for domestic purposes. Furthermore, the contribution of glacial retreats to environmental degradation is such that it reduces the amount of seasonal water supplies hence this can be linked directly to the aspect of global warming (Barnett et al., 2005).
The impacts of global warming are not restricted to the environment. Effects on food supply are discussed by Christiansen et al (2011) and the Environmental Protection Agency (2010). According to the EPA, changes in planting seasons, particularly in the U.S can be attributed to climate changes associated with global warming. Similarly, Christiansen asserts that the impacts of global warming on agriculture and food production have led to adverse effects on food supply. Increased frequency at which extreme events occur has been experienced across the globe through events such as drought, storms, and pest invasions which destroy crops and result in lower food security levels. In exemplification, Christiansen describes the impacts of global warming on food supply through the assertion that the productivity of certainstrains of cereals has been reduced due to global warming.
Other impacts of global warming on different aspects of life have been described over the years. Ebi et al (2006) discusses the impacts on health while the United States Department of State discusses the general impacts on aspects such as economy and the gross world product. Effects of global warming on biological systems are effectively addressed by Rosenzweig et al (2007). According to Ebi et al, global warming has resulted on the destruction of the environment in terms of water, air and dry land pollution through increased pH and temperatures which have led to low food quality and generally poor health. However, the increase in the surface temperatures has led to a reduction in the number of cold related deaths which makes it a positive effect. The United States Department of State describes effects on water resources through the assertion that global warming has led to a general reduction in the availability of readily accessible water resources as well as increased salinization of fresh water bodies. In terms of the biological systems, Rosenzweig et al claim that global warming has resulted in biodiversity loss through disruption of ecosystems by fire, pests, invasion of species and adverse environmental effects.
Solutions to Global warming
Having considered the causes and impacts of global warming, Biello (2007) provides options that are termed as potential solutions to the menace of global warming. The solutions provided are based on the assertion by Wolf (2001) that global warming reduction can only be achieved through reduced emission of greenhouse gases. One of the proposals made by Biello is that infrastructural upgrades should be carried out. According to this author, the upgrade of infrastructure such as housing and roads can help reduce emissions since construction materials such as cement release gases into the atmosphere which have the green house effects. Moreover, poor roads and transport infrastructure result in lower fuel efficiency, which leads to the release of incompletely combusted gases into the environment. Addressing the issue of infrastructure can thus make an essential step towards the achievement of global warming control objectives.
In addition to this, reforestation and afforestation are recommended as essential stages toward the achievement of reduced global warming. The increase in the amount of plant cover can result into a general increase in the rate of photosynthesis and eventually an increase in the amount of carbon IV oxide that can be absorbed from the environment and/ or diluted through the produced oxygen during photosynthesis. In addition to this, the rate of plant cover may restrict industrial expansion to certain areas only (Barnett et al., 2005).
Biello further suggests that reduction of houselhold consumptions can help to reduce global warming through reduction of wastes and waste water. In addition to this, Biello claims that reduced consumption implies that there is increased efficiency in the consumption process which helps to save energy. While addressing the need for reduced consumption, recycling of materials that are prone to the release of greenhouse gases such as plastics is recommended. Plastics which are recyclable and are produced from the combustion of fossil fuels can be reduced through recycling. This leads to the reduction of global warming rates through reduced use of fossil fuels (Biello, 2007).
In conclusion, Biello reports that the most effective way to reduce global warming immensely would be to forego fossil fuels through the provision of alternatives, such as renewable energy sources. While this may be viable, the key concern raised is that renewable energy sources may not be sufficient to cater for worldwide energy needs. It is therefore suggested that the only way to do away with fossil fuels completely would be divert attention towards nuclear energy, something the world is still not convinced about or ready for. Wolf opines that doing away with fossil energy would consume more than 2 percent of the world’s gross world product. It therefore remains a challenge on the possibility of achieving this fete.
Despite argument by various scholars that global warming is a natural process, human contributions to global warming cannot be denied. Since global warming occurs as a result of the increase of greenhouse gases such as water vapor, nitrous oxides, ozone and carbon IV oxide in the environment, the process is clearly man made. Human activities such as deforestation, industrialization, and use of electricity, burning of fossil fuels and waste and waste water management all contribute to the increase of greenhouse gases in the environment. This leads to global warming which causeseffects such as glacial retreats, precipitation changes, biodiversity loss, food supply reduction, adverse impacts on health and reduced water supply as a result of global warming. Identification of the causes of global warming should effectively lead to its reduction through actions such as foregoing fossil fuels, reforestation, changes in consumption habits, recycling of materials and infrastructural upgrades.
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