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Understanding the Effects of Climate Change and Global Warming

Increases of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide in the earths atmosphere throw the planets highly sensitive
ecosystem off-balance. This climate change, or global warming, results when gases trap warmth in the earths
atmosphere instead of letting the atmosphere release it.
Living with the greenhouse effect
Global warming is also known as the greenhouse effect and the gases involved are called greenhouse gases because
concentrations of toxic gases in the Earths atmosphere prevent heat from escaping back into space just as the glass
walls and roof of a greenhouse prevent heat from escaping a greenhouse.
Realizing that global warming doesnt only mean higher temperatures
Global warming isnt just about rising temperatures; its about the effects of those higher temperatures:

Stormier storms: Rising sea temperatures release more water vapor into the air above the ocean. When
hurricanes form, they pick up this increased vapor, which creates a more intense storm.

Chillier cold: In some northern areas, melting snow and ice cool the sea water that currently offers a
moderating effect on those areas.

Drier deserts: Arid areas can expect to be drier for longer periods each year, and other areas may become
drier.

Wading into the effects of global warming on water


Changes in temperature affect the planets lakes, rivers, and oceans dramatically.

Drought conditions, caused primarily by dried-up water sources and dramatically reduced rainfall. The
amount of land affected by drought worldwide has doubled in the last 30 years.

Increased flooding due to rising sea levels, unusually heavy rainfall, and rapidly melting snow.

Understanding Greenhouse Gases


Planet Earth is warm enough to sustain life thanks to gases in the planets atmosphere that hold heat. These gases
are called greenhouse gasesbecause they act just like a greenhouse trapping the heat inside the planets
atmosphere, making the average temperature on Earth 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius). Humans have

increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by about 35 percent. The more greenhouse gases in
the atmosphere, the warmer the average temperature gets.
The main greenhouse gases
The two major greenhouse gases both occur naturally and can be increased due to human activity.

Carbon dioxide (CO2): Responsible for 63 percent of global warming over time, and 91 percent in the last 5
years, this gas is produced from burning fossil fuels, such as coal and oil. It also occurs naturally as it flows in a
cycle between oceans, soil, plants and animals.

Methane (CH4): Responsible for 19 percent of global warming, this gas is produced by rotting garbage and
wastewater, gas from livestock, and rice crops. Swamps and anything that decomposes without air naturally
creates methane.

Two main sources of greenhouse gases

Energy use: Humans derive energy from burning fossil fuels, which releases almost three quarters of all
human-produced greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Half of all fossil fuels are burned to provide electricity
and heat; the next big users of fossil fuels are manufacturing and transportation.

Land use: How humans remove forests and use land contributes over one quarter of all human-produced
greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so logging and clearing
forest land for agriculture and development means more carbon dioxide stays in the air.

Five Ways to Reduce Your Greenhouse


Gas Emissions
What you can do to help reduce your carbon footprint depends on where you live, the resources you have, and how
much time you can give. If you want to do something about global warming, however, then simple changes can have a
big impact. Here are some straightforward solutions that you can implement right away:

Eat less (or no) meat. Going vegetarian has the same impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions as if
you trade in a regular car for a hybrid. The process of making a pound of commercial meat uses ten times more
energy than making a pound of beans or grains.

* Hook your home up to clean energy. If you cant afford to install solar panels or wind turbines on your roof,
you can tap into an independent clean energy supplier. Let them build the wind turbine, and you reap the benefits.
This step reduces your own emissions and helps build the renewable energy industry.

Insulate your house. The average home has the equivalent of a basketball-sized hole in the side of its wall.
Thats how much heating and cooling you can keep from escaping if you properly insulate your homes ceilings,
walls, windows, and doors.

Travel smart. Reducing the number of flights you take in a year has a huge impact. One long-haul flight can
be enough to double your impact on climate change, so think twice before taking that long trip. Whenever possible,
take the train or bus. Minimize your driving by carpooling, walking, biking, or taking public transit.

Use only the energy you need. Develop energy saving habits turn off the lights and TV when you leave
the room, and turn down your thermostats when the house is empty in winter, and up in summer. Choose lowenergy technologies by looking for the ENERGY STAR or Energy Savings logos on all appliances, electronics,
computers, and more. These qualification standards highlight products that use the least energy.
Major Potential Effects of Global Warming
The impact of global warming will increase in the coming years, but the degree of change will vary greatly, depending
on where you live and depending on how rapidly nations around the world reduce greenhouse emissions. No matter
where you live, though, the unchecked impacts of climate change are potentially catastrophic in the long-term.

It affects people: Depending on their location, people may be affected by disease, rising sea levels, drought,
or major storms. The impact of these effects will be greatest on those with the least financial resources to adapt to
or recover from the effects.

It causes extreme weather: While the atmosphere warms, the climate is changing, and so is the weather.
More frequent and more intense storms, flooding, droughts, heat waves, and even extreme snowfalls are all part of
the changes.

It increases extinctions: Changing climates mean that some environments may no longer be hospitable for
certain plants or animals, which will need to relocate to survive. Some species, such as polar bears, have nowhere
to go. Extinction is a possibility for many species of animals and plants, which may be unable to adapt to their
environment at the same speed at which the climate is changing it.

It melts ice at the poles: The Arctic ice is melting so rapidly that within a few years the North Pole will be ice
covered only seasonally. This has a dramatic impact on the planets climate: Polar ice reflects sunlight and deflects

heat; when it melts, more of that heat stays in the atmosphere. The melting of the Greenland and Western Antarctic
Ice Sheets threatens an extreme rise in sea levels.

It warms oceans: While the oceans warm, water is expanding and causing sea levels to rise. Warmer waters
are killing coral reefs and krill essential to supporting the sea food web.

Key Global Warming Terms


The phrase global warming hasnt been around long, but climate change, as its also known, is nothing new. In fact, it
has been a constant throughout history. Earths climate today is very different from what it was 2 million years ago, let
alone 10,000 years ago. Here are the key terms that are crucial to understanding global warming:

Carbon cycle: The natural system that, ideally, creates a balance between carbon emitters (such as humans)
and carbon absorbers (such as trees), so the atmosphere doesnt contain an increasing concentration of carbon
dioxide. (Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are expressed as parts per million, or ppm.)

Carbon sinks: Anything that absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores carbon. The ocean,
trees, and soil are all carbon sinks.

Fossil fuels: Fuels, such as oil and coal, that are made from the fossils of old plants, which have taken
hundreds of thousands of years to form underground.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): An international body of the United Nations,
composed of over 2,000 scientific experts. The IPCC compiles peer-reviewed climate science to create an objective
source of climate information.

Kyoto Protocol: The international agreement under the United Nations to reduce global greenhouse gas
emissions from industrialized countries by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012. The Protocol is ratified
by 177 countries.

Renewable energy: A continual source of energy, such as energy from the sun, wind, flowing water, heat
from the Earth, or movement of the tides.