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Green House Gases

Updated on March 31, 2013

Climatic Concerns or Paranoia

By Eric J. Specht

Jan. 2012

Global warming is the gradual increase of the Earth’s temperature that will eventually generate climatic changes and produce new challenges for all Earth’s inhabitants.

Scientists persist that the Earth may be hotter today than it has ever been before and continue to believe that the Earth’s temperature is gradually increasing. The temperature increase is arguably due to human interactions with the environment and emitting greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Since the Industrial Revolution, human activity has led to a dramatic increase in land expansion for developmental and agricultural purposes. Modern development may contribute to economic booms and businesses, but industrialization also encumbers the planet with harmful side effects. The removal of acres of forests for human developments and agriculture limits the exchange of carbon dioxide the trees absorb to release clean air. Furthermore, the factories, the manufacturing process, and consumer goods, such as automobiles produce and release toxins that mainly affect the atmosphere. It appears evident that global warming is due to human actions because humans are attempting to prevent the process, but skeptics reason that humans cannot take actions to stop global warming because it is a natural process.

Global Warming and Climate Concerns

To understand the global warming controversy better, it is imperative to understand global warming and the climatic concerns the process imposes on Earth. Global warming is the increase in Earth’s temperature over time. The increase in Earth’s temperature is due the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that allow heat from the sun to pass through the atmosphere, but also trap some of the heat from escaping into space. Due to the greenhouse gases, Earth’s average temperature today is fifty-nine degrees Fahrenheit as opposed to zero degrees Fahrenheit without the greenhouse effect. The Three primary greenhouse gases that naturally contribute to Earth’s temperature, which in turn supports the species we know of today are carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. The discharge of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide accumulates and continues to thicken the layer of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere overtime, which traps more heat and as a result increases the Earth’s average temperature and climate changes (“Global Warming”, 2012) .

Climate Change

One of the most concerning issues with global warming is that it generates global climatic changes. The increase in Earth’s temperature will intensify and increase the occurrences of thunderstorms, which increases the event of destructive tornadoes as well as their magnitude. The increase of Earth’s temperature also means warmer water in the oceans, which promotes stronger tropical storms. Additionally, the increase water temperature will also intensify the force of hurricanes, which will produce higher winds and sea levels that will destroy coastal environments due to severe flooding and erosion. Warmer temperatures may also increase the chances of drought and wildfires because the increase in temperature accelerates evaporation and produces dry weather conditions, exacerbating already dry regions. On the other hand, warmer temperatures can lead to increase precipitation and accumulation in other areas causing equal or greater environmental damage. Global warming promotes climatic changes that will challenge all of Earth’s species, a concern for scientists on either side of the global warming issue (“The Consequences…,” 2012).

Life

Further concerns of global warming that alarm both oppositions are health issues. A warmer atmosphere can contain and release more intense extreme weather events, which also place people's lives at risk. People will experience more frequent and severe heat waves that will result in a greater number of heat-related health issues and/or fatalities. Due to the thickening layer of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, global warming will also increase smog pollution that will heighten pollen allergies and asthma. Furthermore, global warming produces frequent and severe weather events such as drought and floods that disrupts an ecosystem causing widespread outbreaks of infections like malaria, dengue fever, tick-borne encephalitis, and diarrheal illnesses more often (“The Consequences…,” 2012).

Chain Effect

Ecosystem disruption ultimately affects all of the environments inhabitants. The rise of sea levels, excessive precipitation and damaging storms, droughts, wildfires, and the spread of infections, appear to offer little chance for biodiversity to adapt. Unfortunately, climatic changes promote an array of challenges that may force extinction if species cannot adapt to the changing climate. For example, melting icecaps and glaciers in the artic encumber polar bears with adaptation challenges. Although great swimmers, polar bears are burden with the probability of drowning because they are not accustom to swim long distances from one ice mass to another for migrating and hunting purposes. Polar bears are also burden by the climate’s increase temperature because they have to maintain body temperature to prevent death from heat exhaustion (“The Consequences…,” 2012). Moreover, many other species that benefit from the polar bears presence in the arctic ecosystem will suffer. Scavenger species, such as the arctic fox and Thayer’s gull rely on the remains of polar bears prey as an important component of their diet. Therefore, if polar bears become extinct, other species also may follow them into extinction (Fashing, 2009). Whether it is human related or a natural occurrence, global warming presents all of Earth’s inhabitants with concerns of adaptation challenges.


The Human Cause Argument

Environmentalists and some scientists believe that the rise of Earth’s temperature is due to human interactions with the environment because human actions increase the amount of greenhouse gases released in the atmosphere. As far as scientists are concerned, human activity is causing the Earth to become warmer through the process of industrialization. Since the Industrial Revolution, human developments have contributed to the increase of the three primary greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Business progressions build extensive manufacturing plants that produce consumer goods; however, they also release large amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Other industry advancements include raising livestock for human consumption needs, but livestock discharge large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. Deforestation is the result of human expansion to support industrial developments and agricultural expansion, but human agronomic lands increase the discharge of nitrous oxide. Furthermore, deforestation contributes to the increasing amount of air pollutants trees naturally filter.

CO2

Although greenhouse gases release naturally into the atmosphere, human actions increase the amount of carbon dioxide emissions. Almost all aspects of life, such as heating homes, driving vehicles, purchasing products, and more include burning fossils for fuel and the release of heat trapping gas. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, over the past two centuries the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has increased [“from a pre-industrial level of about 270 parts per million to a current level of 384 parts per million”], (“climate Change , 2012). Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are already higher today than at any time in the past 150,000 years, vindicating that human actions contribute to global warming. In an attempt to reduce carbon dioxide emissions vehicles have to meet certain emission requirements, big businesses and industries are going green or environmentally friendly, and alternative energy sources , such as wind and solar energy are in motion.

Methane

Although carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas released in the atmosphere by human actions, it is not as dangerous as methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that remains in the atmosphere for approximately nine to fifteen years and is over twenty times more effective in trapping heat than carbon dioxide. The increase of methane gas in the atmosphere is primarily due to humans developing industrial businesses from livestock. Mass reproduction of domesticated animals for human purposes led to vast commercial businesses and as a result, a significant increase of methane gas into the atmosphere. In addition to domesticated livestock for consumer goods, ruminant animals such as cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, and camels produce significant amounts of methane as part of their normal digestive processes. Methane discharge is also significant during decomposition of organic material in liquid manure management systems, such as lagoons and holding tanks supplied by livestock. Additionally, decomposition occurs in landfills and open dumps, which was the third largest human cause in methane release accounting for seventeen percent of all methane emissions in the United States in 2009 (“Methane” , 2011). Actions taken to reduce the amount of man causes of methane in the atmosphere are recycling programs to reduce the amount of waste in landfills and dumps.

Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide allows very little heat to escape from the Earth’s atmosphere; therefore, nitrous oxide may be the most concerning greenhouse gas because its potential effects on the global climate. Human related sources of nitrous oxide primarily concentrate on agricultural soil management where a variety of agricultural practices and activities include the use of synthetic and organic fertilizers, nitrogen-fixing crops, and the application of livestock manure to croplands and pasture. Such agricultural practices directly add additional nitrogen to soils, which lead to the conversion and discharge of nitrous oxide. Other human actions that contribute to the increase of nitrous oxide are industry, fossil fuel burning, biomass burning, and livestock feed production. Human actions that are contributing to minimizing the amount of nitrous oxide are establishing organic methods and producing fertilizers that are more natural (“Nitrous oxide”, 2011) .

Filterless

In addition to human actions increasing the natural process of greenhouse gases, humans also destroy Earth’s natural air filter. Deforestation is the process of timbering or removing trees from an area of land. Trees naturally promote the carbon cycle, a cycle in which carbon dioxide is renewable and managed naturally. Trees naturally absorb carbon dioxide to produce food and release oxygen. Additionally, trees are important because they trap smoke, pollen, dust, ash, and other air particles that will eventually wash into the ground during precipitation. However, the removal of trees disables Earth from naturally cleansing the air due to human development and agriculture. Modernization is a global event, an event that will promote a worldwide industry to burn fossil fuels and destroy the land until Earth regains control through climatic changes. However, awareness has assist humans to realize the importance of trees and encourages planting trees to replace ones timbered (“Saving Forests” , 2012).

The Natural Process Argument

The three primary gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect originate from Earth naturally and have been for centuries. Carbon dioxide is an odorless and colorless recycled gas that naturally occurs on Earth through a complex carbon cycle. For example, Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and use it to produce sugars during the photosynthesis process. Then, herbivores and other plant eating species use the carbon from plant consumption to sustain their own biological needs. Next, carbon dioxide returns into the air when animals breathe and decompose and the process begins again. Scientists may argue that the increase emissions of carbon dioxide by humankind are irrelevant because of its widespread need for all species and because it is an ecological resource. Therefore, an attempt to prevent carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere is an economic loss.

Methane

Methane gas is a raw element naturally discharged from humans and other animal species during life as well as the decomposition stage. However, a natural abundance of methane released in the atmosphere originates from other various natural features. Methanogens are species that live in the oxygen deprivation environment of the wetlands and produce large amounts of methane as they breathe carbon dioxide to derive energy (Reay, 2011). Another primary source of methane discharge includes the thawing of frozen methane deposits from the Arctic Ocean seafloor. An impermeable barrier of permafrost under the East Siberian Arctic Shelf has perforated and is leaking large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. The release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf alone could trigger abrupt climate warming (“Methane Release From…,” 2010). It appears more likely that the release of methane gas and the contribution to the greenhouse effect it establishes will derive more from natural occurrences than from human interactions with the environment, so there should be no desire to eliminate human actions that increase the release of the greenhouse gas.

Nitrous Oxide

Natural sources of nitrous oxide are mostly temperate and tropical soils, with the world's oceans also being an important contributor. Nitrous oxide arises from soils primarily through the processes of nitrification and de-nitrification. Nitrification in soils is a process by which ammonia oxidizing bacteria produce nitrate from ammonium in the soil, but also produce nitrous oxide during the process. The production of nitrate and nitrous oxide is most effective in well-drained and aerated soils because of the quality and quantity of oxygen that is present. However,the anaerobic conditions of wetter and more compact soils are suitable for the process of de-nitrification. De-nitrification involves the reduction of nitrate in the soil to gaseous nitrogen and generally produces more nitrous oxide than nitrification. Seas also contribute because bacteria that thrive well in low to zero oxygenated depths of the sea produce nitrous oxide into the atmosphere (Tatarski, 2012). The abundance of tropical and temperate soils conjoined with the abundant depths of oxygen deficiency seas naturally pollutes the air with the human anesthetic nitrous oxide, an event that humans will not be able to prevent.

Additional Factors

In addition to natural increase in climate temperatures, other features contribute to climatic change in various ways. Explosions on the sun generate more heat than normal and as a result, the atmosphere traps the additional heat creating the Earth’s temperature to rise. Earth’s volcanic eruptions can cause temperatures to decrease because the smoke and gases given off prevents sunlight from passing through the atmosphere. Perhaps, the increase in Earth’s temperature may be due to inactive volcanoes. More importantly, any slight change in the Earth's position in orbit could radically change temperatures because the earth would be closer or farther away from its principle source of heat, the sun. Global warming skeptics provide reasonable arguments that Earth’s temperature increase is natural and unpreventable because they proclaim, [“there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.”], (Bast, 2003).

Reasonable Arguments

The natural discharge of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide will naturally sustain the greenhouse effect and perhaps even contribute to increasing the Earth’s temperature overtime, but some humans appear concern because their interactions with the environment appear to accelerate the process. The global warming issue will remain a global controversy with one side of the opposition attempting to change the actions of humans to preserve Earth and the other side enjoying modern engineering that advances their life style. The oppositions appear to have reasonable and ethical arguments that contribute educational appreciation and acknowledgment, not a vote. The deciding factor that will ultimately vindicate the theory is unattainable at this time. Therefore, individuality will be the outcome of humankind.

References

Bast, J. (2003, February 1). Eight Reasons Why ‘Global Warming’ Is a Scam . Retrieved February 13, 2012, from The Heartland Institute: http://heartland.org/policy-documents/february-2003-eight-reasons-why-global-warming-scam?artId=11548

Bensel, J. T. (2011). Contemporary Environmental Issues. San Diego: Bridgeport Education, Inc. Retrieved January 11, 2012

Fashing, P. J. (2009, February 17). Threaten Wildlife . Retrieved February 12, 2012, from California State University, Fullerton: http://calstate.fullerton.edu/news/Inside/2009/global-warming-teach-in-peter-fashing.html

n/a. (2008, March 8). Methane Releases From Arctic Shelf May Be Much Larger and Faster Than Anticipated . Retrieved February 12, 2012, from National Science Foundation: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=116532.

n/a. (2011, April 18). Methane . Retrieved Februry 13, 2012, from United States Environmental Protection Agency:

n/a. (2011, April 18). Nitrous Oxide . Retrieved Februry 13, 2012, from United States Environmental Protection Agency:

n/a. (2012, n/a n/a). Climate Change . Retrieved January 27, 2012, from Envitonmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/index.html

n/a. (2012, n/a n/a). Global Warming: Get the Facts . Retrieved January 28, 2012, from Audubon.org.

N/a. (2012, n/a n/a). Saving Forests . Retrieved January 15, 2012, from Conservation International: http://www.conservation.org/learn/climate/forests/Pages/overview.aspx

n/a. (2012, January 30). The Consequences of Global Warming . Retrieved February 11, 2012, from Natural Resources Defense Council: http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/fcons/fcons3.asp

Reay, D. (2011, September 25). Methane . Retrieved February 12, 2012, from The Encyclopedia of Earth: http://www.eoearth.org/article/Methane?topic=49554

Tatarski, J. (2012, n/a n/a). An Overview of Climate Change/ Global Warming: How It Is Affecting the Human Community . Retrieved January 29, 2012, from Loyola University New Orleans: http://www.loyno.edu/twomey/overview-climate-change-global-warming-how-it-affecting-human-community

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