My Own Summary of Global Warming
One of the biggest concerns for the future is the phenomena dubbed global warming. There are a plethora of contributing factors. Some of these factors are a result of human activity, while other factors are strictly natural. Some of the natural causes are based on physics, the Earth and even the sun. This hub is by far not all-inclusive, but it is a summary of my own observations.
While the most recent epoch of geological time periods is currently under debate, I am in favor of the Anthropocene. This emphasizes the effect that humans have on the environment. Our production of chlorofluorocarbons (some aerosols and styrofoams), carbon monoxide (product of rapid oxidation of fossil fuels), sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, methane (landfills and decomposing animal manure in large livestock farms) and various particulates has rapidly altered the atmospheric balance. Some of them deplete atmospheric ozone, which causes less of the sun's radiation to be reflected away from Earth. Others increase the amount of greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere, which causes more of the radiation to be accreted by the Earth. Some of them also alter the pH (a logarithmic increase in the atmospheric mixture to completely ionize/dissociate to produce hydronium cations), which causes acid rain and other environmental disturbances. In addition, our extreme deforestation has reduced the number of plants available to exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen in photosynthesis reactions. Another contributing factor is that cities produce more heat than the typical natural environment, and they also absorb more radiation from the sun. This is because they are darker (blacktops/roads) and increase the volume (large buildings), but also the many windows amplify greenhouse effects (try getting in your car on a warm day and it is about 20°F hotter than the outside environment). Our increasing population will only make matters worse. As we get more people, that means more buildings, more cars, etc.
Some of Nature's Contributions
The Earth also has mechanisms that are responsible for increase in temperature. If one were to look at the amount of radioactive uranium and thorium atoms that decay on average per year (or one could do this with any half-life and extrapolate from that data a similar progression for all half-life exponential decay functions is similar) will increase as time is in proximity to the half-life value (the probability should resemble a parabola/bell curve with the vertex/apex at the half-life value). Essentially, the chance of any given radioactive isotope to decay maximizes at its half-life value. Since radiation releases heat, this means that the Earth should be generating more heat due to radioactive decay than in previous years. Another point to consider is that, as the polar ice caps melt, the resultant water is darker than the ice. This results in a reduction of reflective surface, while simultaneously increasing the absorptive surface, meaning that more heat will be retained as time goes on. The sun also goes through a cycle of varying energy output phases. According to Eigil Friis-Christensen and Henrik Svensmark of the Solar-Terrestrial Physics Division at the Danish Meteorological Institute, about every 11 years, the peak energy output is reached (Friis-Christensen and Svensmark). Since all of the factors that are allowing the Earth to retain heat increase over time, the high energy output phases will become more effective in a complex geometric accretion sequence.
Why Should We Care
Living conditions and quality of life will be effected. As the population increases, the amount of resources and potable water available per capita decreases. Since the global warming will also decrease the amount of resources available, this will easily get out of control. Already some places are having problems with population, resources, poverty, food, water availability and related issues without adding other complications. As humans, we are extremely adaptable, particularly when one considers our technological aids. The flora and fauna, however, are typically not so lucky. Of course we can save some portions by placing them in reserves. At some point, this will become too financially or technologically demanding. Global warming may not be enough to kill out the human race, or other species. However, it will result in a lot of unnecessary deaths (human or other creatures) and a large loss of plant life. There will probably be entire species of lifeforms that will be lost. I certainly do not see the planet being literally destroyed, but it just might be ruined for a long time.
Other Things to Consider
All of that being said, the Earth will eventually (very slowly, mind you) go back into the cycle in which it cools down. The questions, of course, are: will the human species survive that long? Will we have found a different planet or moon to inhabit? Will some other factor (such as a meteor, a gamma ray burster, etc...) upset the cycle? Although it seems impossible now, or at the very least it is unlikely, will we develop technology that will ameliorate the dilemma at a fast enough rate? These are the questions that scientists and environmentalists are attempting to answer.