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Anthropogenic Climate Change and its Effects on Global Warming

Updated on February 8, 2018
Nathanville profile image

My interest in social and cultural politics extends from my interest in genealogy and history, and how they project into today's Societies.

Climate Change is Not a New Phenomena

No one will disagree 'Climate Change' is as old as the Earth itself; an argument all too often used by those:

  • Who have an invested interest in debunking climate change e.g. the coal and oil industries and the politicians paid by those industries, and
  • People who are in denial of our impact on the climate and the disastrous effect it has on the environment; often being suckered by the fossil fuel industries and the politicians financed by those industries.

When the earth was young (4.5 billion years ago) it was a hostile planet to life. Due to a combination of numerous factors the Earth’s atmosphere, climate and global temperature have changed many times over the millennia; sometimes benefiting life on Earth, and sometimes not.

Climate change has been a major factor for many of the extinctions, including possibly four of the mass extinctions. Ironically, it’s not just natural events such as the variants in the Earth’s axis, orbit around the sun, volcanic activity and asteroids that affects the Earth’s climate. Life on Earth has also had a profound effect, but currently the big issue is Anthropogenic Climate Change e.g. climate change due to atmospheric pollution and pollutants originating from human activity.

A History of Earth's Climate

Perception of Climate Change: Americans vs Non Americans

Do You Believe the Human Race is Responsible for the Current Climate Change?

See results

Influence of Life on Climate

I don’t propose going into all the fine details, as it is a complex (and well researched) subject. However at a basic level most people understand that:

  • Plants breathe in Carbon Dioxide and exhale Oxygen, and
  • Animal life (including humans) breathes in Oxygen and exhale Carbon Dioxide.

Farm Animals (particular cattle) and rotting organic matter also release large quantities of methane into the atmosphere. With 1.5 billion cows and bulls worldwide, agriculture is responsible for about 18% of the total release of greenhouse gases, predominantly in the form of methane. To compound the situation rainforests, which absorbs about 40% of manmade CO2, are being deforested at an alarming rate; often to claim the land for cattle ranching. Most of the remaining 82% of the greenhouse gases is primarily CO2, much of which is caused by burning fossil fuels; albeit a small percentage is also from humans exhaling CO2 as we breathe.

Climate Change Explained

The Natural Cycle of the Eco System

With a world population of about 7 billion, humans breathe out about 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 each year, and with the population set to peak at about 10 billion by the end of the century the increase in annual CO2 levels being breathed into the atmosphere by humans is unlikely to exceed 3.6 billion tonnes. This may sound a lot but it is well within the range of the natural cycle of reabsorption of CO2 from the atmosphere by the sea, rainforests and other plant life on Earth.

Causes and Effects of Climate Change

Equilibrium Imbalance

The big problem of the equilibrium of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is the large amounts of methane from farm animals (particularly cattle) and the 34.6 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions released into the atmosphere annually from the burning of fossil fuels.

These quantities are well in excess of the Earth’s equilibrium whereby there is a natural balance between greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere and their reabsorption back into the earth naturally as part of the eco system. Therefore these excess levels of greenhouse gases contribute dramatically to global warming.

Methane is about 30 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas so its effect on global warming in the short term is devastating. CO2 is however the bigger threat because (unlike methane) excess CO2 lingers in the atmosphere for hundreds of thousands years; so it has a very dramatic long term cumulative effect on global climate.

NASA Comparison of Natural vs Manmade Causes of Global Warming

Enlarge the above video to full size to read the data (by pressing the ‘play’ button and then the full screen icon on the bottom right of the screen).

Cumulative Effect of Greenhouse Gases

The main greenhouse gases are:-

  • Carbon dioxide: CO2
  • Methane: CH4
  • Nitrous oxide: N2O, and
  • Fluorinated gases

Carbon Dioxide: CO2

About 65% of CO2 in the atmosphere is dissolved back into the Earth by the oceans within the first 20 years. A further 15% is absorbed by the oceans over the next 200 years. The remaining 20% of CO2 is then absorbed by slower processes over the next several hundred thousand years e.g. rain forests.

Therefore the build-up of CO2 is cumulative in the atmosphere; making it a very long term potent greenhouse gas.

Methane: CH4

Methane, although about 30 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, is short lived and dissipates from the atmosphere within just 12 years.

Nitrous oxide: N2O

Nitrous oxide persists for about 114 years before it’s removed from the atmosphere.

Fluorinated gases

Fluorinated gases comes in many forms, and dependent on their exact chemical compounds, it varies significantly in how long they remain in the atmosphere; anything from less than one year to thousands of years.

Dispelling the Myths

Unfortunately misinformation swamps the web. So if you Google the topic you can be easily misled into believing that:-

  • Climate change isn’t as serious as scientist claim.
  • The current climate change crisis isn’t manmade.
  • Climate change is a hoax.

When speaking with American’s on social media I find that:

  • Most don’t take climate change seriously, and
  • There is a lack of understanding of the urgency of the crisis.

I feel that by the time America wakes up to the fact that urgent action is required, it may be too late. I also find that many Americans I speak with are taken in by the false information freely available on the Internet and firmly believe the scientific claims are fabricated.

Examples of propaganda and fake news cited to me by Americans as proof that global warming is a hoax includes:-

  • A fake website that pretends to be a NASA website giving photographic evidence of satellite images that glaciers in the arctic circle are not receding, and
  • Fake websites giving photographic evidence of chemtrails being deliberately created by thousands of airplanes, and not the burning of coal, that is responsible for climate change.

With regards to the fake NASA website, you only need to visit the genuine NASA website to see the true evidence; which does show the receding ice sheets in the Arctic Circle.

As for the claims of chemtrails, if you carefully follow the so called source information (quoted on the fake websites) back to their origin, all turn out to be bogus and fabricated.

The reality is that so called chemtrails are in fact contrails. Contrails occur naturally high in the atmosphere, and are nothing more than water vapour condensing due to pressure and temperature differential from the airplane’s engines. It’s an effect not dissimilar to when you breathe out on a cold frosty morning.

Why Jets Leave White Trails in the Sky

So next time you see claims debunking climate change, check its source carefully. One aid that may help you determine what might be genuine information and what might be bogus is to be savvy about how to check for fake news, as this video below explains.

How to Spot Fake News

Which Countries are the Worst Climate Change Offenders?

Most Americans will cite China, and yes statistically they by far contribute to the release of CO2 into the atmosphere more than any other country in the world.

However, the three critical points which many Americans seem to fail to realise are that:-

  • Unlike Europe, America and the rest of the industrialised world, China is an emerging industrialised economy who is still in a ‘catch-up’ stage of development. So until they fully develop their ‘Renewable Energy’ infrastructure they are still heavily dependent on fossil fuels as their economy grows.
  • Unlike the USA, China is fully committed to meeting its commitment for CO2 reduction in accordance with the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
  • When taking the population size into account, both China and the EU Carbon Footprint (per capita) are far less than the USA’s (as detailed below).

For example, in 2014:-

• Carbon emissions from China made up about 28.8% of the world’s total emissions: China’s population = 1.379 billion (2016).

• The USA carbon emissions totalled 14.3% of world’s emissions: USA population = 323.1 million (2016).

• EU’s carbon emissions totalled 9.6% of the world’s emissions: EU's population = 743.1 million (2016).

As can be seen above, China has the largest ‘Carbon Footprint’ simply because they have the largest world population. However, although China’s population is four times that of the USA, their Carbon Footprint is only actually twice Americas. Likewise; although the EU’s population is twice that of the USA, it’s ‘Carbon Footprint’ is one third smaller.

Therefore, in my view, the USA is by far the worst offender in that not only are their carbon footprint per capita the highest in the world, but also because unlike the rest of the world (except for two other countries) the USA is not committed to the reduction of CO2 emissions, and remains intent on burning coal and oil without any regard to the climate.

With America Pulling Out of the Paris Agreement, China is Taking the Lead in the Race for Clean Energy

Renewable Energy Now Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels

Great strides are being made in research and development in the renewable energy technology, and costs are continually tumbling. The tipping point making renewable energy more cost effective than fossil fuels was reached in 2016. Plus the renewable energy revolution is creating millions of jobs worldwide.

Therefore, there is no longer any good economic reason why some countries, such as the USA, should insist on continued investment in fossil fuels when renewable energy is now cheaper and cleaner; and economically viable.

Solar Now Cheaper than Fossil Fuels

Ways to Help Limit Effects of Anthropogenic Climate Change

Apart from the obvious renewable energies, such as wind, solar, tidal, wave, geothermal and hydro power, there are plenty we can all do to limit the adverse effects of Climate Change and Global Warming e.g. making our homes more energy efficient, eating less meat and making better use of public transport etc.

Below I touch on just a couple of areas which can have a big beneficial impact on the climate, namely vegetarianism and the electric car.

Vegetarianism

Methane expelled from the backside of cattle is a major factor of short term increases in greenhouse gases that could be reduced if more people became vegetarian. It’s not a major long term factor but every bit helps, and the other benefits of a vegetarian diet includes:-

  • A properly balanced vegetarian diet is healthier.
  • More crops can be grown per acre for human consumption, than for land used for rearing livestock; which for people who are worried about long term food shortages, due to population growth and changing climate conditions, is a positive thing.
  • A reduction in the needless slaughter of millions of animals daily just to feed people when there is the alternative of being a vegetarian.

The issues are a lot more complex than I’ve described here, but it's a factor worth considering. Although I’m a vegetarian myself, I’m not advocating that everyone becomes a vegetarian, that has to be a personal choice; but cutting down on meat consumption in your diet could be a step in the right direction, and environmentally beneficial.

Electric Cars

Globally, transportation contributes 14% of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, in the USA it’s 27%.

Therefore, although renewable energy for homes and businesses is important, so is the replacement of cars running on petrol (gas) and diesel with electric cars.

In this respect, many countries across Europe, and China, are committed to building the infrastructure for electric cars e.g. charging points, and the ban of fossil fuel cars within the next 20 to 30 years; the UK is banning the sale of fossil fuel cars from 2040.

It’s not just Governments leading the way to phasing out fossil fuel cars, in the UK (as with many European countries, and in China) the popularity of electric cars has mushroomed in recent years.

UK to Ban All New Petrol (Gas) and Diesel Cars by 2040

Oil Company Rollout of Electric Car Charge Points in UK

Lamp Posts Conversion to Electric Car Charge Points in UK

Europe’s Rapid Progression Towards 100% Renewable Energy

Of the 195 countries in the world, 192 are committed to the rapid rollout of renewable energy to replace their dependency on fossil fuels.

Scotland, Denmark, Germany and other European countries are increasingly meeting their electricity needs solely from renewable energy. On good days, when the sun shines and the wind blows these countries produce surplus electricity which is predominantly exported through the European Energy Union electricity grid (the Supergrid) to other European countries as required.

Scotland, a big producer of renewable energy frequently exports surplus electricity to England. Although with recent advancement in battery storage technology an increasing amount of surplus green energy will also be stored for use as and when needed e.g. the recent installation by Tesla of the world’s largest battery storage system in Australia to make their national grid more robust.

Original Vision of the European Supergrid in 2009 (Now at an Advanced Stage of Development)

While outside of China, Germany has installed more solar panels than any other country in the world, the UK has installed more wind turbines than the rest of the world. Within just three years from 2014 to 2017 production of electricity from burning coal in the UK has dropped from over 30% to just 2.1%; with plans to close the last coal power station in 2025. In fact Friday 21st April 2017 was the first day ever since the Industrial Revolution that Britain has gone a full 24 hours without burning any coal.

First Ever 'Coal-free' Day for UK

Although Britain is making great strides in a wide range of renewable energy technology, including solar, hydro, wave and tidal power, and biomass, by far the biggest contribution to renewable energy in the UK is wind power.

V164 Platform: A Quantum Leap

Further Research and Sourcing Information

This article has been written based on my personal perception, understanding, knowledge, research, experience and keen interest in the subject.

I became keenly interested in the renewable energy revolution in 2015 when I became aware that not only was Britain meeting its target for replacing fossil fuels with Renewable Energy to reduce CO2 emissions, but was actually beginning to exceed its target; which came as a surprise considering the right wing Conservative Government isn’t naturally Green. From that time on I’ve done a lot of research on the subject, and kept a keen eye on progress.

However, when it comes to conveying what I’ve learnt to others about climate change, global warming, greenhouse gases and renewable technologies, it’s such a large and complex subject that there isn’t one single website which holds all the relevant information. To get the full and accurate picture you do have to do a lot of research; this article just skims the surface.

In support of this article, I could try to source everything, but the rollout of renewable energy technologies worldwide is happening as such a rapid pace that as soon as data is published on the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and the amount of clean energy being produced by each nation, that information is out of date.

For example, in the UK the Dudgeon offshore wind farm was fully commissioned in October 2017 and the Rampion offshore wind farm will be fully operational by the summer of 2018; increasing renewable energy in the UK by a further 3% of the total electricity production. Plus there are a number of other projects in the pipeline, including wave and tidal power, and the Aberdeen offshore windfarm (European offshore wind turbine test bed in Scotland) for testing the next generation of wind turbines, which when it goes live in 2018 will add a further 3% to the UK’s renewable energy production.

The problems in trying to provide accurate and up-to-date source information for articles like this includes:-

  1. Finding reliable and accurate information. There are too many websites that gives false and misleading information. I find Wikipedia a good starting point, but it is not always totally accurate, up-to-date and complete. Therefore I often follow-up on my research by visiting official websites like NASA, other government websites and official organisations.
  2. Finding up-to-date information. The renewable energy revolution is happening at such a rapid pace that in some countries in particular, progress can change dramatically within the same year, let alone over several years. For example if you read an article or view a video published in 2012 on the levels of renewable energy in the UK it will cite that 2% of the UK’s electricity supply comes from renewables. Whereas, in early 2015 it was 17% and by the end of 2017 53% of Britain’s electricity is from clean, low carbon energy; of which 29% is renewable; a 12% increase in renewable energy in just two years.
  3. Terminology. When comparing data from different sources, clean energy isn’t synonymous with renewable energy e.g. clean energy can include nuclear power which is classified as a low carbon energy source; but many countries, including Germany are decommissioning (closing down) their nuclear power stations.
  4. Comparisons. Different websites will present data in different formats. For example some websites may quote how many homes a windfarm will provide electricity for as a measuring stick; while other websites may quote the information in how much MW (Megawatts) will be generated. Also, Some web sources will quote data in metric tonnes while others provides the information in imperial tons; so sometimes when cross referencing from different sources you may need to convert imperial tons to metric tonnes, or vice versa.
  5. Variable Energy Sources. Wind and solar power generation is very dependent on how windy and sunny it is, making it difficult to quote accurate figures. So it’s not unusual to find different websites quoting different figures for the same time period. For example in 2017 the UK’s National Grid could rely on renewable energy consistently providing at least 29% of the electricity, but on the 21st April 2017 (during a heat wave) enough renewable energy was produced so that no coal was burnt for a full 24 hours. Likewise, several countries in 2016, including Scotland, Germany and Denmark, produced enough green energy to be 100% reliant on renewable energy for short periods.
  6. Perspective. All too often people will cite China as the worst offender of CO2 emissions without taking population size into account. Therefore when comparing nations, and their failings or achievements, it’s important to look at the data pro-rata (per person) to get a more accurate perspective. However, not all websites provide pro-rata figures, in which case you then have to do your own calculations based on population size.

Sourced Data

Therefore, because of the above listed issues, rather than provide links to loads of reliable sources which because of the complexity of the subject may appear conflicting and confusing, and which could so quickly become out of date, I’ve selected just a few of the more reliable web sources below as a starting point for those who wish to do their own further research, and to formulate their own opinion.

World Data Bank

The above link is an interactive database containing valuable detailed information about greenhouse gas emissions per capita from every country in the world from 1960 to 2014.

The link I’ve provided below compares the USA, UK and China, but you can customise the tables to show whatever comparisons you wish to make.

The data is particular useful in that it shows the data per capita (per person). Unfortunately the database doesn’t include data from the last three years so it doesn’t show any impact of Trump’s recent withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in favour of his support for the fossil fuel industries. Neither does it show the most recent effect that China’s renewable energy program is having on the atmosphere.

However, what the table does show is that:-

  • At 16,494 metric tons per capita, Americans produces more than double the amount of CO2 emissions (greenhouse gases) than people in China and the UK.
  • Unlike the UK where CO2 emissions per capita have dropped from 11,151 metric tons in 1960 to 6,497 in 2014, Americans actually produce more CO2 emission now than they did back in 1960.
  • Also since 2012 whereas CO2 emission per capita is sharply falling in the UK and levelling off in China, in the USA it’s actually increasing.

List of Countries by CO2 Emissions

The above reference source link from Wikipedia has some useful data, which although not complete and not up to date, does nevertheless have some useful information.

It shows for example the USA as being the 2nd worst offender for CO2 emissions, and even when taking population size into account (per capita) America is still the 7th worst offender worldwide.

While in contrast, although China is the worst offender as a country, when taking population size into account (per capita) China’s emissions are quite modest.

In Summery

The world is experiencing rapid change in climate, as experienced across Europe since the 1980s, particularly in Britain where we’ve had five of the hottest years on record in just the last ten years.

Although most of the world is making great efforts to reduce their carbon emissions into the atmosphere, I feel the USA is letting us down. As a major player, if the USA don’t step up to the mark soon and become fully committed to the cause of reducing their carbon emissions, by the time Americans realise something has to be done urgently, it may be too late.

On the other hand I am impressed with the progress, and commitment, towards a cleaner planet that most of the world is making; including the huge investments in Renewable Energy being made in China, in Europe and the efforts being made in some States in the USA.

Your Comments

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    • Nathanville profile image
      Author

      Arthur Russ 11 minutes ago from England

      Hi Esoteric, that’s where our views may differ. Objections from environmentalist to fracking in the UK include the associated high risks of earthquakes and ground water contamination that can be caused by fracking.

      Also, 85% of crude oil (regardless to whether it’s from wells or fracking) is used for fuel; 46% Gasoline, 26% Diesel, 9% Jet fuel and 4% heavy fuel oil. Only the remaining 15% is used for other products; including plastics; which is another major bane on the environment.

      So most certainly, most of the oil fracked will end up adding significantly to the Carbon Dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, exasperating the Climate Change problem; and continue to add to the pollution levels of cities, which is another major issue of burning fossil fuels.

      Extraction of natural gas (which is primarily methane) from fracking can be better justified because although it’s primary constituent is methane, the added impact on greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is less than half of burning oil; provided the extraction and burning of natural gas is done by following tight ‘Standards’ laid down by European Governments.

      Because Natural Gas is the cleanest of all the fossil fuels, Europe sees Natural Gas as one of the stop gaps (in preference to oil or coal) to make up the difference as it weans itself off of fossil fuels and moves ever closer towards becoming self-sufficient on Renewable Energies.

      The vast bulk of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere from using natural gas isn’t the burning of it, it’s during the extraction process; gas emissions from burning natural gas is minimal. Therefore, as part of wider, long term, plan to reduce dependence on natural gas, Europe (through Research and Development) are developing alternative Renewable ‘clean’ gas as an energy source. A prime example being the use of anaerobic bacteria to digest sewage to produce methane gas as a clean renewable energy e.g. one such plant is now fully operational in Bristol (where I live) which produces enough environmentally safe gas to feed into the national gas grid to meet the needs of 10,000 residents, as well as running a fleet of 100 buses in Bristol.

      Sewage Waste in Bristol Used to Make Green Gas: https://youtu.be/PUpvAfWI_GA

      Nuclear energy is the other stop gap currently favoured by some European countries, including Britain. But because of its controversy e.g. Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disasters, Germany has already closed its nuclear power plants. Other European countries, including Britain, are highly unlikely to build more in the future because as from 2016 Renewable Energy in Europe became significantly cheaper than nuclear energy.

      There are by-products of coal, but the primary use of coal is energy; and the damage coal does to the environment (pollution and greenhouse gases) is huge.

      The British Government’s interest in fracking isn’t for the oil, it’s for the natural (Methane) Gas that’s in plentiful supply under England and Scotland; albeit the Scottish Government has already banned fracking, and so will the British Government if Labour wins the next General Election in 2022.

      It’s unpopularity with Environmentalists (the pressure groups who have caused the current Conservative Government to impose stringent criteria before any fracking can commence commercially) isn’t just the associated release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere during extraction, but also for other environmental issues.

      These other environmental issues associated with fracking include the associated high risks of earthquakes and ground water (drinking water) contamination, making it permanently unsafe for human consumption.

    • My Esoteric profile image

      My Esoteric 18 hours ago from Keystone Heights, FL

      You might find it surprising, but I don't oppose fracking. But I do agree with your gov't in making sure a given fracking operation is environmentally safe (which will make oil more costly and stop some wells entirely, of course, but so be it)

      What many people forget, I fear, is that there are many, many uses of fossil fuels other than fueling transportation or producing energy (I assume that is true of coal as well). So, ending production is a non-starter for me - just burning it.

    • Nathanville profile image
      Author

      Arthur Russ 47 hours ago from England

      Thanks for the feedback Esoteric; I hold the same sentiments as you e.g. I hope the earth can wait until America elects a rational person to the presidency.

      How’s fracking going in America these days? The UK has rich resources ripe for fracking, which the British Conservative Government is keen to exploit (for political reasons). However, commercial fracking hasn’t started in Britain yet because at least the British Government has had the sense to lay down stiff criteria that has stalled any commercial company from commencing; and by the time they meet those criteria it may be too late, because the Labour Government is committed to banning fracking when it next comes to power; which could be as soon as 2022, if not sooner.

      The Scottish Government (a Socialist Government), who are fully committed to Renewable Energy (even though Scotland is sitting on some of the largest coal reserves in Europe) has already banned fracking from ever starting in Scotland.

    • My Esoteric profile image

      My Esoteric 2 days ago from Keystone Heights, FL

      Great article Arthur. Sadly, the latest model releases show what common sense tells us - that the earth is warming at an 'increasing' rate. Previous data could only say it was increasing linearly.

      I hope the earth can wait until America elects a rational person to our presidency.

    • Nathanville profile image
      Author

      Arthur Russ 5 months ago from England

      Thanks Simon, I’m glad to hear that you’ve benefited from it. It’s been a hard few weeks double checking the data to try and keep it representative; but I wanted to say so much more on the subject that the hardest part was in deciding on not what to include so as to avoid the article becoming too lengthy and too technical. However, I did really enjoy writing it once I started to pull it all together.

    • Simon Lam profile image

      Simon Lam 5 months ago

      Very information-rich article! I enjoyed reading and learning from your article. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Nathanville profile image
      Author

      Arthur Russ 5 months ago from England

      Thanks Varsha, I've been studying the subject with interest for a couple of years now, ever since it became apparent that in spite of a Conservative Government who's not 'Green' by nature have however kept Britain on track in not only meeting our commitment to reduce carbon emissions but (like many countries) have exceeded all expectations in the pace of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy.

    • varsha bang profile image

      Varsha 5 months ago from India

      Well researched article.

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