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The Main Causes of Global Warming

Updated on April 4, 2017
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Since completing university, Paul has worked as a bookseller; librarian; and freelance writer. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida.

Main causes of global warming: The Earth is gradually heating up over time, thanks to naturally occurring and man-made factors.  Scientists now believe that human behavior is the main source of the problem.
Main causes of global warming: The Earth is gradually heating up over time, thanks to naturally occurring and man-made factors. Scientists now believe that human behavior is the main source of the problem. | Source

The main causes of global warming can essentially be split into two categories.

  1. Firstly, there are the natural causes of global warming, these have been going on pretty much since the Earth was formed and happen independently of how humans behave. These fluctuate over time in their intensity.
  2. Secondly, there are the man-made causes of global warming, most of these started taking effect when humans began re-shaping the planet, starting with deforestation in the agricultural revolution thousands of years ago. These have dramatically intensified over the past 200 hundred years, thanks to a combination of rapid industrialization and the human population explosion.

The worldwide scientific consensus is that the main process behind the relatively recent acceleration in global warming is the “greenhouse effect”, which is caused by certain gasses trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. These are mainly man-made, rather than naturally occurring.

Global warming is actually a misnomer. It should be global extremes and global swings, because you add - as you add more energy into the atmosphere, it sloshes around. Energy doesn't simply uniformly warm up the planet. And that means droughts in one area, enormous snowstorms in another area, 100-year floods here, 100-year forest fires there.

— Michio Kaku

Global warming is real. It is happening today. It is being charted by our satellites. It is being charted by our scientists. It is being charted by those of us in this body, and I think the real key is if we are ready to admit that fact and take the action to make the necessary conversion.

— Dianne Feinstein

Natural Causes of Global Warming

  • Although the sun seems constant, in actual fact the amount of energy that it gives off can fluctuate and these fluctuations can cause temperature changes on Earth.
  • The Earth wobbles as it spins, causing fluctuations in how much heat is received by the northern and southern latitudes. These changes in temperature, caused by the wobble, have been going on for millions of years.
  • Methane, which is a greenhouse gas and contributor to the greenhouse effect, can be released naturally, especially from certain landscapes such as wetlands and arctic tundra.

If we want to address global warming, along with the other environmental problems associated with our continued rush to burn our precious fossil fuels as quickly as possible, we must learn to use our resources more wisely, kick our addiction, and quickly start turning to sources of energy that have fewer negative impacts.

— David Suzuki
Fossil fuels such as the gasoline used by cars and other motor vehicles is a significant contributor to global warming.  Efforts to reduce usage can be unpopular with the public, however.
Fossil fuels such as the gasoline used by cars and other motor vehicles is a significant contributor to global warming. Efforts to reduce usage can be unpopular with the public, however. | Source

Dealing with global warming doesn't mean we have all got to suddenly stop breathing. Dealing with global warming means that we have to stop waste, and if you travel for no reason whatsoever, that is a waste.

— David Attenborough

Man-made Causes of Global Warming

  • Burning fossil fuels is one of the major causes of global warming. That’s because fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, when burned give off CO2, which is a greenhouse gas. As the world’s population increases and advances technologically, more and more power is needed to supply industry and supply electricity for cities, but most traditional power stations burn fossil fuels and so more and more CO2 is created.
  • Cars and motor vehicles also burn fossil fuel and there are more and more of them on the roads around the world, both as personal vehicles and for transporting all the resources that the increasing population needs.
  • Fossil fuels also contribute to the greenhouse effect because mining for oil and coal can release methane, a greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming.
  • Some farm animals, such as cows, also create greenhouse gasses, because their manure is a source of methane. As the population of the world increases and diets in the developing world turn away from their traditional cereal and vegetable foods towards more meat-centric meals, more and more farm animals are needed to meet the increasing demand, and so more methane is produced.
  • Another greenhouse gas that is produced as a by-product of agricultural practices is nitrous oxide, which can occur through the use of certain fertilizers.
  • Generally speaking, human beings breathe in oxygen and breathe out CO2, which in itself creates more greenhouse gas - but the effects of human life are intensified many times over by the deforestation of the planet that results from population growth, as there is a decrease in plants that take in CO2 and convert it to oxygen.

Some alternatives to fossil fuel burning are controversial.  Nuclear power is less harmful when it comes to the greenhouse effect, but some people have concerns over safety, and the effects of waste disposal on the environment.
Some alternatives to fossil fuel burning are controversial. Nuclear power is less harmful when it comes to the greenhouse effect, but some people have concerns over safety, and the effects of waste disposal on the environment. | Source

The only thing that will really change global warming in the long run is if we radically increase the speed with which we get alternative technologies to deal with climate change.

— Bjorn Lomborg

If you ask what you are going to do about global warming, the only rational answer is to change the way in which we do transportation, energy production, agriculture and a good deal of manufacturing. The problem originates in human activity in the form of the production of goods.

— Barry Commoner

© 2014 Paul Goodman

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    • Goodpal profile image

      Goodpal 2 years ago

      Rather than chasing the phrases "global warming" or "climate Change" I think in terms of "global climatic mess up" which is much closer to what people are noticing everywhere.

      The most basic cause of this constructive ecological destruction is the resource guzzling lifestyle of technologically advanced societies. It comes from the faulty assumption that you are better off if you consume more. Thus, there is the race for consumption. This is further fueled by the habit of measuring progress in terms of GDP growth.

      We need to stop and think what is "development?' In fact, we need to focus on developing people, rather than slaving them to expand economies. Two relevant pages for this debate are

      https://hubpages.com/education/Why-Development-sho...

      https://soapboxie.com/social-issues/Bhutans-Gross-...

    • profile image

      retief2000 2 years ago

      What "global warming?"