In recent years, global warming has been an increasingly hot topic in the voice of the media and the ears of the mainstream. As the issue of global climate change has been continually politicized, opinions and statistics have been thrown at the public from every direction. Americans are inundated with news reports, books, legal proceedings and movies on the topic of global warming. Although it is widely accepted that the earth is heating up, disputes remain about the nature of the global temperature increase. Could it be possible that our excessive consumption of fossil fuels on a massive scale is the cause? If it is, this issue has a connection to everyone’s lifestyle, regardless of political orientation.
As radiation from the sun reaches the earth’s surface, some of it is absorbed, warming the earth. Some of the solar radiation is also reflected back, away from the earth. It is the ability of the Earth’s atmosphere to “trap” a certain portion of this escaping radiation and send it back down to heat the Earth. This phenemonon, known as the greenhouse effect, makes Earth hospitable to life. Although the complex systems of reactions involved in the greenhouse effect are not understood in full detail, it is widely agreed upon that it is the mechanism largely responsible for the moderation of the Earth’s temperature. Recent changes in the Earth’s temperature have brought the greenhouse effect into the center of a public discussion about the causes and effects of global climate change.
It is the consensus of the scientific community that the temperature of the atmosphere near the Earth’s surface has risen about one degree Fahrenheit in the last hundred years. That may not sound like much, but it is a very rapid change in comparison to the global temperature patterns before this time. The effects of this global temperature increase have been hard to ignore. Melting ice sheets on both polar caps, receding glaciers, droughts, disastrous storms, and other uncommon weather patterns are all believed to be linked to the increased temperatures.
There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that this warming effect may be caused by humans. Vehicles and coal-burning power plants are two of the many sources that release tons of gasses and particulate matter into the air every day. By increasing the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, these emissions are effectively heating the Earth’s surface. Deforestation has compounded the problem by reducing the ability of the Earth to absorb greenhouse gasses.
The full effects of continued temperature increases are not completely understood. Potential results of prolonged global warming include flooding, decreased agricultural yields, heat waves, extinctions of species, droughts, increased propagation of certain infectious diseases, and increased frequency of large hurricanes among others.
We can reduce the likelihood of these problems if we take action now. Voting with your pocketbook and your lifestyle is the most direct action any American can take to help solve the problem. A widespread reduction in emissions from the burning of fossil fuels would have a great impact in curbing global warming trends. By investing in alternative energies and sustainable living practices, we can invest in the livelihood of our future and the livelihood of generations to come.