Thesis: Global Warming's Effect on the Weather and Climate

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Global Warming: An Overview of Theoretical Causes and Effects

It has been almost impossible in the past decade to avoid media mention of the issue of Global Warming. It seems as though it is impossible to watch an hour of the evening new or open a newspaper without at least a brief mention of some aspects of the global warming issue, sometimes in a hopeful but more often in a dire and depressing tone. The recent debacle concerning a batch of stolen email that suggested climate scientists were inflating or even making up the global warming scare has only increased the attention being paid to global warming. Though the email fervor has died down somewhat, as have the accusations that the emails disprove global warming theory (which they don't), it remains clear that global warming is a vital issue in our times, environmentally and politically.

The politics of global warming can be seen in the machinations of the election system and general political activity in the United States. President Bush was roundly criticized by many individuals both here in the United States and abroad for his refusal to adhere to Kyoto protocols and his general avarice in the face of environmental destruction. President Obama made the environment a large part of his platform, especially after the flippant and cavalier Sarah Palin joined the opposition's campaign; though the issue was reduced to little more than invective rhetoric and talking points, the fact that it had become such a major part of the general political debate in this country signal both the significance and the controversy of the issue. Global warming has become, rightly or wrongly, one of the most pressing scientific and political questions of the day (WGW 2009).

Global warming is still questionable, too, though many take it as a foregone conclusion. The fact is, there is never anything that is one hundred percent certain in science, and global warming is far from the most certain of scientific theories. Though there is a majority consensus in the scientific community as to the realities of global warming and its human causes, there is not a full agreement from all scientific corners, and no amount of consensus or agreement is the same as fact. The idea of global warming and its human causes cannot really be considered a fact, then, but rather an educated and well-evidenced guess. Even though global warming is not a fact, however, a consideration of its possible effects warrants an investigation of global warming, its causes, and its possible solutions.

The Way Global Warming (Might) Work

Global warming is believed to be the result of what has been dubbed the "greenhouse effect." Greenhouses, of course, are structures made of glass or plastic that allow sunlight and heat to enter the greenhouse, but don't allow for its release and so trap it inside so as to create the proper environment for growing certain plants. Scientists believe that certain gases in our atmosphere, particularly carbon dioxide, can behave in a similar way, allowing light and heat from the sun to enter the atmosphere but not allowing for its release back out into space (Willetts 2008). This means that the more carbon dioxide and other greenhouses gases existed in the atmosphere, the more heat could be expected to be trapped in the Earth's atmosphere. An increase in these atmospheric gases would translate to an increase in the Earth's temperature, and that is what might be happening (Willetts 2008).

Measurements of carbon dioxide, taken both directly from the atmosphere and through other sophisticated indirect measurement techniques such as ice core samples, show that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere began a steep climb at about the same time human industrialization started (zfacts 2007). The Industrial Age has been marked by, amongst other things, a huge increase in the amount of human pollutants -- including carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases -- into the environment. The correlation between the known (or rather estimated) human release of carbon dioxide and the measured increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide is huge, making it very probable that human activity in the past two centuries has been primarily responsible for the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (zfacts 2007). If increased greenhouse gases cause global warming, humans are almost certainly behind the problem.

Human Causes of Global Warming

The predominant source of excess carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere by human activity comes from the burning of fossil fuels. These fuels come from a variety of sources, but all are called "fossil fuels" because they are the result of millennia of compression under the Earth's surface working on organic material -- living organisms that dies thousands of years ago. Oil and all of its products as well as coal and even natural gas (though it is much cleaner than the other fossil fuels) are all the result, and burning these fuels releases carbon dioxide -- one remnant of organic material -- into the atmosphere and creating what is believed to be the primary cause behind global warming (NASA 2009). Human beings in industrialized countries burn these fuels almost constantly.

Cars are a familiar source of carbon emissions, and it is true that they release a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is why a push to develop more efficient passenger vehicles has been a major part of most "green" agendas aimed at halting global warming. Cars, however, are only the tip of the iceberg; other vehicles -- especially those used for shipping -- release far more greenhouse gases per mile traveled, and the shipping industry also puts many more miles on their vehicles on a constant basis. What this means is, making greener cars won't be sufficient or even all that beneficial (though it certainly wouldn't hurt) in making a world less prone to global warming (zfacts 2007). Almost all of human commerce in the industrialized world is driven by fossil fuels, and the global market only makes it worse.

The production of energy is an even bigger contributor to the problem than the shipping industry, though luckily there are more possible alternatives in this area as well (Willets 2008; NASA 2009). A large number of electricity plants are powered by coal, and though coal technologies are becoming cleaner they are still among the dirtiest of fossil fuels not only in terms of greenhouse gas emissions but also in other pollutants. Though electricity is often considered a green alternative in cars, it is only truly "green" if the source of the electricity is "green" as well -- otherwise the exhaust from a gasoline or diesel engine is simply displaced to the coal-burning electricity plant. The amount of electricity consumed in the industrialized world is huge -- it is used by every business in one way or another, it allows us to see at night, to watch television, to surf the web, and even to write papers on our laptops. This consumption of energy is a direct contribution to greenhouse gases.

The real problem with the release of carbon dioxide and other gases is their longevity -- they can be expected to remain in the atmosphere for a century after they are released, meaning we have already created a problem it is impossible to correct (though we can keep it from getting worse) (Willetts 2008). To make matters even worse, deforestation is both releasing more carbon dioxide and destroying one of the simplest means for correcting the problem (Howden 2007). Trees, as organic material themselves, are huge stores of carbon, and given that they use carbon dioxide in the same way that humans use oxygen means that trees actually work to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. When trees die, they release this carbon; nature ahs a great capacity to reabsorb this carbon normally, but commercial logging and deforestation has led to a huge increase in the amount of carbon being released and an accompanying decrease in the amount nature can reabsorb.

Problems with Current Global Warming Theories

It was stated previously that global warming is not a fact, and to be certain much of the information -- or at the very least the conclusions -- that have been drawn in this paper are matters of contention. First of all, the warming trend that has been measured and confirmed by many scientists has also been disputed by others, who point out the large degree of estimation necessary in measuring the overall temperature of the Earth (JunkScience 2007). The rise of one degree Celsius that has been supposedly measured over the past century is not statistically significant enough to be evidence of a true warming trend, some claim. In addition, any warming that may exist is impossible to trace to human causes.

It is true that no causal link between human activities and global warming has or likely ever could be made with any scientific certainty, and there are other considerations in the global warming issue that make hasty conclusions something to be avoided. There… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Global Warming's Effect on the Weather and Climate.  (2009, December 15).  Retrieved May 27, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/global-warming-effect-weather-climate/36857

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"Global Warming's Effect on the Weather and Climate."  Essaytown.com.  December 15, 2009.  Accessed May 27, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/global-warming-effect-weather-climate/36857.