We live on a delightful planet called Earth that is prime real estate for living creatures that require niche conditions such as temperatures that don’t become too cold or too hot and running fresh water. They way Earth maintains such great conditions for the survival and thriving of many species is through the Greenhouse Effect.
Earth’s atmosphere consists of 78% nitrogen, 21% Oxygen and a range of other gases including water vapour and Carbon dioxide. Greenhouse gases are defined as gases that absorb and emit infrared or heat radiation, thus trapping heat in the lower atmosphere. Water Vapour and Carbon dioxide are the natural greenhouse gases that without them our average temperature here on earth would be 30 degrees Celsius colder than it actually is.
The Natural Greenhouse effect works as follows;
during the day when the sun’s energy reaches the earth’s atmosphere, some of this reflected back into space and the rest is absorbed by the land and the oceans.
At night, the heat from the land and the oceans is radiated out and the greenhouses gases trap some of it keeping the earth warm.
The Enhanced Greenhouse Effect
Water vapour and Carbon dioxide are not the only greenhouse gases. Methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and some artificial chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) are also greenhouse gases. These aforementioned gases are produced or elevated by human activity thereby causing an enhanced greenhouse effect.
The enhanced greenhouse effect is that human activities such as burning fossil fuels, agriculture and land clearing are increasing the percentage of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. This causes more heat to be trapped and causing the earth’s temperature to rise.
What are the effects of the Enhanced Greenhouse Effect?
- Increased Air temperatures – It’s simply getting hotter, for example in annual average air temperatures have warmed by about 1 degree Celsius since 1910. – Increased heatwaves – Decreased Cold days.
- Ocean warming and sea level rise – The amount of heat stored in the world’s oceans is one of the strongest indicators of climate change.
- Increase Extreme weather events – Events such as heatwaves, bush fires, tropical cyclones, flash flooding and droughts
- Changes in rainfall patterns – The Global water cycle is intensifying with a warming climate mean wet areas will get more rain and dry regions will become drier.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Solutions
With such bleak conditions, its easy to either turn a blind eye or fall into despair. But there is a third option, which is to use the information you have read to make a change.
Solutions to climate change fall into two broad categories of Mitigation or Adaptation.
Mitigating Climate change involves reducing emissions of and stabilizing the levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
This occurs via reducing the sources of these gases ie reducing fossil fuels burning or enhancing the sinks that accumulate and store these gases ie planting more trees, cleaning the ocean.
Adapting to climate change means adapting to life in a changing climate, the goal here is to reduce our vulnerability as humans to the harmful effects of climate change. For example learning how to adapt to sea level encroachment and food insecurity but also making the most of any potentially beneficial opportunities such as longer growing seasons or increased yields.
On a large scale, companies such as the Environmental Justice Foundations have invested in the Awel Co-operation a Welsh wind co-operative as well as the UK Woodland, which acts to mitigate the effects of Climate change.
They also use films and creativity to make videos which educate individuals on the flow on effects of Climate change.
Individually we can aid in reducing CO2 levels by simply buying less stuff. Which means buying things that are of high quality, that last longer. As scientific America says “Whether by forgoing an automobile or employing a reusable grocery sack, cutting back on consumption results in fewer fossil fuels being burned to extract, produce and ship products around the globe.“
The best advice I have heard in terms of changing our diet to combat climate change was made Michael Pollan and he simply said: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.“
There is no magic bullet to addressing climate change, many solutions are required. The good news is that the solutions exist today and many of them hinge on us changing the way we behave.
From big corporate changes such as increase in wind and solar power, protecting forests to individual choices of recycling, conscious buying or rethinking mode of transport. All of these choices result in less man-made greenhouse gases and cooler planet.