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Climate change and the greenhouse effect

Humans have enhanced the greenhouse effect and are causing climate change. The greenhouse effect is the result of the interaction of the sun's energy with greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere. Since the Industrial Revolution, the components within the Earth's atmosphere that keep the greenhouse effect constant are no longer in balance. The amount of greenhouse gases in the planet's atmosphere is the highest it has been in the last 3 million years.1 2 Humans have increased greenhouse gas levels which has enhanced the greenhouse effect to the point where too much heat is being trapped in the Earth's atmosphere. This excess heat creates global warming which affects the planet's weather patterns and leads to different climate changes around the world.3 4

Climate change and the greenhouse effect - How are they related?

The greenhouse effect has existed as a natural process for millions of years, and plays a critical role in regulating the overall temperature of the Earth. Without the greenhouse effect, the planet would not be warm enough for humanity, or indeed many forms of life, to survive.5 But over the last 100 years, the Earth's average temperature has risen by about 0.75° C.6 7 This is because the enhanced greenhouse effect has created a net increase in the amount of heat trapped in the planet's atmosphere.

This 0.75° C increase may seem very small but the the impacts associated with a 2° C increase of the average global temperature will result in extremely dangerous climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted that weather patterns will be significantly altered due to an increase in global warming of this size.3

Climate change is already causing:

  • Greater strength of extreme weather events like: heatwaves, tropical cyclones, floods, and other major storms.8 9 10 11
  • Increasing number and size of forest fires.12 13
  • Rising sea levels (predicted to be as high as two feet by the end of the next century).3 14
  • Melting of glaciers and polar ice.15 16 17
  • Increasing acidity in the ocean, resulting in bleaching of coral reefs and damage to oceanic wildlife.3 18 19

More info:
Historical Overview of Climate Change Science - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Causes of Climate Change - WMO

  • 1. "What Does 400 ppm Look Like?" Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. (accessed August 5, 2014).
  • 2. R. S. W. Van De Wal, B. De Boer, L. J. Lourens, P. Köhler, and R. Bintanja. "Reconstruction of a continuous high-resolution CO2 record over the past 20 million years." Climate of the Past 7, no. 4 (2011): 1459-1469.
  • 3. a. b. c. d. Bernstein, Lenny, R. K. Pachauri, and Andy Reisinger. Climate change 2007: synthesis report. Geneva, Switzerland: IPCC, 2008.
  • 4. The Royal Society. Climate change: A Summary of the Science. London: The Royal Society Science Policy Centre, 2010.
  • 5. U.K. Met Office. Warming: A guide to climate change. Exeter, U.K.: Met Office Hadley Centre, 2011.
  • 6. "Global temperatures." U.K. Met Office. (accessed August 13, 2014).
  • 7. Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo. "Global Surface Temperature Change." Reviews of Geophysics 48, no. 4 (2010): RG4004.
  • 8. Coumou, Dim, and Stefan Rahmstorf. "A decade of weather extremes." Nature Climate Change 2, no. 7 (2012): 491–496.
  • 9. Emanuel, Kerry. "Environmental Factors Affecting Tropical Cyclone Power Dissipation." Journal of Climate 20, no. 22 (2007): 5497.
  • 10. Yu, Jia-Yuh, and Ping-Gin Chiu. "Contrasting Various Metrics for Measuring Tropical Cyclone Activity." Terrestrial, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences 23, no. 3 (2011): 303.
  • 11. Elsner, James B., James P. Kossin, and Thomas H. Jagger. "The increasing intensity of the strongest tropical cyclones." Nature 455, no. 7209 (2008): 92-95.
  • 12. Flannigan, Mike D., Meg A. Krawchuk, William J. De Groot, B. Mike Wotton, and Lynn M. Gowman. "Implications of changing climate for global wildland fire." International Journal of Wildland Fire 18, no. 5 (2009): 483.
  • 13. Pechony, O., and D. T. Shindell. "Driving Forces Of Global Wildfires Over The Past Millennium And The Forthcoming Century." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107, no. 45 (2010): 19167-19170.
  • 14. Church, John A., and Neil J. White. "Sea-Level Rise from the Late 19th to the Early 21st Century." Surveys in Geophysics 32, no. 4-5 (2011): 585-602.
  • 15. Comiso, J.C., and D.K. Hall. "Climate trends in the Arctic as observed from space." WIREs Climate Change (2014): 5:389–409.
  • 16. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory / California Institute of Technology. "Key Indicators." Global Climate Change. (accessed August 16, 2014).
  • 17. McMillan, M., A. Shepherd, A. Sundal, K. Briggs, A. Muir, A. Ridout, A. Hogg, and D. Wingham. "Increased ice losses from Antarctica detected by CryoSat-2." Geophys. Res. Lett. (2014): 41, 3899–3905.
  • 18. Hoegh-Guldberg, O., A. Dubi, C. D. Harvell, E. Gomez, P. Greenfield, R. S. Steneck, A. J. Hooten, P. J. Mumby, M. E. Hatziolos, R. H. Bradbury, N. Muthiga, R. Iglesias-Prieto, C. M. Eakin, N. Knowlton, K. Caldeira, A. J. Edwards, and P. F. Sale. "Coral Reefs Under Rapid Climate Change And Ocean Acidification." Science 318, no. 5857 (2007): 1737-1742.
  • 19. Anthony, K. R. N., D. I. Kline, G. Diaz-Pulido, S. Dove, and O. Hoegh-Guldberg. "Ocean Acidification Causes Bleaching And Productivity Loss In Coral Reef Builders." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105, no. 45 (2008): 17442-17446.

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