Carbon dioxide, an integral greenhouse gas that drives global climate change, continues to grow each month. Find out the dangerous role it along with other gases performs.
By trapping heat from the sun, greenhouse gases have kept Earth’s climate habitable for humans and millions of other species. However, these gases are now out of balance and threaten to modify radically which living things can survive on this world –and where.
Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide–the most dangerous and widespread greenhouse gas–are at the highest levels ever recorded. Greenhouse gas levels are so high chiefly because individuals have released them into the air by burning fossil fuels. The gases absorb solar energy and keep warmth close to Earth’s surface, instead of letting it flow into space.
The roots of this greenhouse effect theory lie in the 19th century when French mathematician Joseph Fourier calculated in 1824 that the Earth would be much colder when it had no atmosphere. In 1896, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius was the first to join a rise in carbon dioxide gas from fossil fuels with a heating effect.
Today, climate change is that the term scientists use to describe the complex changes, driven by greenhouse gas concentrations, that are now affecting our planet’s climate and weather systems. Climate change encompasses not just the increasing average temperatures we refer to as global warming but also extreme weather events, changing wildlife populations and habitats, increasing seas, and a variety of other impacts.
Governments and organizations around the globe like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body which monitors the latest climate change science, are now measuring greenhouse gases, monitoring their impacts, and implementing alternatives.
Major greenhouse gases and sources
Carbon dioxide (CO2): Carbon dioxide is the principal greenhouse gas, responsible for about three-quarters of emissions. In 2018, carbon dioxide levels attained 411 parts per million at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory, the highest monthly average ever recorded. Carbon dioxide emissions mainly include burning organic materials: oil, coal, gasoline, wood, and solid waste.
Methane (CH4): The most important component of natural gas, methane is released from landfills, natural gas and oil industries, and agriculture (particularly from the digestive systems of grazing animals). A molecule of methane does not stay in the atmosphere provided that a molecule of carbon dioxide–about 12 years–but is at least 84 times more powerful within two decades. It accounts for about 16 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
Nitrous Oxide (N2O): Nitrous oxide occupies a relatively small share of global greenhouse gas emissions–about half –but it is 264 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over 20 years, and its life in the air exceeds a century, according to the IPCC. Agriculture and livestock, such as fertilizers, fertilizers, and burning of agricultural residues, together with burning gas, are the largest sources of nitrous oxide emissions.
Industrial gases: Fluorinated gases such as hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, chlorofluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) have heat-trapping potential thousands of times greater than CO2 and keep in the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years. Accounting for about 2% of emissions, they’re used as refrigerants, solvents, and in manufacturing, occasionally happening as byproducts.
Water vapor is actually the world’s most abundant greenhouse gas, but it isn’t tracked the same way as other greenhouse gases since it is not directly emitted by human action, and its consequences aren’t well understood. Similarly, ground-level or tropospheric ozone (not to be confused with the protective stratospheric ozone layer higher up) is not emitted directly but stems from complicated reactions among pollutants in the air.
Outcomes of greenhouse gases
Greenhouse gases have far-ranging environmental and health effects. They induce climate change by trapping heat, and they also contribute to respiratory disease out of the smog and air pollution. Intense weather, food distribution disruptions, and increased wildfires are different effects of climate change brought on by greenhouse gases. The normal weather patterns we have grown to expect will change; some species will evaporate; others will grow or migrate.
How to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
Virtually every sector of the international economy, from manufacturing to agriculture to transportation to power production, leads greenhouse gases to the air.
Nations around the world acknowledged this fact using the Paris Climate Deal of 2015. The changes will be most significant among the largest emitters: Nordic nations are liable for three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, with China, the United States, and India leading the way.
Halting the trends in motion will need more than just phasing out fossil fuels. In reality, the avenues to stopping global temperature increases of 1.5 or 2 degrees C, the 2 goals summarized by the IPCC, rely in some manner on embracing methods of sucking on CO2 from the sky. These include planting trees, preserving existing forests and grasslands, and capturing CO2 from power plants and plants.