Summer II 2012: Group 2

Abstract

The destruction of our natural environment through over production of greenhouse gases is a growing issue in today’s society. Do we, as human beings, do our part to decrease the amount of damage that we do to the environment? Over the years the world has seen intense changes in climate and weather patterns. These transformations have caused many animal species to migrate in new patterns and plants to shift to new locations to survive.

In our article, we look at the history of this growing issue and the finical responsibilities that the human race has begun to take to prevent any further damage to our environment. We investigate the effects global warming has on the world, what we are doing currently to prevent any similar damage and what different interests groups are doing to further progress the human race towards eliminating the amount of harmful gasses being produced. Humans have to take responsibility now for what damage we have already caused so that we can create a better environment to help our future generations thrive.

Introduction

Global warming. Climate change. Cyclic patterns with shifts to hotter or colder temperatures. Whatever the title, the effects continue to increase and worsen as a result of humans and our desire to pursue growing interests in technology, industry, and global power. With daily life revolving around products such as cars, computers, and other heavy machinery, the demand for these items require industries to bulk up their production, resulting in greater amounts of industrial gas being released into the environment. Because of the increasing pollution continually rising into the atmosphere, temperature changes are causing drastic and potentially devastating environmental occurrences such as drought, more intense storms, loss of treasured species and their habitats, and the loss of glaciers. With such significant changes in global temperatures, it is becoming harder and harder for certain species to adapt. For coastal cities, the rise in water levels can lead to greater flooding, such as the tragic events following Hurricane Katrina. With all these possible threats at hand, certain questions remain. What can be done to slow the process? How can we reverse the effects of climate change? And how can humans, as a species, work together to alter our current path towards self-destruction?

Historical Background

In 1896 Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius, became the first scientist to attempt to calculate how the changes in the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could affect the global climate through an idea that became know as the greenhouse effect. From his observations and calculations, Arrhenius was able to predict that emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels were enough to cause global warming. This marked the first time in history that scientists explored the possibility that humans could be responsible for a potential rise in climate, although at the time, this was viewed as a mostly positive outcome of the greenhouse effect.
In the 1930's English steam engineer, Guy Stewart Callendar, expanded on the ideas of Arrhenius. Callendar also reinforced the idea that rising carbon dioxide levels lead to a direct rise in the global temperature, an idea that became known as the Callendar effect, but Callendar also believed that the rising temperature would be beneficial; it would prevent another ice age. It wasn't until 1988 that James Hansen would bring the issue of global warming to the attention of the public.

In 1988 Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, during a congressional hearing, stated, "The earth is warmer in 1988 than at any time in the history of instrumental measurements.” This was the first time in history that the idea of rising global temperatures in previous years had been as a result of humans through pollutants, causing what is now know as the greenhouse effect. At this congressional hearing, Hansen stated that he was 99 percent certain that the recent warming trend was not a natural fluctuation of temperatures but that it was due to a build up of carbon dioxide within the atmosphere.

The fallout from Hansen's congressional hearing on global warming was that scientists began to look into the premise for global warming more intensely. This point marked a critical time in which scientists were divided into two categories, those who thought that global warming was based on a faulty logic of unreliably statistics and those who believed that the information presented clearly showed the existence of global warming.

For the next decade scientists debated the information presented to them by the data collected. While some scientists argued that this data was inaccurate due to the fact that the information about ocean temperature was omitted, other scientists pointed to the fact that the ten warmest years on record have all occurred since 1990. The debate among the scientific community on the topic of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming became something that was so wildly contended that it was pushed away as something that could not be acted on since science could not come to an agreement. In turn, this lead to an un-informed public that disregarded global warming as something that has no real impact on everyday lives.

In 2006 Davis Guggenheim directed An Inconvenient Truth, a film that was written and starred by Al Gore. For the first time the issue of climate change, global warming, and greenhouse gases were brought to the attention of the general public. The human impact on global warming became a household issue that everyone could understand and the idea that every single person is responsible for greenhouse emissions and can make an impact on global warming by making informed decisions. This film encouraged the general public to do things to reduce their carbon footprint, an idea that every individual contributes a certain amount to global warming. Every individual could then reduce their carbon footprint by doing things like recycling, using public transportation to reduce fossil fuel emissions and buying hybrid vehicles.

Today global warming remains an issue that is still contested, but through public awareness campaigns such as Al Gore's, the public can choose for themselves whether or not they believe that greenhouse gasses are responsible for global warming. Individuals are now given many opportunities to “go green” and buy a product that reduces the owners carbon footprint.

Global Warming and the Environment

The Greenhouse Effect

Within recent years, the terms “greenhouse effect” and “greenhouse gases” have become popular phrases among politicians, activist groups, and average, everyday people. With the help of the media, these scientific phenomena have gained the much-needed momentum in order to kick-start a modern environmental movement.

The greenhouse effect is a naturally occurring process in which thermal radiation, emitted from Earth, is absorbed by greenhouse gases found in the atmosphere, including water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone, and then re-radiated in multiple directions. Without this effect, Earth’s temperatures would chill to 60 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than current temperatures and life as we know it would cease to exist. In moderate amounts, both greenhouse gases and the effect they cause provide protection that allow not only humans but also the other millions of species to thrive and reproduce. However, following the onset of the Industrial Revolution, the levels of these atmospheric gases have dramatically increased, resulting in significantly higher average temperatures globally. Through the burning of fossil fuels, oil, and other means of energy and power, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have increased from 280 parts per million to 379 parts per million within the last 150 years.

Impact on the Environment and Society

With average temperatures increasing, multiple issues present themselves, each potentially more devastating than the next. According to NASA, because of warmer temperatures, some regions will endure increasing precipitation where others will battle significantly higher rates of evaporation. Additionally, with average temperatures increasing, glaciers and other patches of ice will begin to melt which not only reduces the amount of freshwater available for human use but also increases sea levels. With 80% of populations living in coastal zones, rising sea levels poses an enormous threat due to possible flooding, which in turn leads to crop devastation and heavy damage to infrastructure.

Altering climates also contribute to changes in weather patterns and behavior. One of the major concerns involves the formation of bigger, stronger storms, including major hurricanes. According to research conducted by weather services, global warmer temperatures lead to warmer ocean temperatures. As a result, harsher, more deadly hurricanes form off the coast of Africa, gathering power as they move across the Atlantic. In recent years, more hurricanes have reached Category 4 and 5 titles, reeking havoc along the eastern coast and Gulf Coast of the United States. And hurricanes aren’t the only growing threats; tornados and heavy snowfall have resulted in millions of dollars in damages and the loss of human lives.

Although climate change has greatly affected the human race, the warmer temperatures have also challenged animal and plant species of all shapes, sizes and origins. Forests in Alaska, Canada, and Russia have battled serious wild fires due to insistent drought and unrelenting heat. As a result, these trees are shifting from southern to more northern locations in search of the cooler climates needed to reproduce. Along with plants, wildlife is also shifting toward higher elevations. According to a survey conducted by the University of Texas, more than one third of the 677 species evaluated have been affected by climate change and have moved over three miles on average towards the polar regions. Furthermore, the warmer sea temperatures have lead to bleaching incidents on coral reefs, an occurrence in which coral expel zooxanthellae from their tissue, turning the reefs white. Although coral is not dead when it becomes bleached, it is under incredible amounts of stress and is therefore more susceptible to sickness and mortality.

With all the devastating effects of global warming, it is crucial scientists, politicians and average Joe’s to work together to identify the problem and create a solution that not only helps the human race continue to thrive, but also our fellow furry friends.

Global Warming and its Economic Impacts

From an economic standpoint, humans have done a lot to decrease the amount of green house gasses that each individual produces. People have begun changing certain things in their every day life to more environmentally friendly options that are not necessarily cheaper. Humans are transforming their old habits that harmed the environment into “greener” choices that reduce the amount of strain that we are placing on our planet. We have begun seek transportation that is more environmentally friendly and develop self-sustaining communities; all to help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we produce.

Hybrid Cars and Public Transportation

In recent years the auto industry has seen a tremendous increase in sales of hybrid cars, which provide a more fuel-efficient way to travel. These hybrid cars are generally more expensive but over time they save in amount of fossil fuels consumed. A Hybrid car produces 80% less green house gases then a regular gasoline car. Also in regards to transportation, many companies have begun encouraging and rewarding employees for carpooling to reduce the number of vehicles that are being driven each day. Additionally, major automobile companies are putting their most high-tech manufacturing technologies to work to create a better functioning and more fuel-efficient vehicle that will help condense the world’s consumption of fossil fuels that has produced harmful green houses gases. Companies are pumping more money into this new field because there has been such an interest from consumers regarding “greener” forms of transportation.

Also public transportation organizations have spent a great deal of money to help the environment by using “greener” means of transportation. In Blacksburg, Virginia, the Blacksburg Transit is now using many hybrid busses to reduce the amount of green house gases that are being produced by the forms of transportation that they offer. On September 23rd, 2010 Blacksburg Transit unveiled their first hybrid bus. This is just one example of the progress that companies all over the United States and the world have made to become more “green.” Companies no longer cut corners to save money at the expense of the natural environment.

Environmentally Friendly Housing

The government has also begun to give more funding to building more environmentally friendly homes. Companies such as Smart Growth help produce houses that are built from recycled materials as well as building entire communities with the sole purpose of environmental sustainability. These communities are located all over the United States and have environmentally friendly features such as community gardens, solar panels, etc. These features help make each community more self-sustainable which in turn is better for the environment. Companies like Smart Growth pour money into reviving the environment so that humans have less of a detrimental impact on Mother Earth.

Governments also offer tax cuts for American homes that use more energy efficient everyday household items. These tax cuts are given for air conditioners, windows, and insulation. Much like hybrid cars, these products are more expensive than the less environmentally friendly options but in the long run, they prove to be more economically sound. The United States government uses these tax cut opportunities to help encourage citizens to make environmentally friendly choices to help reduce the amount of green house gases that we produce as a nation.

Non-Profit Organizations

Each year the United States gives sufficient funding to non-profit environmental groups that are working to better the quality of our environment so that we can preserve the natural glory for a longer period of time. The United States alone is responsible for 21% of the world’s total production of carbon dioxide gases. Movements, such as urban farmers, have begun to pop up in major cities with backing from the local communities and governments. Urban farming puts a major dent in the amount of green house gas emissions because the food that’s being produced locally doesn’t have to be transported into metropolitan areas where 80% Americans live.

Many governments have begun to offer rewards for citizens that make more environmentally friendly choices through tax cuts. As a whole people have begun to make more environmentally friendly choices because of their awareness of the harm that we have caused our environment over the years or because of these incentive packages. From an economic perspective humans have begun to invest more money in choices that prove to be more “green” than the alternatives that could harm the environment. People are investing in cars that reduce the number of carbon dioxide emissions being produced. The Urban Farmers movement is one of many groups finding finical support to help reduce the amount of damage that we cause our natural environment each year. Corporations such as Smart Growth are building entire communities and improving others so that we can become more environmentally sustainable while at the same time reduce the detrimental impact human activity has on the environment.

Conclusion

Over the years the effects of global warming have continued to worsen as a result of the actions of human to pursue growing industries, technologies, and global power. Each day we surround ourselves with products such as cars, computers, and other heavy machinery that do more to hurt the environment than to lessen the amount of harmful byproducts being produced by their use. The production of these products results in greater amount of industrial gas being released into the environment. Global temperatures have greatly changed due to the amount of harmful pollution that rises into our atmosphere. These extreme changes have not only effected the environment but the organisms that live in it as well. Humans have made great strides to reduce the amount of damage that we are doing to the environment through various different programs. Although we cannot completely erase the damage that humans have created in the past, we are now working towards minimizing future pollution and damage so that the natural environment can continue to grow and prosper. Humans are making progress towards creating a better future for generations to come.

References

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http://www.hybrid-car.org/hybrid-car-emissions.html


Matt Shane

In response to your article, I would like to offer a few sources that speak out against global warming. There are many scientists on both sides of this argument which makes it very difficult to determine what the real facts are.

http://www.policymic.com/articles/3824/a-really-inconvenient-truth-global-warming-is-not-real

http://www.aproundtable.org/tps30info/globalwarmup.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Io-Tb7vTamY&feature=related


Aasim Rawoot

I really like the topic of your article. It's well written and put together. However it is WAY too optimistic about the future based on present efforts.

I think there should've been a more global perspective throughout your article. You never once mentioned the emergence of China and the immense damage they're causing to the environment to keep up their economic growth. If we really want to put a dent in CO2 emissions, China will have to be a big part of it.

Deforestation would've fit perfectly in your article. It's probably one of the most devastating things happening to our environment. There's the damage to biodiversity and the vast amount of carbon that's released through deforestation.

Global warming is a tough subject to cover because there are so many things that factor in. I don't think you give enough context on how deep of a hole the Earth is in in terms of CO2 emissions. Hybrid cars and smart homes help but not on the scale we need. I think it's risky to understate the problem because it makes it seems as though there's an easy fix. I don't think we're anywhere close at even managing global warming. There has to be a real modern Green Revolution at an unprecedented scale.

A good book on global warming with an environmental, economic and political perspective is Hot Flat and Crowded by Tom Friedman (2008).


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