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Caru On February - 9 - 2011

When you think of Global Warming, do you imagine receding glaciers and ice-caps and nod gravely, or do you glance out your window at falling snow and laugh derisively? Either way, I’d like to speak with you.

Throughout my assorted travels around the vast web of irreverence that is the Internet, I’ve stumbled across and have participated in discussions revolving around the issue of Global Warming and Climate Change. A common thread that I have noticed running through these discussions is that many people – myself included – have difficulty explaining the whys and hows of Global Warming.

Well, through this short series of posts I will explore some of the basic principles behind Global Warming, Climate Change, Atmospheric Pollution and why these phenomena are bad news for our future.

Firstly, The Greenhouse Effect.
This phenomenon is named after the garden-variety greenhouses that many avid green-thumbs employ to grow their favourite plants out of season, or in a climate that would otherwise prevent their growth. The principle behind these gardening miracles is quite simple. The sun emits heat and light radiation, mostly in the form of infrared and visible light. The composition of the greenhouse structure permits short-wave infrared to pass through, but as infrared light is reflected back it becomes long-wave radiation, which the greenhouse does not allow to pass through. Therefore, heat and light radiation is trapped within the greenhouse. A perfect recipe for plant growth!

This basic principle holds true for the atmospheric greenhouse effect. Reflected sunlight is trapped within the Earths atmosphere by certain gases, which causes the planet to heat up. It is important to note that this effect is entirely natural and entirely necessary for complex life. Without the Greenhouse Effect, the average surface temperature on Earth would drop to approximately -15ºC!

Secondly, The Greenhouse Factor and Greenhouse Gases.
Everybody knows that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, but did you know that water vapour is a greenhouse gas? Surprised? Well, so was I.

A greenhouse gas is defined as an element or compound present in the atmosphere that absorbs infrared radiation reflected from the Earth, trapping heat within the atmosphere. The main greenhouse gases are water vapour and carbon dioxide. Other significant greenhouse gases are methane, nitrous oxide, and various man-made CFC’s (chlorofluorocarbons).

The greenhouse factor is a measure of how much a gas affects the greenhouse effect relative to the same amount of carbon dioxide, when carbon dioxide is taken to be 1.

The Greenhouse Factor of Certain Gases
Gas Greenhouse Factor

Nitrogen                                   0
Oxygen                                    0
Water Vapour                        0.1
Carbon Dioxide                        1
Methane                                 30
Nitrous Oxides                       160
CFC’s                             21,000 – 25,000

These greenhouse factors explain why the burning of fossil fuels, which release carbon dioxide, and the use of man-made chemicals affect the greenhouse effect so strongly. Higher concentrations of these compounds in the atmosphere result in an Enhanced Greenhouse Effect. This enhanced greenhouse effect then leads to a rise in the average surface temperature of the Earth because increased concentrations of these gases trap more heat.

So, Global Warming is a rise in the global average surface temperature, caused by an enhanced greenhouse effect, which is caused by the greenhouse factor of certain greenhouse gases, that are released into the atmosphere through human activities.

(Thanks for reading. In my next post, I hope to discuss Global Warming in more detail and to look into some of its effects.)

P.S.
Feel free to correct any mistakes in this post and to criticise any aspect of it. I apologise if anything is wrong. I’m not an expert, merely an interested person.

Written by Caru

I don't really have anything of note to put in here... Oh, I won a bar of chocolate once.

24 Responses so far.

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  1. JSand says:

    I have done some recent research on an often overlooked aspect of global warming. Due to my interest in Physics, and my recent schooling in HVAC service, I have been very aware of the second law of thermodynamics. THe fact that energy is always conserved, and never lost broiught up a though about how much energy modern humans use on a daily basis, especially those in developed countries (i.e. USA). There is only a bit of research on this topic that I could find, but more importantly, my research was more centered on the effects of ENERGY USAGE on global warming.

    The conservation of energy law, means that as we use energy, any kind of energy other than direct solar energy, it is dissapated into the earths eco system as heat. Indeed, even some renewable energy, and nuclear energy would add to the warming effect of ENERGY USAGE.

    A good resource for enlightenment on this topic is

    “Long-Term Global Heating From Energy Usage
    Eric J. Chaisson”

    The article explains that basically, without any influence from CO2 greenhouse effect, and other greenhouse gasses effect, that based on the increasing eneergy usage on the planet alone, that this ENERGY USAGE will account for a 3 degree Celsius average global temperature rise in 300 -- 500 years.

    For those not familiar with this amount of temp rise, it would be fatal to most living things on this planet. SO by the increase of human ENERGY USAGE alone, we are doomed in 300 to 500 years at the most. Add in the increased heating due to greenhouse gasses, and well, the picture looks pretty bleak.

    • zootliberal says:

      JSand -- thanks for that -depressing bit of -- info :-o.

      I am pretty sure many people hearing that temperature will rise a few degrees or the oceans will rise a half a foot shrug off such news as insignificant, when they should be screaming “holy shit” -- it’s almost like our biggest problem in the US, if not the world, is how extremely ignorant we are (KQuark’s post “stupid is as stupid polls” all but confirms this). I mean if 37% of Americans can’t find their own damned country on a map, how could we expect them to understand the damaging effects of a 3 degrees rise on the Celsius scale. Or what Celsius is for that matter.

  2. invient says:

    I am always skeptical… I do believe that climate change is occurring, but at what level and intensity is where I see conflict…

    The climate typically works off of 100,000 year cycles (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milankovitch_cycles) … and at different transitional eras in those cycles, different feed back systems kick in to either increase temperatures or decrease temperatures depending on the state we are transitioning to… the intensity of these feedback systems is where I have my issue… Dr. Roy Spencer is used often to defend skeptics, and I see his argument and see that it could be valid (in the sense that many inputs effect climate temperatures, and he may have found one)… the question is still whether GH gases have a large enough effect to throw us into a period of warming, that is not warranted by the tilt theory of Milankovitch… I’ll take the precautionary agenda rather than hope Spencer is right.

    On a somewhat side note, there was an article on how the oil droplets and dispersant have begun to interfere with the gulf stream, which can/will cause major climate issues…http://www.suite101.com/content/bp-oil-spill-to-blame-for-cold-and-snow-as-loop-current-stalled-a325038

    • Caru says:

      Thanks for such an interesting comment. Much of the GH gases that we, as humans, release through our activities would otherwise be trapped outside the atmospheric system or not exist at all -- CFC’s.

      That’s why I think that our activities are driving us nto a premature period of warming.

      Oh, and thanks for the link.

  3. escribacat says:

    Caru, I’m not much of a scientist (I don’t even know if this is chemistry or biology!!) but your explanation seems pretty plain and straightforward and verifiable….so howcome so many people are in denial about this? I just don’t get it.

    • Caru says:

      Various reasons:

      Some are in denial, others don’t care and many are of the opinion that if they don’t understand something, then it’s not real.

  4. PatsyT says:

    Thank you Caru!
    This winter the news has been all over the latest Massive “Snowmaggedon” or Ice Apocalypse.
    I am waiting for the news media to come out and talk about the
    undisputed science on Climate Change and how it is causing these latest patterns but NOOOO.
    They can only go on and on about the record snows, ice storms, power outages,
    people stranded in their cars, car pile ups, trucks blown over, people being blown over, animals frozen and black ice attacking the citys and towns THAT NEVER SEE THIS KIND OF STUFF!
    Where is the reporting on the WHY????
    Has everyone in all of the News Media forgotten how to ask WHY?
    Those southern towns don’t have all that salt, big snow and ice removal equipment.
    They can’t run out and stock up on all that equipment.
    They become paralyzed!
    This is killing their budgets!!!
    I grew up in Cleveland and I know what it takes to survive a tough winter.
    Funny how it is hitting those red states so badly!

    This is Lake Shore Drive in Chicago
    many people were stranded in their cars all night

    [img][/img]

    This was interesting also…

    GOP Announces New Climate Strategy: Abandon Earth

    Republicans have a new idea: instead of wasting time protecting this planet, let’s figure out how to escape it.

    http://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org/2011/02/09/gop-abandon-earth/?wpmp_tp=1

    • Caru says:

      It’s hilarious and sad at the same time.

    • citizen477 says:

      Unfortunately, Patsy, their assessment (brought to you courtesy of the Koch Industries and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI)) will be, “Oh, all this snow and strange weather patterns are a result of typical, natural climate cycles…” In other words, they are going to claim that it isn’t anthropogenic or caused by humans. These people give me a headache. So, I empathize with your frustrations.

  5. jkkFL says:

    FINALLY!
    A ‘common sense’ approach to Explaining climate change/global warming!
    As a FL resident- we are extremely sensitive to changes in our environment, and environmental impacts- because it impacts our very lives and livlihoods.
    I look forward to the continuation of your exploration :)

  6. ghostrider says:

    I liked your opening.

    “When you think of Global Warming, do you imagine receding glaciers and ice-caps and nod gravely, or do you glance out your window at falling snow and laugh derisively?”

    I wish they had never called it Global Warming and had gone with Climate Change from the get go.

    You know all the naysayers are out there saying what global warming? Haven’t you seen the snow?

    Unfortunately they have been brain washed to believe that all that snow and cold weather is not actually a symptom of the over all problem.

    I have been in GA for 25 years, this past winter has been on of our worst. Low temperatures, 3 snow storms with one that left snow on the ground for 7 days because of the temperatures. In all the years I have been here I have never seen snow stick around like that before. And that include the blizzard of ’93 when we received 10 inches of snow and 3 days later it was pretty much gone.

    We need to find another way to educate the people about this problem, especially since the Republicans want to gut the EPA and take away their power.

    • Caru says:

      I’ve always found the lack of understanding on this issue to be astounding. It’s not like the basic concept is that hard to understand.

  7. KQuark says:

    Thank you for keeping to the facts with a very informative piece.

    Another thing many people don’t understand is that temperature is just one manifestation of increased energy in the atmosphere so when the greenhouse gases increase the amount of energy in the atmosphere rises. Most of this energy is manifests as an increase in temperature but a great deal of that energy is evident as stronger winds, increased evaporation and ice melting.

    For example when you boil water the temp stays at 100C but the energy added to the water is transfered to increased water vapor in the air. The is where the concept of Climate Change begins because we have already seen not only global temperature rise but also a change in weather patterns and the severity of storms.

  8. zootliberal says:

    Excellent Caru, this is especially important information in light of the new house chairmen of energy saying today that global warning does not have an important man made component (which in my mind is nonsense).

    thanks again

  9. Abbyrose86 says:

    Caru, thank you for this post. I learned some new things of which I wasn’t aware of the details.

    I look forward to the rest of your series!

  10. SueInCa says:

    Caru
    Good post. It is really nice to see newcomers start posting their own articles. I used to read your posts as Huffpo and enjoyed them there as well.

  11. bito says:

    Good post, Caru, and great to see your first post.


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