By trapping heat from sunlight, greenhouse gases have kept Earth’s climate habitable for humans and millions of other species. But these gases are now out of equilibrium and threaten to modify drastically which living things can survive on this planet–and where.
Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide–the most dangerous and prevalent greenhouse gas–are at the greatest levels ever recorded. Greenhouse gas levels are so high chiefly because humans have introduced them to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. The gases absorb solar energy and keep heat near Earth’s surface, rather than letting it escape into space.
The roots of this greenhouse effect concept lie in the 19th century when French mathematician Joseph Fourier calculated in 1824 the Earth would be much colder if it had no atmosphere. In 1896, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius was the first to join a rise in carbon dioxide gas by burning fossil fuels using a warming effect.
Today, climate change is that the term scientists use to describe the intricate changes, driven by greenhouse gas concentrations, which are now impacting our planet’s climate and weather systems. Climate change encompasses not only the increasing average temperatures we refer to as global warming but also intense weather events, shifting wildlife populations as well as habitats, rising seas, and also a variety of other impacts.
Major greenhouse gases and sources
In 2018, carbon dioxide levels attained 411 parts per million at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory, the highest monthly average recorded. Carbon dioxide emissions chiefly include burning organic materials: oil, coal, gasoline, timber, and solid waste.
Methane (CH4): The most important component of natural gas, methane is released from landfills, natural gas and petroleum industries, and agriculture (especially from the digestive systems of grazing animals). A molecule of methane doesn’t remain in the atmosphere provided that a molecule of carbon dioxide–about 12 years–but it’s at least 84 times more potent within two decades. It accounts for about 16 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
Nitrous Oxide (N2O): Nitrous oxide occupies a relatively modest share of global greenhouse gas emissions–roughly half –but it’s 264 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over 20 decades. Agriculture and livestock, such as fertilizers, fertilizers, and burning of agricultural residue, 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 prospective tens of thousands of times greater than CO2 and keep in the air for hundreds to thousands of years.
Water vapor is really the world’s most abundant greenhouse gas, but it is not tracked in the same manner as other greenhouse gases because it isn’t directly emitted by human action, and its consequences are not well understood. In the same way, ground-level or tropospheric ozone (not to be confused with the protective stratospheric ozone layer high up) isn’t emitted directly but stems from complicated reactions among pollutants in the air.
Outcomes of greenhouse gases
Greenhouse gases have far-ranging environmental and health consequences. They induce climate change by trapping heat, and they also contribute to respiratory disease out of the smog and air pollution. Extreme weather, food supply disruptions, and increased wildfires are other ramifications of climate change brought on by greenhouse gases. The typical weather patterns we have grown to expect will change; some species will disappear; others will migrate or grow.
How to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
Virtually every sector of the global market, from manufacturing to agriculture to transport to power production, leads greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Countries around the world acknowledged this fact with the Paris Climate Deal of 2015. The changes will probably be most significant among the largest emitters: Nordic nations are liable for three-quarters of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions, together with China, the United States, and India leading the way.
The planet has only one-fifth of its “carbon budget”–that the total is 2.8 trillion metric tons–staying to avoid warming the Earth more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Halting the tendencies in movement will need more than just phasing out fossil fuels. In fact, the avenues to halting global temperature increases of 1.5 or 2 degrees C, the two goals outlined by the IPCC, rely in some way on embracing methods of sucking on CO2 in the sky. These include planting trees, preserving existing forests and grasslands, and capturing CO2 from power plants and factories.