Most scientists who study climate and the Earth’s atmosphere accept that the planet is in a state of climate change in which average temperatures have been steadily climbing over the last century. This change in climate has been called “global warming” and it is generally believed that changes to the environment brought on by the Industrial Revolution are the cause of global warming.
The Science of Global Warming
Technically, the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere occurs because of the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect describes the process where warming elements from the light emitted by the Sun (known as solar radiation) are absorbed into the atmosphere but not then reflected back into space. In essence, this radiation gets trapped in the air surrounding the planet. It is important to note that the greenhouse effect is not a bad thing – in fact, it is what makes life possible on Earth when it is not on neighboring planets. If too much solar radiation is absorbed, however, the result is an increase in temperatures on the planet.
Additional Particles In the Atmosphere Cause Problems
For most of human history, the content of the atmosphere has remained relatively constant. A mixture of water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and ozone create the “glass” of the planet’s greenhouse.
As the Industrial Revolution took place and factories burning fossil fuels such as petroleum began to come online, the makeup of the atmosphere started to change. The pollution emitted by the burning of these fuels added more carbon dioxide and methane to the air, increasing its ability to trap warmth from solar radiation.
At the same time, trees and other plant life that naturally absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere have been rapidly removed to make way for land development. As a result, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are the highest they have been in millions of years.
In review, rapid industrial development at a rate never seen before in human history, combined with the removal of natural elements that keep atmospheric quality in balance, have resulted in global warming.