Understanding How Greenhouse Gases Work

The topic of global warming regularly makes waves in mass media. However, despite the prevalence of this topic, many people are still confused as to what global warming really is or what causes this phenomenon.  

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Some deny that global warming is a human-made phenomenon, but it is actually caused by human activities that release vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 


The most prominent greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, a colorless and odorless gas released by respiration of animals and by combustion. Other greenhouse gases include methane, nitrous oxide, and various substances containing the element fluorine.  

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While many of these substances exist in nature, anthropogenic activities have significantly increased the concentrations of these substances in the environment. Understanding how these gases work, as well as ways to mitigate their effects, can contribute considerably to humanity’s crusade against global warming. 


The Greenhouse Effect 

As the name implies, the greenhouse effect is similar to how actual greenhouses work. A greenhouse is used to raise plants that require relatively high temperatures to thrive, even during cold weather or winter seasons.  


When sunlight hits the surfaces of the plants, part of the light is reflected. This light is mostly green, and this is why we perceive most plants as being green. By using green-tinted glass panes as part of its walls and roof, greenhouses can prevent the green light from escaping into the surroundings, increasing the temperature of its interior. 

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The greenhouse effect that causes global warming also operates through a similar principle. Visible light from the sun can pass through the Earth’s atmosphere without being impeded. Objects that absorb this radiation emit part of this light as infrared radiation, which is invisible to the naked eye. Greenhouse gases can absorb infrared radiation, so less energy escapes the planet through radiation, increasing the atmospheric temperature. 


The greenhouse effect is vital in maintaining life, as we know it. Without it, the mean surface temperature on Earth would be near freezing. However, due to the recent increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, the greenhouse effect has intensified to the point where the increasing temperatures are now gravely affecting Earth’s natural processes.  


Unless we curb global warming, the world will see more frequent weather disturbances, increased sea levels, ocean acidification, and mass extinctions on an unprecedented scale.  


Sources Of Greenhouse Gases 

As mentioned earlier, many greenhouse gases are produced naturally. For example, carbon dioxide is a waste product of respiration; animals release this gas every time they exhale. Methane comes from decaying matter and can also be found in underground deposits.  

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However, most of the greenhouse gases produced within the last few decades came as a result of human activities. For instance, the increased usage of fossil fuels for electricity production has released large amounts of carbon dioxide. Oil and gas operations, as well as certain waste treatment schemes, have increased methane levels in the atmosphere, while nitrogen-based fertilizers led to the release of nitrous oxide. 


Due to the relationship between the energy industry and carbon dioxide release, there is an established link between industrialization and greenhouse gas release. Most greenhouse gases originate from highly industrialized companies such as the US, but their effects echo around the world. Therefore, these countries should lead in finding and implementing solutions to global warming. 


Dealing With Greenhouse Gases 

At the individual level, people can help by being more conscious of their carbon footprint. Use sustainably sourced products, conserve electricity as much as possible, and consider installing small-scale renewable energy systems such as solar panels.  

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Companies can help out by eliminating unsustainable materials from their supply chains and promoting environmentally sound practices. Countries can create regulations that support the development of renewable energy, air pollution, and other environmentally-friendly practices. 


Finally, more research should be done on how greenhouse gases can be sequestered before they are released into the environment. Methods that can remove these gases from the atmosphere, such as carbon capture, will also be crucial. At the very least, educating people about greenhouse gases will help people take more concrete actions against global warming. 



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