The world is quickly learning about the devastating effects of climate change as temperatures rise and ice caps melt. Scientists have attributed the cause of climate change to increasing levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere that trap the Sun’s heat and make the Earth hotter than it should be. Carbon dioxide constitutes a large portion of these greenhouse gases, making it a prime contributor to global warming. But when did we find out about global warming? How did we connect the rising temperatures to the gases in the air around us? And how is this affecting us in the present?
Part 1: Discovering Global Warming:
In 1896, feminist and activist Eunice Foote discovered that greenhouse gases cause global warming Through a series of experiments, she demonstrated the interactions of the sun’s rays on different gases and presented a two-page paper discussing her discoveries. Three years later, Irish physicist John Tyndall made a similar discovery but focused more on the greenhouse effect, the phenomenon caused by greenhouse gases. He detailed the variations of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere over time and connected the burning of fossil fuels to global warming.
Since then, the trend in carbon dioxide levels has only increased, resulting in a hotter climate.
Part 2: How does Carbon Dioxide warm the Climate
Carbon dioxide is a gas that absorbs and radiates heat and light energy. When sunlight enters the atmosphere, some rays are reflected off the earth and back into space. Unlike gases, such as oxygen and nitrogen, greenhouse gases absorb heat from these reflected rays and gradually release them back into the atmosphere. In fact, without these gases, the Earth’s temperature would be several degrees below freezing. However, as the amount of these gases in the atmosphere continues to increase, the heat that is trapped and reproduced is more harmful than helpful. Carbon dioxide contributes to this effect by absorbing the thermal energy of wavelengths that no other gases can absorb. Carbon dioxide alone constitutes over two-thirds of the total amount of extra heat retained in the Earth and is, therefore, the primary cause of global warming.
Part 3: Human Activities that Contribute to Rising Carbon Levels
Burning fossil fuels: Fossil fuels are used for many human activities, such as producing electricity and fueling industries. When we burn fossil fuels, large amounts of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere. The large-scale use of fossil fuels contributes to two important issues: resource depletion and global warming, which are both extremely harmful to the environment.
Food waste: Research by J. Poore and T. Nemecek discovered that food waste is responsible for roughly 6% of the total global greenhouse gas emissions, excluding food losses on the farmland while producing and harvesting. If we were to put that into the context of national emissions, it would be the world’s third-largest producer of greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide.
Transportation: Aviation, road transport, rail transport, and ships all use fuel for energy. When burnt, these fuels produce large amounts of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, which not only causes global warming but is also harmful to human health by displacing oxygen in our blood and limiting its supply to vital organs like the heart and brain. Large amounts of these gases can overcome you without warning and cause you to lose consciousness and suffocate.
Part 4: How you can help!
While all of this information is easy to despair over, the Earth calls for action. There are many ways to help stop the rise of carbon levels from a domestic level:
Turn the lights off when you leave a room.
Be conscious of how you’re disposing of waste.