Causes of Global Warming

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Scientists have devoted decades to understanding what causes global warming. They have the natural cycles and events that influence climate examined. However, the amount and pattern of heating that has been measured can not be explained only by these factors. The only way to explain this pattern is to include the effect of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted by humans.

To collect this information, the United Nations formed a group of scientists called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC meets every few years to review the latest scientific findings and write a report summarizing what is known about global warming. Each report represents a consensus or agreement, among hundreds of leading scientists.

One of the first things scientists learned is that there are several greenhouse gases responsible for warming and humans are issued in a variety of ways. Most come from the burning of fossil fuels cars, factories and electricity production. The gas responsible for most heating is carbon dioxide, also known as CO2. Other gases that contribute to this effect are releasing methane from landfills and agriculture (especially the digestive systems of grazing animals), nitrous oxide from fertilizers, gases used for refrigeration and industrial processes and forest loss otherwise, they could store CO2.

Different greenhouse gases have capacities very different heat retention. Some of them may still retain more heat than CO2. A molecule of methane produces 20 times more heating a CO2 molecule. Nitrous oxide is 300 times more powerful than CO2. Other gases, such as chlorofluorocarbons (which have been banned in most of the world because they also degrade the ozone layer), have the potential for heat retention which is thousands of times greater than CO2. However, because their concentrations are much lower than CO2, none of these gases increases both heat in the atmosphere as CO2.

To understand the effects of these gases together, scientists tend to talk about all the greenhouse gases in terms of the equivalent amount of CO2. Since 1990, annual emissions have increased about 6 billion metric tons of “carbon dioxide equivalent” worldwide, an increase of over 20%.


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