The planet is heating up – and fast! With glaciers melting, sea levels rising, and water forests dying, it is becoming evident that humans have caused real damage to the Earth’s atmosphere by releasing greenhouse gases, which absorbs and traps heat, and are at heights higher than ever before, to power our modern lives.
So, here’s everything you wanted (and need) to know about global warming but were too afraid to ask:
What is Global Warming?
Global warming is a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere, generally attributed to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and other pollutants.1
What Is the Greenhouse Effect?
The greenhouse effect is a natural process that warms the Earth’s surface. It occurs when solar radiation reaches the Earth’s atmosphere and is absorbed and trapped by greenhouse gases. This process maintains the Earth’s temperature at around 33 degrees Celsius, or 91.4 degrees Fahrenheit, (warmer than it would otherwise be), which is what allows life on Earth to even exist.2
What Are the Different Types of Greenhouse Gases?
What Causes Global Warming?
Global warming occurs when greenhouse gases gather in the Earth’s atmosphere and absorbs the solar radiation and sunshine that bounced off the earth’s surface. Usually, this radiation would outflow into space but due to these greenhouse gases, which has an average lifetime in the atmosphere of anywhere from a few weeks to thousands of years,3 trap the solar radiation and warms the planet. This is what is known as the greenhouse effect.
In the United States, burning fossil fuels for electricity and heat is, by far, the main driver of global warming and climate change. Emissions from fossil fuels account for nearly a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, producing about 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year.4 Additionally, the country’s second-largest source of carbon pollution comes from transportation, which makes up nearly 15% of CO2 emissions a year.
What Are the Effects of Global Warming?
We can all agree that global warming has many environmental and economic consequences, and will likely continue to occur if current trends continue. Here are just a few (but very serious) events that could occur should we not take any action:
Higher Sea Levels
More Frequently Severe Weather
Extinction of Species
Polluted, Dirty Air
The following are some of the health impacts of global warming:
How Can You Make a Difference?
1. Upgrade Your Bulbs: By replacing your regular light bulbs with more efficient LED bulbs, you can consume up to 80% less energy than ordinary bulbs — and they have a longer lifespan.
2. Invest in Energy Efficient Appliances: Since they were first implemented nationally in 1987, efficiency standards for dozens of appliances and household products have kept 2.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the air. That’s about the same amount as the annual carbon pollution produced by nearly 440 million cars.7
3. Reduce Your Water Waste: Saving water reduces carbon pollution, too —that’s because it takes a lot of energy to pump, heat, and treat your water. The EPA estimates that if just one out of every 100 American homes were retrofitted with water-efficient fixtures, about 100 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year would be saved — avoiding 80,000 tons of global warming pollution.8
4. Unplug Your Devices: A great way to see a positive impact on your electricity bill and help stop global warming is to unplug items around your house that you aren’t using. Leaving your devices plugged in, even when off, can still use a lot of energy.
5. Power Your Home with Solar Energy: Longer days mean more sunlight, and more sunlight means more savings for homes powered by the sun. Summer months have always been considered optimal for solar output due to more hours of sunlight and thus, produce more solar energy.
How Much Does the United States Actually Contribute to Global Warming?
In 2015, the top 5 carbon dioxide (CO2) emitters were China, the United States, India, Russia, and Japan. China produced 28% of all CO2 emissions. The United States came in second, producing a whopping 15% of all CO2 emissions, which is more than India6%, and Russia (5%) combined. Additionally, the United States is still number one in cumulative emissions over the past 150 years.5
What Is the United States Doing to Prevent Global Warming?
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, introduced by President Obama in 2015, will contribute to the country’s efforts to reduce carbon pollution and our dependence on fossil fuels. The Plan has set restrictions (for the first time ever!) on carbon pollution from US power plants, which is the largest source of pollution in the country.
Limiting carbon pollution from our power plants is one of the single biggest steps we can take to fight climate chaos. The EPA issued the final Clean Power Plan under the Clean Air Act, which the nation’s fundamental air pollution law.6