Greenhouse Warming, What is it?
The Earth's Temperature Relies on a Delicate Balance
By now, in one place or another, you've heard the term global warming. But what exactly does it mean? In simple terms, it is the increase of Earth's overall temperature. The earth’s temperature relies on a delicate balance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Thanks to nearly 25 years of research conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the work of more than 2000 scientists who rely on peer reviewed research and consensus, we know that the Earth's temperature is changing faster then ever before in recorded climate history. Most of the findings by the IPCC support the theory that these changes are due, in a large part, to human activity.
A Small Change in the Balance Makes the Earth Heat Up
The Earth is surrounded by a thin layer of gases called the atmosphere. Most of our atmosphere, 99%, is Nitrogen and Oxygen. The heat trapping gases, called greenhouse gases, of Carbon Dioxide, Nitrous Oxide, Methane and water vapor make up the remaining 1%. In fact, Carbon Dioxide makes up only 0.04% of the atmosphere! Though these greenhouse gases are only 1% of the atmosphere, they are responsible for keeping the Earth's temperature at an average 60º F. All life, as we know it, depends on these few gases. How does this work? As the Sun's rays hit the surface of the Earth they are converted to energy. Some of this energy is immediately absorbed by water, plant life and soil but most is reflected off the Earth's surface back out to space. As it travels back toward space, the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere absorb some of this reflected energy, providing heat for the whole planet. Obviously, a small amount of these gases goes a long way. The greenhouse gases are efficient heat trappers, and a small change in their concentration can have a big effect on the Earth's temperature.
The Greenhouse Effect, The Earth's Sweater
The greenhouse effect (and a balanced amount of greenhouse gases) is good. In fact, it's critical for life on our planet. Without it, the average temperature on Earth would be well below freezing. The Greenhouse Effect is like the Earth's sweater. The thicker your sweater, the warmer you are. The denser the concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, the warmer the Earth becomes. The Earth's overall temperature relies on a delicate balance between the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the naturally occurring processes that reduce the level of greenhouse gases. The Earth's oceans absorb CO2 (in fact, they are often referred to as CO2 'reservoirs' or 'sinks'), and Earth's forests convert CO2 back to benign Carbon (and Oxygen) through photosynthesis. Global warming is occurring due to an imbalance in the production of gases and the naturally occurring processes that lessen the amount of those gases. In other words, due to human activity, there is a measurable increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases (we produce CO2 in great quantities as we drive our cars, heat our homes and run our factories) and a measurable decrease in the absorption processes (we have cut down nearly half the world's forests decreasing the ecosystem's ability to absorb CO2 naturally). Before the industrial revolution, the Earth was naturally emitting a large amount of these gases without our help, which was a good thing. This was all in a perfect balance prior to the industrial age.
The Change in the Earth's Climate is Well Documented
The argument against the global warming theory is that the Earth has been emitting these greenhouse gases for hundreds and thousands of years at a rate more than ten times that caused by human activity. This is true! What they don't include is that this rate has been fairly consistent for hundreds of years. This additional release is altering this delicate balance. Another argument is there is too much uncertainty in the science to merit action. While nobody disagrees that our climate is incredibly complex, there have been many models making very accurate predictions. Also, there is compelling evidence pointing toward global warming as the explanation for many disconcerting events; the 10 warmest years in the 20th century happened in its last 15 years, the snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased, glaciers are melting all over the globe, and many more.
Renewable energy our key to a sustainable future, it is also our key to greater national security right now. Though we consume approximately 25% of the World's oil supply, we possess only 3% of the World's oil reserves. Currently, we rely on the Middle East for 30% of the oil we consume. We have such a thirst for oil yet we cannot hope to produce enough on our own soil to drill our way to oil independence. It simply isn't there. The only way out of this situation is to conserve right now and to support the renewable power sources of solar, hydro and wind energy. These advanced technologies are popping up all over the globe to provide more environmentally and socially sustainable sources of energy for the World's people. By promoting these sources of energy for the future, and reducing our consumption of fossil fuels right now, we will be helping to curb global warming and secure a future for human life on this planet for centuries to come.
We can all contribute by upping our efforts to recycle and be responsible. We can carry our own canvas bags to the grocery store. We can upgrade our homes to reduce wasteful energy use. Many local governments support energy efficiency organizations that will come out to your home and perform an efficiency evaluation to help you pinpoint the most important upgrades.
Sustainable Living and Public Art
Brad Goldberg wrote, "Public art is at a crtical fork in the road...One fork leads in the direction of a sustainable world while the other leads to a subordinate field of superficial embellishment. The better fork in the road must be followed and embraced for public art to be relevant from this point on."
There are many subjects for art to address and the environment is crucial. There are other vital subjects such as poverty, war, and tragedies that are cause for human suffering. The goal should be to seek enlightenment and proceed with wisdom, caring for the earth, and acting with humanity amidst the mis-steps of our species.
Information on Green Living at Greenfootsteps.com