What is global warming, and how is it affecting the Earth and it's inhabitants? Global Warming is sometimes referred to as the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is the absorption of energy radiated from the Earth's surface by carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere, causing the atmosphere to become warmer. The greenhouse effect is what is causing the temperature on the Earth to rise, and creating many problems that will begin to occur in the coming decades. For the last 10,000 years, the Earth's climate has been extraordinarily beneficial to mankind. "Humans have prospered tremendously well under a benign atmosphere," (Bates 28).
Today, however, major changes are taking place. People are conducting an inadvertent global experiment by changing the face of the entire planet. We are destroying the ozone layer, which allows life to exist on the Earth's surface. All of these activities are unfavorably altering the composition of the biosphere and the Earth's heat balance. If we do not slow down our use of fossil fuels and stop destroying, the forests, the world could become hotter than it has been in the past million years. Average global temperatures have risen 1 degree Fahrenheit over the last century. If carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases continue to spill into the atmosphere, global temperatures could rise five to 10 degrees by the middle of the next century.
The warning will be the greatest at the higher latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, with the largest temperature rises occurring in winter. Most areas will experience summertime highs well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. New temperature records will be set each year.
As a possible prelude to global warming, the decade of the 1980's has had the six hottest years of the century (Erandson 18-22). Atmospheric disturbances brought on by the additional warming will produce more violent storms and larger death tolls. Some areas, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, will dry out and a greater occurrence of lightning strikes will set massive forest fires. The charring of the Earth by natural and man-made forest fires will dump additional quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Changes in temperature and rainfall brought on by global warming will in turn change the composition of the forests. At the present rate of destruction, most of the rain forests will be gone by the middle of the next century. This will allow man-made deserts to encroach on once lush areas. (Bassett 1-2).
Evaporation rates will also increase and circulation patterns will change. Decreased rainfall in some areas will results in increased rainfall in others. In some regions, river flow will be reduced or stopped all together completely. Other areas will experience sudden downpours that create massive floods. The central portions of the continents, which normally experience occasional droughts, might become permanently dry wastelands. Vast areas of once productive cropland could lose topsoil and become man-made deserts. Coastal regions, where half the human population lives, will feel the adverse effects of rising sea levels as the ice caps melt under rising ocean temperatures.
If the present melting continues, the sea could rise as much as 6 feet by the middle of the next century (Bassett 1-2). Large tracks of coastal land would disappear, as would shallow barrier islands and coral reefs. Low-lying fertile deltas that support millions of people would vanish. Delicate wetlands, where many species of marine life hatch their young, would be reclaimed by the sea. Vulnerable coastal cities would have to move farther inland or build protective walls against the angry sea, where a larger number of extremely dangerous hurricanes would prowl the ocean stretches.
Forests and other wildlife habitats might not have enough time to adjust to the rapidly changing climate. The warming will rearrange entire biological communities and cause many species to become extinct. Weeds and pests could overrun much of the landscape. Since life controls the climate to some extent, it is uncertain what long-term effects a diminished biosphere will have on the world as a whole. It is becoming more apparent, however, that as man continues to squander the Earth's resources, the climate could change in such a way that it is no longer benevolent to mankind. The greenhouse effect and