Greenhouse effect: Causes and consequences on the climate
The action of humans is principally responsible for the increase of the phenomenon known as the "greenhouse effect". Its consequences, including global warming, are very worrying for the planet. That is why it is essential to take action against greenhouse gas emissions. In this article, we look at the greenhouse effect definition and detail some measures that can be taken to pollute less.
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What is the greenhouse effect?
The greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon that helps maintain the average temperature level on the planet's surface. This is essential for life on Earth because, in its absence, the average temperature would be minus 18°C instead of the current average of 15°C.
Light from the sun, as well as invisible ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths penetrate the Earth’s outer gaseous layer. The earth's oceans and land naturally absorb around 70% of this solar radiation while the rest is reflected back to space. The radiation that does not reflect back into space is retained by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, thus increasing the temperature of the planet.
It is important to understand that the natural greenhouse effect is essential to the Earth's climate. The problem is that pollution - burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas - as well as activities such as deforestation, cause an increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The greenhouse effect is a phenomenon that applies to all planets with an atmosphere like Earth or Venus.
What gases cause the greenhouse effect?
Greenhouse Gases (GHG) are gases that are naturally present in the atmosphere. They absorb some of the sun's rays and then redistribute them as radiation. The increase in greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, due to human activities, contributes to global warming. As the name implies, these gases are the main cause of the greenhouse effect.
The gases responsible for the greenhouse effect are the following:
- Water vapor (H2O);
- Carbon dioxide (CO2);
- Methane (CH4);
- Nitrous oxide (N2O);
- Ozone (O3).
The atmosphere has an ever higher concentration of greenhouse gases. While there are naturally occurring factors, it is largely down to human activities, such as raising livestock that emit methane or using vehicles that run on fossil fuels and release large amounts of greenhouse gases that then have an impact on the chemical composition of the atmosphere. The higher levels of gases leads to an increased greenhouse effect and rising average temperature of the planet. As a result, climate change begins to happen, and each one of us needs to take action to help slow it down.
What is 1 ppm?The acronym "ppm" means parts per million. It is a unit of measurement used to calculate the rate of air pollution. It tells us how many molecules of greenhouse gases are present in one million molecules of air.
The greenhouse effect and global warming
The enhanced greenhouse effect, related to action by humans such as burning fossil fuels, has already caused an average global temperature increase of around 1°C compared to the pre-industrial era. Climate change is already visible but its impact is still relatively small. That is why it is imperative to act quickly and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The main causes of the enhanced greenhouse effect includes:
- Electricity consumption
- Heating and air conditioning
- Transport and fossil fuel combustion
- The daily consumption of disposable materials
- The destruction of ecosystems
What is global warming?
The greater the pace of climate change, the more the balance of our ecosystems will be threatened. Scientists across the world agree that an increase in the average global temperature of more than 1.5°C would lead to extreme changes in the climate and have a direct impact on thing such as:
- The melting of the ice caps that play a crucial role in reflecting back the sun’s energy.
- A rise in sea levels and the flooding of coastal cities, not just in low-lying areas of the UK but across the globe.
- Extreme weather conditions such as an increase in hurricanes and monsoons. In the UK, the Met Office predicts warmer summers with heat waves becoming more frequent, as well as wetter winters.
- Migration of animals and humans who are forced need to move to survive climate change in their usual habitats. A World Bank report suggested that as many as 140 million people may need to migrate due to climate change by 2050.
- Desertification of fertile land, resulting in greater pressure on the food production process on a global level.
In 2018, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) published a special report describing in detail the consequences of global warming of 1.5°C (major storms, intense droughts, heavy rains, etc).
How to avoid adding to the greenhouse effect and start fighting against climate change?
The only way to reduce the greenhouse effect caused by human activities is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In December 2015, leaders from 192 countries gathered at the United Nations-organised COP21 summit, signing the Paris Agreement and establishing targets to keep global warming below 2ºC.
Then UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, along with the other leaders, committed to working together to ensure each country would take action to reduce carbon emissions and make efforts to use and promote greener and sustainable energy.
When is the next clumate summit?The next UN summit on climate change, COP26, will take place in Glasgow between November 1-12, 2021. It will be the first time since the Paris Agreement that member states submit new and updated plans for climate action on a national level.
Calculate your carbon footprint
Before reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it is essential to identify the most important sources of greenhouse gases related to our individual activities. To do this, it is possible to calculate your personal carbon footprint.
By using a carbon footprint calculator, you can analyse how your lifestyle and consumption habits are having an impact on the environment and begin to make necessary changes to reduce emissions.
Measures to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions
Once we understand what generates the most emissions in our daily lives, we can decide on a number of actions and begin to implement change. Some examples of how to change individual behaviours to help the environment include:
- Travelling in a sustainable way: walking, bicycles, electric or hybrid cars
- Reducing your meat consumption and food waste
- Consuming organic products
- Choosing green energy providers
- Producing your own energy
Making simple changes like these is essential to reduce the carbon footprint. It consists of adapting habits and changing to a greener and more sustainable lifestyle. It is possible to start with simple actions. In the long term they will have a significant impact on reducing our collective carbon footprint.
Finance environmental projects
When a strategy has been established to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is possible to compensate for those that can not be avoided. Carbon footprint compensation consists of financing environmental projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, therefore, offset those related to our activities.
In order to act against global warming, Selectra offers individuals the opportunity to calculate their carbon footprint using an online calculator. In addition, since 2019, it has allowed clients to offset part or all of their greenhouse gas emissions by financing the construction of a wind farm through the Gandhi project and the development of renewable energy in India.
Read more about environmental protection and the fight against global warming in our other guides!