Climate change is not a new concept; in fact there is evidence of major climate changes throughout the earth’s history. However since the industrial revolution and especially since world war two, there has been an unprecedented change in the earth’s atmosphere (Gates 4). As of March 1999, scientists reported the construction of a thousand-year record of the average temperature on earth. The results of their study concluded that a nine hundred-year cooling trend has been decisively reversed within the last fifty years (Bell and Strieber 9-10). The effects of these rapid atmospheric changes are seen in increased storm intensity, rising seas, drier cropland, dying forests and coral reefs, proliferating diseases, floods, droughts, fires, and heat waves (Gates 2). These effects have hit home for many in the United States already with the intense flooding of the southeast coast that came with hurricane Opal in 1995 and the extensive flooding of the southeast Florida coast from hurricane Hugo in 1998 (Read 68).
These storms are causing increasing amounts of damage due to their growing sizes. In June of 1999, a tornado struck the Midwest with record-breaking winds reaching up to three hundred and thirteen miles per hour (Bell and Strieber 126). #Also in 1999, hurricane Floyd set a record by reaching the size of Texas at its strongest point. Increasing numbers of forest fires spread throughout the southwestern regions of the United States every year. By June of 1998, after a great period of drought, giant fires in Texas together with fires in Mexico and Guatemala created a cloud of smoke thousands of miles long and thick enough to block the suns light at noon in the worst places.
This was the second worst fire outbreak ever recorded in human history (Bell and Strieber). It is clear that our temperatures are rising around the globe, but by how much, and how fast?While some scientists disagree about the cause or rate at which the earth is warming, scientific research leads us to believe that the temperature rise is real (Verma 125-127). The global average temperature is predicted to rise somewhere between 1 and 3. 5 Celsius degrees by 2100, according to the rate of carbon emissions and other greenhouse gasses that continue to be emitted (Flavin and Dunn 6). In 1998 the global average temperature exceeded even the most radical global warming models whose predictions were as recent as 1995.
1998 ended up as the warmest year recorded in history until 1999, when it became clear that temperatures were rising much faster than ever expected (Bell and Streiber). Contrary to popular belief the greenhouse effect is not a bad thing. It is completely natural and it is in fact vital to our survival on earth. Without the greenhouse effect, the world would actually be about 33 degrees Celsius colder (Read 28).
In recent years however, we have been experiencing too much of a good thing. Greenhouse gasses prevent the suns heat from escaping the earth’s atmosphere after it enters, making the temperature rise. We base our global warming models on the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses humankind is releasing into the air (Bell and Strieber 197). The acceleration of global warming can be linked to an increase in industry, forest destruction, and agriculture, which are major producers of greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide and methane (Gates 1). In the last 160,000 years before the industrial revolution the concentration of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent of the greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, never exceeded about 280 parts per million.
Since then, carbon dioxide has risen to about 360 parts per million and continues to rise (Read 39-40). The major cause of the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the burning of fossil fuels like, coal and petroleum (Budyko 185-186). Methane, another greenhouse gas, is 70 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Methane is increasing by about 1% every year, which is twice as fast as carbon dioxide.
However, methane levels in our atmosphere are much lower than carbon dioxide levels. Some major sources of methane include the anaerobic decomposition of organic material such as cattle manure and rice paddies; the extraction, refining, and distribution of .