Effects of carbon dioxide on the Climate Change
Carbon Dioxide, a greenhouse gas, provides Earth’s energy. It is found in abundance in many areas of our planet, including forests, oceans, and lakes. However, as human activities have changed its composition and emission rates:
Carbon dioxide emissions are causing climate change. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. Climate change has become one of the most pressing issues of today’s time due to humanity’s ongoing dependence on fossil fuels for sustained development
Carbon dioxide is formed by the combustion of plants or animals that produce methane from fermentation (often referred to as “fossil-fuel energy”) and nitrous oxide from farming, land clearing, mining, or other activities that take place on earth (“greenhouse gas emissions”). It is released when volcanoes burn or release dust.
Methane is an important greenhouse gas because it absorbs heat at lower levels than CO 2, but emits more than twice the amount of carbon. The total amount of CO 2 stored in the atmosphere is equal to the combined amounts of sulfur, nitrogen, and water vapor. The natural balance of these gases will stay stable. However, global warming causes this imbalance.
Today, as much as one-third of all the CO 2 in the atmosphere is absorbed into the ocean or sea. This oceanic sequestration is largely driven by changes in marine and freshwater ecosystems as well as increased industrial activity. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations.
Sources of carbon dioxide include:
animals like chickens, pigs, sheep, goats, and cattle.
Agricultural and forestry products can be grown indoors with no need for fertilizers, manure, or pesticides.
Biofuels are derived from animal sources, such as sugar cane, corn, and hemp. Agriculture produces between 30% and 75% of emissions, and many of them have high deforestation rates associated with large-scale farming activities (both slash-and-burn and intensive livestock ranching methods).
In addition, the large volumes of livestock and fish products produced worldwide require extensive inputs of food, feed, fuel, building materials, machinery, and other agricultural inputs such as fertilizer, irrigation, and chemicals. These inputs and outputs are known collectively as Greenhouse Gases (GHGs)—the term used to refer to all excess GHG emissions that reach the atmosphere, instead of just carbon dioxide.
An increase in production is not as effective as switching production from using less efficient or polluting technologies. More than 70% of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. Source: United States Department of Agriculture.
Natural processes that cause a rise in atmospheric temperatures include the following:
Solar radiation (emitted by the sun) heats up the surface of Earth; reflecting off the top of clouds forms heat from the ground, and the ocean and continents absorb solar heat (dilution process); thus absorbing additional energy.
Although both the upper layer and the lower part of the atmosphere receive some sunlight, so much of the solar output reaches the atmosphere (up to 50 percent) through the troposphere (upper layer), which consists mainly of air close to the equator, rather than being reflected back down to space. The remaining half comes predominantly from the stratosphere, which lies above the troposphere and reflects some percentage of the solar radiation back into space.
Because there are only 5,000 km2—about 6 million kilometers3—of the entire planet to absorb light, Earth absorbs about 4.5 x 10-11 photons (one billionth of a second) per year. If humans didn’t emit anything, this would make our atmosphere about 1.6-1.7 x 10-12 meters3—about 17 times the average height of Mount Everest.
As we get nearer the troposphere, then, absorption becomes more limited. That’s why we’re seeing extremely hot spots in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. They hold vast expanses of arctic permafrost, which retains heat from the Sun at low latitudes. Many plants and organisms rely on the warm temperature of the soil to survive.
There are few plants that grow above 15 degrees Celsius temperature. Yet it only takes one degree C (36 C) to raise the maximum temperature to around 20 Celsius (68 F). So where exactly does this extra heat go? A lot of it goes straight out into space. Of course, there’s still some heat left over in the air, and it stays trapped.
Air is a very dense medium and has no mass. But our lungs have the capacity to cool us quickly from elevated temperatures; if the air was even slightly warmer, we could suffer from heatstroke. Instead, the cooling effect is so strong that our bodies maintain their optimum temperature almost automatically, regardless of ambient temperature.
One explanation is the existence of what is called an adiabatic window, a narrow “isolation zone” created by the fact that the Earth is always surrounded by similar regions of air with different temperatures and pressures. When the concentration of the right amount of heat within the atmosphere is greater than the outside air, the surrounding air will keep its surroundings cool.
Another reason is that when air and particles interact at low altitudes, they can create a phenomenon called convective heating. For example, when heavy particles move over a body of air, the wind carries them upwards, creating air currents. Since those same particles lose their kinetic energy in the downward movement, their velocity increases.
High-velocity air flows through the path of the cold air more readily than slow-moving particles, therefore reducing their ability to cool. Thus, the process maintains the temperature of the “isolation zone” and prevents overheating. Some scientists believe that greenhouse gases can escape the atmosphere and affect the climate by adding energy to the incoming air.
Other scientists believe that because greenhouse gases act like mirrors, we cannot see how much heat there is in the atmosphere. So we don’t know whether the current state of the environment will remain at 100 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius). We also do not know the exact rate of destruction of ozone for greenhouse gases.
All of the aforementioned influences the creation of a positive feedback loop between climate change and greenhouse gas concentrations. This situation is referred to as a self-reproducing system since the concentration of carbon dioxide increases faster than any other element of the cycle. Source: World Resources Institute.
The effects of increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases on the Earth’s climatic conditions have been clearly shown in recent decades. In the past few years, the world has experienced unprecedented droughts which have caused widespread starvation in most countries in the African continent, Asia, Europe, North America, South America, Australia, and Oceania; extreme weather events such as cyclones; frequent wildfires; record rains; catastrophic floods; and major fires. Natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis, droughts, hurricanes, monsoons, storms, tornadoes, and volcanic eruptions have also occurred.
In his book “The Human Impact on Climate Change”, Michael Mann argues that greenhouse gases should be classified together with fossil fuels in the category of anthropogenic “greenhouse gases” since the majority of them trap heat in the planet’s atmosphere. While fossil fuels were originally created by humans to support life in the last few thousand years, greenhouse gases were first generated approximately 40 to 60 thousand years ago.
Currently, however, humans emit more CO 2 to sustain life than did earlier generations and create the largest environmental footprint in history. Over the coming decade, rising temperatures, melting polar ice caps, and increased severity of drought-related phenomena are certain consequences of human activities. Source: State University Center Research Foundation.
What are the potential effects of increased CO 2 concentrations?