What is the greenhouse effect?

In order for planet Earth to be habitable, it carries with it a natural phenomenon known as greenhouse effect, thanks to which a suitable temperature is maintained for the existence of all living beings.

It is so called because the process that occurs between solar radiation, the atmosphere and the Earth is similar to that which happens in greenhouses to optimize heat and help plants in their growth and cultivation processes. On a different scale, of course.

This phenomenon begins with the radiation emitted by the Sun, which reaches the Earth, passing through the Earth’s atmosphere. This energy heats the surface of the planet, which, in turn, returns the energy at a lower frequency than the infrared thermal radiation generated by the thermal movement of the charged particles in matter.

The natural greenhouse effect produces a thermal equilibrium on the planet by maintaining an average temperature of 14 ° Celsius. If this phenomenon did not occur, that is, if the atmosphere and the earth’s surface did not exchange energy, the Earth’s temperature would be -18 ° C.

The difference between the two temperatures, close to 33 ° C, illustrates the importance of the natural greenhouse effect.

What is a greenhouse?

A greenhouse is a structure designed in different shapes and sizes, conditioned in such a way that it can bring together the ideal light, humidity and temperature environments for growing vegetables. Greenhouses protect plants from extreme outdoor climates, be it frost or excessive heat and sun.

Well, our planet has its own greenhouse, made up of the surface of the Earth, the rays of the Sun and the Earth’s atmosphere. All this allows the exchange of energy that enters, heats up and returns to the atmosphere to continue the cycle. But, what happens when the layer that protects the Earth is altered by the amount of gases that circulate inside the planet?

When there is a higher concentration of gases that affect the atmosphere, known as Greenhouse gases (GHG), the amount of energy that cannot escape out of the atmosphere is greater, and it returns to the surface generating a progressive increase in temperature on Earth. This phenomenon, produced by the activity of man on the planet, is the main cause of the climate change.

Climate change is also a natural process on the planet that has occurred throughout the evolution of the Earth, but it has accelerated dramatically in recent years due to the disproportionate increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

How does the greenhouse effect affect us?

The greenhouse effect cycle is altered when infrared thermal radiation from the Earth’s surface is absorbed by GHGs, which are in higher concentration suspended in the atmosphere and cause them to re-irradiate to the surface and the lower atmosphere.

This is where two concepts come in that have been the product of debates, agreements, global commitments and, in general, of great concern. They are global warming and climate change. They should not be confused, but should be understood very well in order to be attentive to the measures that countries must take if they want to slow down and avoid the consequences produced by GHGs.

Greenhouse emanations are responsible for the accumulation of gases in the atmosphere and, consequently, the Earth is warming. These gases emitted by human activity are mainly:

  • Carbon dioxide CO2: product of the burning of fossil fuels, is responsible for more radiation and consequently the temperature is altered.
  • The methane gas or CH4: it is produced from the decomposition of organic matter, mainly by raising livestock, and is one of the components of natural gas used as fuel for domestic and industrial purposes.
  • The tropospheric ozone (different from stratospheric ozone, which is present in the atmosphere): it is produced by vehicles, expelled through their exhaust pipes.
  • The nitrogen oxides, NOx: they are the product of the composition of nitrogen monoxide (NO) or nitric oxide, and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). It is generated by combustion that takes place at high temperatures, as in motor vehicles and power plants.
  • The chlorofluorocarbons CFC: they are found to a lesser extent in the atmosphere, but they cause serious consequences to the greenhouse effect.

All these emanations are responsible for making the atmosphere more dense and preventing gases from going out into outer space, returning and staying, and the phenomena of Climate Change and Global Warming occur.

What is climate change?

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, climate change is any significant change in climate measurements that lasts for an extended period of time.

The CC includes modifications in the temperature and in the climates of the Earth, affecting the patterns of precipitations, winds, droughts, etc., during one or several decades.

The rains have increased and caused flooding in many places. While in others there have been droughts. Heat waves are more frequent and extensive, in addition to forest fires.

Climate change affects the economy. Not only does it spoil crops, it also increases natural disasters, which impact the production of countries.

What is global warming?

Global warming refers to the continuous increase in the temperature of the Earth. It is the increase in heat on the earth’s surface and the direct consequence of high concentrations of GHGs in the atmosphere, which in turn produces changes in climate patterns.

Nowadays, global warming is inevitable because it has been produced by GHG emissions for more than 150 years, with the beginning of industrialization.

The oceans are warming at the same time that glaciers and the poles are melting. As a result, sea levels rise and coastal cities may be affected in the coming years.

Without doubt, human overpopulation and exploitation of natural resources, as well as the increasing use of fossil fuels for man’s current way of life, continue to produce GHG. However, since the last century there has been a debate about the consequences on the planet of the greenhouse effect.

How are these phenomena dealt with?

In 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, also known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was established by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program. The idea is to “advise governments on climate problems and compile known scientific research into regular assessment reports.”

These reports offer scientific, technical and socio-economic data on climate change, causes, effects and measures to consider. A relevant document that shows concern, and achieved the commitment of 183 countries and the European Union, is the Kyoto Protocol, carried out in 1997 as an extension of the United Nations Framework Convention on climate change.

In this document, industrialized countries pledged to “reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and cut at least 5% of emissions from 1990 levels in the 2008-2012 period.”

Likewise, in December 2009, the climate summit was held in Copenhagen, where 192 countries were summoned by the UN to “agree on a limit on greenhouse gas emissions for the period between 2012 and 2020, a period that should succeed 2008-2012, agreed in the Kyoto protocol ”.

In addition, the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, in December 2009, and the Cancun Climate Change Conference, in December 2010, took place.

What should countries do to reduce GHG emissions?

Each country has its own characteristics on which its economy, development and social growth are based, etc., and they know their contribution to GHG emissions, especially the industrialized and most overpopulated countries on the planet.

Some countries are changing production methods based on fossil fuels for so-called clean or zero-waste energy. An example of these are geothermal energy, which uses the internal heat of the planet; wind power, hydropower and solar power. Other actions that many countries are already taking are:

  • The culture of recycling, that is, making products whose raw materials are recycled and less polluting.
  • Promote endemic tree planting programs that correspond to the characteristics of the terrain.
  • Promote the use of public transport, bicycle or walking.
  • Avoid air travel and make use of teleconferences for work meetings.
  • Use energy saving light bulbs.

The idea is to become aware that every action against the environment has its consequences, which mean risks that seriously affect the lives of all beings on the planet.

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