The Big Picture
Global Warming describes what was once called the Greenhouse Effect. It's a theory that says the Earth is getting warmer due to gases in the atmosphere.. The fact is that Earth is warmer in the last 100 years and most of the warmest years on record have been in the last two decades. The last decade in the United States has been warmer than many in the past and 2006 tied 1998 as the warmest year for the US on record. In the last half century, temperatures have risen at a much greater rate than what we would expect from natural cycles. Broadly, this is all referred to asclimate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a group of hundreds of scientists from many countries that has concluded humans are the larger cause of the current global warming and that the warming will continue. The debate is whether humans are the main cause.
The temperature of the Earth fluctuates over centuries due to changes in the sun's distance and energy, as well as volcanic eruptions and meteor impacts that can cloud the atmosphere and block sunlight. Over time the Earth gets colder and warmer. In the last century we've warmed more than 1 degree, sea level has risen, and Arctic glaciers have continued to melt at rapid rates. All of this has occurred while Carbon Dioxide levels have increased due to human activities. Note that each of us creates greenhouse gas emissions through transportation and energy use in our lives. You might try to connect only CO2 and the warming effects but it's not as simple as that. There are other greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxides and there are short and long-term warmings around the globe from El Nino, sun cycles, and other phenomena. There's no one single weather event that can be tied to any climate change.
When it comes to human activity it is not just Carbon Dioxide that influences climate. In recent research, scientists show that more than 25 percent of the increase in average global temperature between 1880 and 2002 may be due to soot contamination of snow and ice. Snow and ice that is contaminated with black carbon absorbs incoming solar radiation. More recently NASA has confirmed that the Antarctic is losing more icethan it gains from snowfall resulting in rising sea level.
NASA scientists have also found cirrus clouds, formed by contrails from aircraft engine exhaust, are capable of increasing average surface temperatures. Persisting contrails can spread into extensive cirrus clouds that tend to warm the Earth, because they reflect less sunlight than the amount of heat they trap. The balance between Earth's incoming sunlight and outgoing heat drives climate change.
Global temperatures are averages of temperature readings throughout the many nations both on land, in the oceans, and in the air. Satellites carry sensors that give us temperatures in remote locations and above the surface of the Earth but we did not have these precise instruments generations ago so that can make comparisons a little tricky as scientists have to rely on other records of temperature and air composition.
It is possible that natural processes will be able to counterbalance any warm-up or even reverse it but how long that would take is unknown. On the other hand, some computer models predict that a warm-up will continue on its own or even go out of control. The problem is that we have never experienced exactly what we are trying to figure out. Only time will give the true answer but the best scientific minds believe warming and rising oceans are a near certainty.
There is no denying that the Earth is warming even though there is debate on causes of global warming. Debate is healthy when it is backed by research. The only questions are how fast and how long will we warm, and to what extent human activities cause warming. Recent research shows a warming in the Arctic. The Earth will respond in one way or another and survive. How we act or don't act will have an impact on future generations. Do more research on climate change vs. changes in human activity using the links above and below...
What We Know
If a major global warm-up occurs, not all regions will get warmer. Some will get cloudier and wetter, while others may cool. Some regions may warm only at night while others get colder in one season and warmer in another. In general, sea level will continue to rise due to expanding water and melting ice that sits now on land.
While we've seen more tropical storms and hurricanes in recent years it's probably not due to climate change. There does not look like a significant change in Gulf coast hurricanes outside of their normal cycles. Watersheds may change, farming regions may shift, diseases will migrate and forests will shift but for every loser in the equation there should be a winner. Parts of the planet that are too dry or too cold for us to live in may become more habitable. By itself a warmer Earth is not a problem but for how it would impact economies and the lives of people and other organisms decades from now could be a problem because there might be major adjustments required both economically and socially.
What You Can Do
The Earth's population is growing. Our natural resources are being used at a faster rate than ever before. The more we consume the more waste and pollution we create. We all can live greener and save green in our wallets while contributing to a healthier planet. Here are many tips you can use around your house or apartment or even on the job.
Only use lights when needed; maximize daylight. Lighting in your home can account for 15-20% of your electricity bill.
When buying new lights, try choosing compact fluorescent bulbs. These bulbs use 75% less energy to give the same amount of light. Also, these bulbs typically last up to 10 times longer than conventional bulbs.
Do not set your air conditioner too low in the summer.
Turn down the thermostat by 5 degrees during winter. Throw on an extra blanket.
Turn off heating 30 minutes before going out.
Try not to install an air conditioner in direct sunlight.
Weather strip doors and windows to prevent leaking air.
Make sure the air filters are clean.
Make sure your refrigerator is not set too cold.
Do not open and close the refrigerator too often, it wastes electricity.
Arrange food so that cold air can flow freely.
Do not put hot/warm food into your refrigerator. Let the food cool to room temperature first.
Thaw frozen food by placing it into the refrigerator the day before cooking.
Do not block the cooling coils in the back of the refrigerator. Keep them clean as dust on the coils causes warming.
Empty and turn off your refrigerator if you go on a long vacation.
Convection ovens cost 35% less to run than a conventional electric oven.
Microwave ovens are very energy-efficient when cooking small quantities of food.
A pressure cooker saves over half the cooking time and saves energy.
A slow-cool pot also uses less energy.
Always use lids on pans to trap heat; this saves energy.
Do not spend a long time pre-heating your oven. 10 minutes is usually more than enough time.
Wait until you have a full load before washing. A small load uses the same amount of energy as a full load.
Use a low temperature wash cycle, and do not use too much detergent.
A high-speed spin cycle saves energy in drying, especially if you also use a tumble dryer.
Whenever possible, hang dry your clothes outside.
Clean the lint filter before each load.
Do not overload dryer. This blocks the airflow and drastically reduces dryer efficiency.
Remove and fold or hang all items as soon as the dryer stops. This will prevent wrinkling and reduce your ironing needs.
Iron all items in one session to avoid reheating the iron.
Towel-dry your hair before using the blow dryer.
Take a shower instead of a bath. This saves about 50% in water heating costs.
Do not leave hot water running when shaving or brushing your teeth.
Use cold water when hot water is not necessary.
Boil only as much water as you need.
Plan your route before you leave.
Avoid rush hour.
Do not top off when refueling during the day in the summer.
Form a carpool
Keep vehicle properly maintained. A car with running problems leads to increased fuel costs and pollutes the environment.
Avoid sudden accelerations.
Think before buying a vehicle.
Use vehicles air conditioning sparingly.
Maintain correct tire pressure.
Use handkerchiefs or dish towels. Paper towels and napkins create waste.
Send unwanted toys, clothes, furniture to charity.
Bring your own coffee mug to work, avoid paper cups.
Purchase clothes that do not require bleaching.
Actively recycle newspapers, aluminum cans, plastic bottles.
Properly dispose of hazardous waste and electronics.