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Table on contents


What is global



History of global warming



Global warming effects and causes

1.4.1 Causes of global
1.4.2 Effects of global warming

global warming

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This term refers to the general increase in the earths average temperature caused by the presence
of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which causes changes in climate patterns across the
Global warming refers to the rising average temperature of Earths atmosphere and oceans,
which started to increase in the late 19th century and is projected to keep going up. Since the
early20th century, Earths average surface temperature has increased by about 0.8 C (1.4 F), with
about two thirds of the increase occurring since 1980. Warming of the climate system is
unequivocal, and scientists are more than 90% certain that most of it is caused by increasing
concentrations of greenhouse gases produced by human activities such as deforestation and
burning fossil fuels. These findings are recognized by the national science academies of all the
major industrialized nations. An increase in global temperature will cause sea levels to rise and
will change the amount and pattern of precipitation, and a probable expansion of subtropical
deserts. Warming is expected to be strongest in the Arctic and would be associated with
continuing retreat of glaciers, permafrost and sea ice. Other likely effects of the warming include
more frequent occurrence of extreme-weather events including heat waves, droughts and heavy
rainfall, species extinctions due to shifting temperature regimes, and changes in crop yields.

Polar bears are losing

their habit

Sea level is rising

Hurricanes are getting

bigger and stronger
Glaciers are melting fast
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Temperatures is going up


Global warming involves an unprecedented speeding up of the rate of change in natural
processes, which now converges with the (previously much faster) rate of change in human
societies, leading to a crisis of adaptation. Most authoritative scientific bodies predict that on
present trends a point of no return could come within ten years, and that the world needs to cut
emissions by 50 percent by mid twenty-first century.

It was natural scientists who first discovered and raised global warming as a political problem.
This makes many of the global warming concerns unique. Science becomes the author of issues
that dominate the political agenda and become the sources of political conflict (Stehr 2001, p.
85). Perhaps for this reason, many social scientists, particularly sociologists, wary of trusting the
truth claims of natural science but knowing themselves lacking the expertise to judge their
validity, have avoided saying much about global warming and its possible consequences. Even
sociologists such as Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens, who see risk as a key attribute of
advanced modernity, have said little about climate change.

For practical purposes, it can no longer be assumed that nature is a stable, well understood,
background constant and thus social scientists do not need direct knowledge about its changes.
Any discussion of likely social, economic, and political futures will have to heed what natural
scientists say about the likely impacts of climate change.
Svante Arrhenius (1859-1927) was a Swedish scientist that was the first to claim in 1896
that fossil fuel combustion may eventually result in enhanced global warming. He proposed a
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relation between atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and temperature. He found that the
average surface temperature of the earth is about 15oC because of the infrared absorption
capacity of water vapor and carbon dioxide. This is called the natural greenhouse effect.
Arrhenius suggested a doubling of the CO2 concentration would lead to a 5oC temperature rise.
He and Thomas Chamberlin calculated that human activities could warm the earth by adding
carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This research was a by-product of research of whether carbon
dioxide would explain the causes of the great Ice Ages. This was not actually verified until 1987.
After the discoveries of Arrhenius and Chamberlin the topic was forgotten for a very long time.
At that time it was thought than human influences were insignificant compared to natural forces,
such as solar activity and ocean circulation. It was also believed that the oceans were such great
carbon sinks that they would automatically cancel out our pollution. Water vapor was seen as a
much more influential greenhouse gas.
In the 1940's there were developments in infrared spectroscopy for measuring long-wave
radiation. At that time it was proven that increasing the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide
resulted in more absorption of infrared radiation. It was also discovered that water vapor
absorbed totally different types of radiation than carbon dioxide. Gilbert Plass summarized these
results in 1955. He concluded that adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere would
intercept infrared radiation that is otherwise lost to space, warming the earth.
The argument that the oceans would absorb most carbon dioxide was still intact. However, in the
1950's evidence was found that carbon dioxide has an atmospheric lifetime of approximately 10
years. Moreover, it was not yet known what would happen to a carbon dioxide molecule after it
would eventually dissolve in the ocean. Perhaps the carbon dioxide holding capacity of oceans
was limited, or carbon dioxide could be transferred back to the atmosphere after some time.
Research showed that the ocean could never be the complete sink for all atmospheric CO2. It is
thought that only nearly a third of anthropogenic CO2 is absorbed by oceans.
In the late 1950's and early 1960's Charles Keeling used the most modern technologies available
to produce concentration curves for atmospheric CO2 in Antarctica and Mauna Loa. These
curves have become one of the major icons of global warming. The curves showed a downward
trend of global annual temperature from the 1940's to the 1970's. At the same time ocean
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sediment research showed that there had been no less than 32 cold-warm cycles in the last 2,5
million years, rather than only 4. Therefore, fear began to develop that a new ice age might be
near. The media and many scientists ignored scientific data of the 1950's and 1960's in favor of
global cooling.
In the 1980's, finally, the global annual mean temperature curve started to rise. People began to
question the theory of an upcoming new ice age. In the late 1980's the curve began to increase so
steeply that the global warming theory began to win terrain fast. Environmental NGO's (NonGovernmental Organizations) started to advocate global environmental protection to prevent
further global warming. The press also gained an interest in global warming. It soon became a
hot news topic that was repeated on a global scale. Pictures of smoke stags were put next to
pictures of melting ice caps and flood events. A complete media circus evolved that convinced
many people we are on the edge of a significant climate change that has many negative
impacts on our world today. Stephen Schneider had first predicted global warming in 1976. This
made him one of the world's leading global warming experts.
In 1988 it was finally acknowledged that climate was warmer than any period since 1880. The
greenhouse effect theory was named and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
was founded by the United Nations Environmental Programme and the World Meteorological
Organization. This organization tries to predict the impact of the greenhouse effect according to
existing climate models and literature information. The Panel consists of more than 2500
scientific and technical experts from more than 60 countries all over the world. The scientists are
from widely divergent research fields including climatology, ecology, economics, medicine, and
oceanography. The IPCC is referred to as the largest peer-reviewed scientific cooperation project
in history. The IPCC released climate change reports in 1992 and 1996, and the latest revised
version in 2001.
In the 1990's scientists started to question the greenhouse effect theory, because of major
uncertainties in the data sets and model outcomes. They protested the basis of the theory, which
was data of global annual mean temperatures. They believed that the measurements were not
carried out correctly and that data from oceans was missing. Cooling trends were not explained
by the global warming data and satellites showed completely different temperature records from
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the initial ones. The idea began to grow that global warming models had overestimated the
warming trend of the past 100 years. This caused the IPCC to review their initial data on global
warming, but this did not make them reconsider whether the trend actually exists. We now know
that 1998 was globally the warmest year on record, followed by 2002, 2003, 2001 and 1997. The
10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1990.
The climate records of the IPCC are still contested by many other scientists, causing new
research and frequent responses to skeptics by the IPCC. This global warming discussion is still
continuing today and data is constantly checked and renewed. Models are also updated and
adjusted to new discoveries and new theory.
So far not many measures have been taken to do something about climate change. This is largely
caused by the major uncertainties still surrounding the theory. But climate change is also a global
problem that is hard to solve by single countries. Therefore in 1998 the Kyoto Protocol was
negotiated in Kyoto, Japan. It requires participating countries to reduce their anthropogenic
greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs, and SF6) by at least 5% below 1990
levels in the commitment period 2008 to 2012. The Kyoto Protocol was eventually signed in
Bonn in 2001 by 186 countries. Several countries such as the United States and Australia have
From 1998 onwards the terminology on the greenhouse effect started to change as a result of
media influences. The greenhouse effect as a term was used fewer and fewer and people started
to refer to the theory as either global warming or climate change.

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Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning power plants

Our ever increasing addiction to electricity from coal burning power plants releases enormous
amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 40% of U.S. CO2 emissions come from
electricity production, and burning coal accounts for 93% of emissions from the electric utility
industry. Every day, more electric gadgets flood the market, and without widespread alternative
energy sources, we are highly dependent on burning coal for our personal and commercial
electrical supply.

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Carbon dioxide emissions from burning gasoline for

Our modern car culture and appetite for globally sourced goods is responsible for about 33% of
emissions in the U.S. With our population growing at an alarming rate, the demand for more cars
and consumer goods means that we are increasing the use of fossil fuels for transportation and
manufacturing. Our consumption is outpacing our discoveries of ways to mitigate the effects,
with no end in sight to our massive consumer culture.

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Methane emissions from animals, agriculture such as rice

paddies, and from Arctic seabeds
Methane is another extremely potent greenhouse gas, ranking right behind CO2. When organic
matter is broken down by bacteria under oxygen-starved conditions (anaerobic decomposition)
as in rice paddies, methane is produced. The process also takes place in the intestines of
herbivorous animals, and with the increase in the amount of concentrated livestock production,
the levels of methane released into the atmosphere is increasing. Another source of methane is
methane clathrate, a compound containing large amounts of methane trapped in the crystal
structure of ice. As methane escapes from the Arctic seabed, the rate of global warming will
increase significantly.

Deforestation, especially tropical forests for wood, pulp, and farmland

The use of forests for fuel (both wood and for charcoal) is one cause of deforestation, but in the
first world, our appetite for wood and paper products, our consumption of livestock grazed on
former forest land, and the use of tropical forest lands for commodities like palm oil plantations
contributes to the mass deforestation of our world. Forests remove and store carbon dioxide from
the atmosphere, and this deforestation releases large amounts of carbon, as well as reducing the
amount of carbon capture on the planet.

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Increase in usage of chemical fertilizers on croplands

In the last half of the 20th century, the use of chemical fertilizers (as opposed to the historical use
of animal manure) has risen dramatically. The high rate of application of nitrogen-rich fertilizers
has effects on the heat storage of cropland (nitrogen oxides have 300 times more heat-trapping
capacity per unit of volume than carbon dioxide) and the run-off of excess fertilizers creates
dead-zones in our oceans. In addition to these effects, high nitrate levels in groundwater due to
over-fertilization are cause for concern for human health.

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Rise in sea levels worldwide

Scientists predict an increase in sea levels worldwide due to the melting of two massive ice
sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, especially on the East coast of the U.S. However, many
nations around the world will experience the effects of rising sea levels, which could displace
millions of people. One nation, the Maldives, is already looking for a new home, thanks to rising
sea levels.

More killer storms

The severity of storms such as hurricanes and cyclones is increasing, and research published
in Nature found:

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Scientists have come up with the firmest evidence so far that global warming will significantly
increase the intensity of the most extreme storms worldwide. The maximum wind speeds of the



have increased






in Nature this


And the upward


trend, thought to be driven by rising ocean temperatures, is unlikely to stop at any time soon.

Massive crop failures

According to recent research, there is a 90% chance that 3 billion people worldwide will
have to choose between moving their families to milder climes and going hungry due to
climate change within 100 years.
Climate change is expected to have the most severe impact on water supplies.
Shortages in future are likely to threaten food production, reduce sanitation, hinder
economic development and damage ecosystems. It causes more violent swings between
floods and droughts. Guardian: Global warming causes 300,000 deaths a year

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According to research published in Nature, by 2050, rising temperatures could lead to the
extinction of more than a million species. And because we cant exist without a diverse
population of species on Earth, this is scary news for humans.
This 6th mass extinction is really just a continuation of the holocene extinction which
began at the end of the last ice age and has resulted in the extinction of nearly all of the
Earths megafauna animals, largely as a result of human-expansion.
Climate change now represents at least as great a threat to the number of species
surviving on Earth as habitat-destruction and modification. Chris Thomas,
conservation biologist at the University of Leeds.

Disappearance of coral reefs

A report on coral reefs from WWF says that in a worst case scenario, coral populations will
collapse by 2100 due to increased temperatures and ocean acidification. The bleaching of
corals from small but prolonged rises in sea temperature is a severe danger for ocean ecosystems,
and many other species in the oceans rely on coral reefs for their survival.

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Despite the oceanss immensity 71 per cent of the Earths surface with an average depth of
almost 4km (2m) there are indications that it is approaching its tipping point. For reefs,
warming waters and acidification are closing in like a pair of jaws that threaten to make them
the first global ecosystem to disappear. Times Online: 21st-century Noahs Ark needed to save
coral reefs from extinction.


The evidence that humans are causing global warming is strong, but the question of what to do
about it remains controversial. Economics, sociology, and politics are all important factors in
planning for the future.
Even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases (GHGs) today, the Earth would still warm by
another degree Fahrenheit or so. But what we do from today forward makes a big difference.
Depending on our choices, scientists predict that the Earth could eventually warm by as little as
2.5 degrees or as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
A commonly cited goal is to stabilize GHG concentrations around 450-550 parts per million
(ppm), or about twice pre-industrial levels. This is the point at which many believe the most
damaging impacts of climate change can be avoided. Current concentrations are about 380 ppm,
which means there isnt much time to lose. According to the IPCC, wed have to reduce GHG
emissions by 50% to 80% of what theyre on track to be in the next century to reach this level.

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Is this possible?
Many people and governments are already working hard to cut greenhouse gases, and everyone
can help.
Researchers Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow at Princeton University have suggested one
approach that they call stabilization wedges. This means reducing GHG emissions from a
variety of sources with technologies available in the next few decades, rather than relying on an
enormous change in a single area. They suggest 7 wedges that could each reduce emissions, and
all of them together could hold emissions at approximately current levels for the next 50 years,
putting us on a potential path to stabilize around 500 ppm.
There are many possible wedges, including improvements to energy efficiency and vehicle fuel
economy (so less energy has to be produced), and increases in wind and solar power, hydrogen
produced from renewable sources, biofuels (produced from crops), natural gas, and nuclear
power. There is also the potential to capture the carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuels and
store it undergrounda process called carbon sequestration.
In addition to reducing the gases we emit to the atmosphere, we can also increase the amount of
gases we take out of the atmosphere. Plants and trees absorb CO2 as they grow, sequestering
carbon naturally. Increasing forestlands and making changes to the way we farm could increase
the amount of carbon were storing.
Some of these technologies have drawbacks, and different communities will make different
decisions about how to power their lives, but the good news is that there are a variety of options
to put us on a path toward a stable climate.

Are there any ways to prevent global warming?

The main cause of global warming is the increased emission of so called greenhouse gases , in
particular carbon dioxide.
These greenhouse gases have an average lifetime in the atmosphere of 50 to 200 years. This
means that even if we stopped the emission of greenhouse gases completely tomorrow, global
warming would still continue.
In other words: It is impossible to stop global warming, it is only possible to mitigate
its effects through a drastic reduction of the emission of CO2.
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Can nuclear power plants mitigate the effects of global warming?

Nuclear energy is used to generate electrical power. Therefore it is only possible to reduce the
emission of CO2 if nuclear power plants are used instead of other, CO2 emitting technologies.
This is in particular the case for electrical generation plants fuelled by coal, oil or gas. The CO2
emission can indeed be reduced, if electrical power plants driven by fossil fuels are being
replaced by nuclear power plants. However the application of nuclear power unfortunately is
highly problematic, therefore the problem of CO2 emissions must not be looked at independently
of all other risks and problems. See our text about pros and cons of nuclear power for a
summary of the advantages and disadvantages.

How much can nuclear energy reduce the main cause of global warming?
The International Energy Agency (IEA) records the energy consumption world-wide and
produces a forecast for the next 25 years. In their last energy outlook published in
autumn 2006, IEA predicts a strong increase of the carbon dioxide emissions by the year
2030 as a consequence of the increasing demand for energy world-wide.
Additionally, IEA investigated to which extent the above mentioned emissions of CO2
could be prevented if politics applied rigorous measures. One of many measures
investigated was massive facilitations and incentives for building additional nuclear
power plants.
From all measures proposed, nuclear energy was found to have the smallest effect (only
10%). This result is even more remarkable facing the fact that IEA is known for having
no reservations whatsoever against nuclear energy.
The chart below shows the effects of each proposed measure to reduce the main cause of
global warming, the emission of carbon dioxide:

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