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Ian Dougherty

ESSC 406

The issue that I am discussing is the issue of global warming. It isn’t really a
question of if global warming is an issue but how big of an issue it is and will become if
left untouched. Global warming affects everyone, everyday of their life. We all contribute
to global warming in some way or another, either by producing carbon dioxide by
burning fossil fuels or buying products that when made produce other greenhouse gasses.
“Every time we get into our car, turn the key and drive somewhere, we burn
gasoline, a fossil fuel derived from crude oil. The burning of the organic materials
in fossil fuels produces energy and releases carbon dioxide and other
compounds into Earth's atmosphere. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide
trap heat in our atmosphere, warming it and disturbing Earth's climate. “( NASA,

The history of this topic started about 1824 when the first theory about global
warming formed. According to this news paper “The first theory of global warming
came in 1824 when French mathematician Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier discovered that
the Earth's temperature was slowly increasing. Fourier argued that the earth's atmosphere
traps solar radiation and reflects it back toward the earth.”
(Newspaperarchive, 2009) Later in the 19th century Fouier’s theory was labeled the
greenhouse effect. “When Nobel Laureate Svante Arrhenius coined the term to explain
how carbon dioxide traps heat in the Earth's atmosphere. Arrhenius believed that the
greenhouse effect was responsible for the onset of the ice ages. By the 1960s, many
scientists dismissed this theory in favor of the hypothesis of Serbian geophysicist, Milutin
Milankovitch, relating climate change to the orbital changes of the earth.”
(Newspaperarchive, 2009) There were also a few other things that Arrhenius claimed.
“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 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.”(Enzler,
2004) In the 1950’s there was an amateur scientist that claimed the greenhouse effect was
true and has a huge impact on the earth’s climate. His name was G.S. Callendar “
Callendar's claims were termed the "Callendar effect," and led to increased research on
global warming. Over the next few decades, scientists developed ways to measure the
Earth's climate and devised mathematical models to better analyze global temperature.
This led to a steady rise in the belief that human activity was dramatically effecting the
environment. Scientific studies began to predict that increased carbon dioxide emissions,
due to increased use of fossil fuels, would trigger an outbreak of global
warming.”( Newspaperarchive, 2009) During the 20th century media sources were
confused about the effect of global warming some were predicting ice ages, while others
were predicting the melting of the ice caps. Many countries were committed to reducing
their carbon production. “In 1992, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and
Development more than 150 nations signed a declaration committing themselves to
reducing carbon dioxide emissions in their countries. However, in 1994, the United
Nations Panel on Climate Change asserted that global warming was still a threat and
nations needed to enact drastic changes in order to negate the effects of global warming.
This announcement sparked the creation of the Kyoto Protocol, an international
agreement to fight global warming. The protocol called for countries to reduce their
emission of greenhouse gases and was to take effect in 2005. The treaty was signed and
ratified by 125 countries. However, the United States, which is estimated to be the
world's largest producer of greenhouse gases, refused to sign the
treaty.”(Newspaperarchive, 2009) Today the argument continues between scientists as to
how much of an impact we have on global warming. Some scientists even still go as far
as to dismiss the whole concept and call it a sham. Some of the new advancements in
global warming did stem from advancements in technology. “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.”(Enzler, 2004) As
the technology became more advanced so did the findings. “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
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.”(Enzler, 2004) In most cases these scientist have
demonstrated a good use of the scientific method. They state the inquiry, observe the data
and come to a conclusion one way or the other. On this topic the scientific method is not
always used the correct way. There are many scientists who simply dismissed global
warming for little or no reason, or due to their own personal bias. There were many
scientists who did utilize this method. Many new technologies were utilized to gather
data to support their claims that carbon levels were on the rise and were in fact
significantly altering our climate over several thousands of years. There have been many
misconceptions about this topic over the years. Recently people have debated if it is
going to melt the polar ice caps or spin us into another ice age. These being two complete
opposite outcomes for the same topic someone must have misunderstood the data that is
relevant to global warming. “Misconception: General pollution and toxic chemicals are
major contributors to climate change.
Fact: Most forms of pollution play little or no role in climate change. The invisible
carbon dioxide released when coal, oil, and gas are burned is the single most important
contributor to climate change.
The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, to produce energy for electricity, heat
and transportation is the primary source of carbon dioxide, which is the most important
contributor to global warming. Carbon dioxide does not contribute to general air
pollution.”( misconceptions, 2009)
One of the main discussions surrounding this issue is the amount of human
involvement in climate change. “Since ancient times, people have believed that human
activity could affect the environment. The discovery of past ice ages shows that Earth's
climate is in constant flux and that throughout history, scientists have searched for the
cause of these changes. Though scientists discovered the greenhouse effect in the late
19th century, the theory of global warming wasn't accepted as a scientifically proven fact
until 1992 when the United Nations held a Conference on Environment and
Development. Today, global warming is a widely accepted reality and speculation about
its effects range from the hysteria to the acceptance. Newspapers chronicle the slowly
changing climate and the actions that have affected that change. The Global Warming
Archive provides access to thousands of articles on the environment and the scientists
who documented its change.”(Global Warming, 2009) We also need to address some of
the ways that we can help to stop global warming from getting out of control. “One of the
simplest ways you can have a direct impact on global warming and the environment is to
help create more renewable energy sources. In the United States, we have an abundance
of green power from wind, sun, hydro, geothermal, tidal, and some forms of
biomass.”(Campaign Earth, 2008) There is also the political side to the debate in which
our government decided in 2004 not to sign a treaty to lower our production of
greenhouse gasses, while 125 other countries did. Even though we are established as one
of the biggest produces of these gasses we still didn’t sign.
In order to engage the students in this topic I would first introduce them to the basic
principals of global warming like “Energy from the Sun that makes its way to the
Earth’s surface can have trouble finding its way back out to space. This is because of
a natural process called the greenhouse effect. Without the greenhouse effect, Earth’s
temperature would be below freezing. However, Earth’s greenhouse effect is getting
stronger as we add more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. And that is warming
the climate of our planet. Heat is radiated into the atmosphere from the Earth’s
surface, which is warmed by sunlight. As the heat makes its way back to space, much
of it is absorbed by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases are more
complex than most other gas molecules in the atmosphere, with a structure that can
absorb heat. They radiate the heat back to the Earth's surface, to another greenhouse
gas molecule, or out to space. Sometimes during this Century, the amount of the
greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is expected to double. Other
greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide are increasing as well. The quantity
of greenhouse gases is increasing as fossil fuels are burned, releasing the gases and
other air pollutants into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases also make their way to the
atmosphere from other sources. Farm animals, for example, release methane gas as
they digest food. As cement is made from limestone, it releases carbon dioxide. With
more greenhouse gases in the air, heat passing through on its way out of the
atmosphere is more likely to be stopped. The added greenhouse gases absorb the heat.
They then radiate this heat. Some of the heat will head away from the Earth, some of
it will be absorbed by another greenhouse gas molecule, and some of it will wind up
back at the planet’s surface again. With more greenhouse gases, heat will stick
around, warming the planet.”(Gardiner, 2009) Another good topic for them to
understand would be this “Carbon is an element. It is part of oceans, air, rocks, soil
and all living things. Carbon doesn’t stay in one place. It is always on the move!

Carbon moves from the atmosphere to plants.

In the atmosphere, carbon is attached to oxygen in a gas called carbon dioxide (CO2).
With the help of the Sun, through the process of photosynthesis, carbon dioxide is
pulled from the air to make plant food from carbon.

Carbon moves from plants to animals.

Through food chains, the carbon that is in plants moves to the animals that eat them.
Animals that eat other animals get the carbon from their food too.

Carbon moves from plants and animals to the ground.

When plants and animals die, their bodies, wood and leaves decay bringing the
carbon into the ground. Some becomes buried miles underground and will become
fossil fuels in millions and millions of years.

Carbon moves from living things to the atmosphere.

Each time you exhale, you are releasing carbon dioxide gas (CO2) into the
atmosphere. Animals and plants get rid of carbon dioxide gas through a process called

Carbon moves from fossil fuels to the atmosphere when fuels are burned.
When humans burn fossil fuels to power factories, power plants, cars and trucks, most
of the carbon quickly enters the atmosphere as carbon dioxide gas. Each year, five
and a half billion tons of carbon is released by burning fossil fuels. That’s the weight
of 100 million adult African elephants! Of the huge amount of carbon that is released
from fuels, 3.3 billion tons enters the atmosphere and most of the rest becomes
dissolved in seawater. Carbon moves from the atmosphere to the oceans.
The oceans, and other bodies of water, soak up some carbon from the atmosphere.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and traps heat in the atmosphere. Without it and
other greenhouse gases, Earth would be a frozen world. But humans have burned so
much fuel that there is about 30% more carbon dioxide in the air today than there was
about 150 years ago. The atmosphere has not held this much carbon for at least
420,000 years according to data from ice cores. More greenhouse gases such as
carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are causing our planet to become warmer. Carbon
moves through our planet over longer time scales as well. For example, over millions
of years weathering of rocks on land can add carbon to surface water which
eventually runs off to the ocean. Over long time scales, carbon is removed from
seawater when the shells and bones of marine animals and plankton collect on the sea
floor. These shells and bones are made of limestone, which contains carbon. When
they are deposited on the sea floor, carbon is stored from the rest of the carbon cycle
for some amount of time. The amount of limestone deposited in the ocean depends
somewhat on the amount of warm, tropical, shallow oceans on the planet because this
is where prolific limestone-producing organisms such as corals live. The carbon can
be released back to the atmosphere if the limestone melts or is metamorphosed in a
subduction zone.”(Gardiner, 2009) Next I would have them do a lab on human carbon
production for a period of a year, Then I would teach them a lesson on volcanic
activity and its contribution to climate change, last I would have them compare the
data between volcanoes and human carbon production. Which are both attached to
this paper.

So in conclusion this is a very important topic even though in respect to the earth
this topic hasn’t been around for a long time. If we as human do not change our
activities soon it could end up costing us greatly in the future. We need our future
generations to understand about this topic so they can help stop global warming.

Works Cited

"Activity." Windows to the Universe. Web. 07 Dec. 2009.


"The Carbon Cycle." Windows to the Universe. Web. 07 Dec. 2009.


"Common misconceptions about climate change." U.S. Global Change Research Information

Office. Web. 07 Dec. 2009. <>.

"Earth's Greenhouse Effect." Windows to the Universe. Web. 07 Dec. 2009.


"Global Warming History." Global Warming Newspaper Articles Archive. Web. 07 Dec. 2009.


Global Warming Newspaper Articles Archive. Web. 07 Dec. 2009.

"History of the greenhouse effect and global warming." Water Treatment and Purification -

Lenntech. Web. 07 Dec. 2009. <


"Humans and Carbon Dioxide - Rising Carbon Dioxide." - Earth Science News,

Maps, Dictionary, Articles, Jobs. Web. 07 Dec. 2009. <