Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Greenhouse Effect: Simplified

We’ve all heard the term countless times, but how many of us really know what it means?  Our class has spent this term discussing petroleum, and offering up ways to reduce our carbon footprint, but you may be asking yourself how exactly this fits in to the grand scheme of things?  So here you have it…a little science 101.

The term “Greenhouse Effect” has been around since the mid-1800’s, but has become quite mainstream over the last decade or so, as we have really begun to take notice of the environmental changes that are occurring around us.

Let me start by clarifying that I am referring to the man-made greenhouse effect, rather than the natural atmospheric process that maintains the earth’s climate (see difference below).  It's the "man-made" effect that is the result of our global mass over-consumption.

A Few Terms to Know

Atmosphere - 
The mixture of gasses that surround the earth.

Greenhouse Gasses (GHG) -
Gasses that are produced through the burning of fossil fuels.

Infrared Radiation (IR) -
Heat from the sun that is absorbed by the earth and re-emitted into the atmosphere.

Thermal Equilibrium -
A balance achieved between two objects (or systems) so that energy is no longer being exchanged.  In other words, the objects reach and maintain the same temperature.

Fossil Fuels -
Non-renewable carbon based substances used as a source of energy.  The origins of these fuels are once-living plants and animal remains, hence the term "fossil".

Why are these things important? 

In order to better understand the greenhouse effect, we need to know a little about how global warming occurs.  Our climate is changing due to the fact that we are producing and absorbing more and more gasses that are staying within the earth’s atmosphere.  This is causing a gradual but steady increase in the earth’s temperature. 

Through our over-utilization of fossil fuels, we are intensifying the once natural greenhouse effect to the point that it has become detrimental to our planet.

So the “greenhouse effect” in and of itself is not the issue, despite the media's claims.  The problem is the imbalance that has developed as the result of our burning of natural energy sources or fossil fuels (i.e. petroleum).

And there you have it, petroleum full circle.  I'd encourage you to also check out the links below.  They offer great insight into these issues, as well as offer solutions and ideas for change.


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