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By Allen Eugene Jones Jr., staff writer

 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the naturally occurring greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Some examples of artificial greenhouse gases are chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons.

Greenhouse gas levels began to increase about 200 years ago, as the industrial revolution began burning fossil fuels. Emissions of these gases began to increase slowly during the 19th century and increased dramatically in the late 20th century to an all-time high today. Since 1800, carbon dioxide has risen 30 percent, methane 149 percent, and nitrous oxide 16 percent. During that time the earth’s temperature increased about one degree Fahrenheit.

During the 21st century, EPA scientists predict temperatures could raise an average of about 4 degrees Fahrenheit. These scientists believe that this will cause a spiral effect. For example the Arctic ice will melt, releasing more trapped greenhouse gases, causing even greater global warming; ocean levels will rise flooding and damaging coastland and changing weather systems.

The changes to the global climate will have a multitude of other effects. Growing areas for crops will shift north and south, the tropics will expand, and diseases that are rare will become more common. For example in a 2003 study, the World Health Organization predicted that, warmer temperatures would allow for malaria-carrying mosquitoes to live in areas where they don’t normally live, which in turn could increase malaria cases globally. Even more recently, newspaper articles recount the death of elm trees in the northwest United States, and the deaths by the hundreds of oak trees in Europe’s once-giant forests.

Although greenhouse gases make the future look grim there is still hope. In 1997, a United Nations summit in Kyoto, Japan proposed a limit to greenhouse gas emissions. Called the Kyoto Protocol, it included 38 nations who agreed to reduce emission levels to 5.2 percent less than 1990 levels by 2012. In order to do it, these nations, which together are responsible for 55 percent of greenhouse gases, needed to agree on the pact. As of 2004, 122 nations had agreed, including all of the industrial nations except the United States.

The United States would not sign the Kyoto Protocol, according to President Bush, because signing would have “wrecked” the U.S. economy and because China was considered a developing country without emissions requirements.

A May 2002 U.N. report identified a correlation between human industrialization and global warming, predicting a 43 percent increase in greenhouse gases from the U.S. from 2000 to 2020. The world can expect temperatures to rise if industrial nations can’t develop alternative forms of energy instead of fossil fuels or find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from those they do use.
The United States should take more initiative in developing and using environment-friendly forms of energy, said HPU student Matt Mullins, who has done extensive research on environmental topics. “The solution lies in new technology, and there needs to be more research done to advance it. There are fuel cell cars and alternative energy methods that will take care of the problem. The American government and people need to spend more on these technologies to solve today’s environmental problems,” Mullins said.

 

Kalamalama, the HPU Student Newspaper. All rights reserved.

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