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
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.