The climate of the earth is influenced by the atmosphere that is only 6 miles thick. If seen from the vast distances in space this is the equivalent of an onion skin over the earth, and it is this very thin layer that is being influenced by the actions of man. Global warming is caused by the increase in the temperature on the surface of the earth that is attributed to carbon dioxide emissions due to the burning of fossil fuels, and is further aggravated by the deforestation that is reducing the capacity of the environment to absorb the carbon dioxide and convert it into life giving oxygen.
The main constituents of the atmosphere are oxygen and nitrogen and these are chemical elements that have only two atoms per molecule. They do not have internal vibrational modules. The gases that are produced by human activity and vegetation are water vapor and carbon dioxide. These have the vibrational modules that are able to absorb infrared radiation from the sun and re-radiate it. This re-radiation is what is causing global warming or what is referred to as the greenhouse effect.
The carbon dioxide can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. Water vapor on the other hand can condense and evaporate and adjust to the local conditions in each geographical area. There is a balance created by the water vapor and the energy of the sun. It is therefore the carbon dioxide that controls the earth’s temperature, and an increase in its levels lead to higher temperatures. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by thirty percent, due to human activity. Fossil fuels are being used for the generation of electricity, heating, transportation and many manufacturing activities. It has resulted in the addition of 22 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. One third of this carbon dioxide is created by the generation of electricity and a third by transportation.
Global warming has been responsible for the rise in sea levels, probably due to the melting of icecaps in the polar regions, and this in turn has led to fresh water marshlands being inundated by sea water. The rise in sea levels can also affect cities that are low lying and has caused the submergence of many islands. This warming has also been attributed to changes in weather patterns and have been linked to forest fires and drought in dry areas and flooding in others. There has been an increase seen in the number of incidences of flooding and the number of hurricanes that cause a lot of destruction. Glaciers and ice caps melting have changed water levels and caused the loss of habitats for animals in that region. Warmer regions have also increased and this has led to the migration of diseases that are common to these areas. The increase in sea temperatures has led to the bleaching of coral reefs, and the loss of plankton that is the food of many fish populations.
A realization that we need to reduce the use of fossil fuels, which are at any rate a finite resource, has led to definite steps by scientists and engineers to find ways to produce power from resources that are renewable and also those that do not produce any carbon dioxide. Solar energy, wind energy and energy from the ocean are technologies that can help to reduce carbon dioxide emission. Increased efficiency and the use of alternative fuels for transportation, like hydrogen or fuel cells, can similarly help to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions from transportation.