Unpacking the greenhouse effect, global warming matrix

guest column:Peter Makwanya

Every time people talk about topical issues of global warming and climate change, the readers are forced to endure not only the impacts of climate change but also the effects of information and emission gaps. For climate change to be seen as an end product, it is a highly cumulative process which people need to understand from the source.

It is the aim of this discussion to sufficiently unpack and foreground the discourse of global warming from its sources to a product with damaging effects, in the form of climate change.

From the term “hothouse” the concept of greenhouse was born. Therefore, the more greenhouse gas there is, the less radiation can escape from the Earth to the space, and the warmer the atmosphere gets.

From the literal implications of the term greenhouse which has paused interpretive problems for the majority of laypersons, the meaning of greenhouse and warming, has diluted the people’s ability to have some firm grasps of these critical phenomena both literally and inferentially.

Despite the issues of greenhouse gases, global warming or climate change being highly human induced, they are also a linguistic problem hence people have lots of interpretive problems more than environmental ones.

Those issues aside, it is important to empower the readership by highlighting what the sources of greenhouse gases are and also how they contribute to global warming.

The earth being cooler than the sun, emits far less energy, most of it as infrared wavelengths the people can’t even see.

There are some gases in the atmosphere that capture energy more than their actual presence, these are the greenhouse gases, the ones that keep the earth inhabitable by appearing to be making the earth hotter. By virtue of their presence, the greenhouse gases are supposed to keep the atmosphere cooler and warmer, thereby helping it to be more habitable.

Examples of greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (fossil fuels), methane (belching of livestock, rice-paddies, degraded landscapes and destroyed forests and vegetation), nitrous oxide (burning fossil fuels, chlorofluoro-carbons, to some extent, water vapour and the state of the ozone layer).

In this regard, the more the greenhouse gases are added into the atmosphere, the more the planet gets warmer and the more the earth becomes inhabitable.

As carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, they block each other’s ability to radiate to space, causing the atmosphere to heat up further.

As more water vapour escapes from the oceans and lakes, compounding the impact of carbon dioxide (C02) to increase.

For that reason, the whole planet should be readjusting to the greenhouse gases that are being accelerated by human activities and industrialisation.

Therefore, the greenhouse gases are a major cause of concern. Carbon dioxide, the chief offender accounts for about 380 of every million molecules in the air.

The world-wide emissions of CO2 are increasing at more than 1% per year which is unacceptable. Both as a pollutant and a natural part of the atmosphere, carbon dioxide is produced when fossil fuels are burnt as well as when people and animals breathe as well as plants decomposing. Plants and the oceans soak-up huge quantities of the gas. The plants and oceans help to keep C02 levels from increasing to uncontrollable levels.

Methane, emanates from rice-paddies and belching cattle, as well as vehicles, homes and factories. In this case, methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, although it stays in the air for a period of a decade, it can absorb about 20-25 times more infrared energy. As such, methane’s total impact on the greenhouse gas effect is fully a third as big as carbon dioxide, even though it constitutes up to less than 2pm of the atmosphere.

In this discourse of global warming, ozone takes on multiple roles, but in the greenhouse scenario drama, it is only a supporting partner. Ozone forms when sunlight links other pollutants and triggers an ozone-making reactions. Water-vapour is also not a very strong greenhouse gas, but it makes up for that weakness in less numbers. Water vapour works to propagate itself and boost global warming through quite fascinating scenarios.

As global temperatures rise, oceans and lakes release more water vapour, the extra water also adds to the global warming cycle. Nitrous Oxide is also an industrial by product, showing up at only about 300 parts times the effect of C02, over its century life-span in the atmosphere.

These scenarios are quite illustrative and sufficiently empowering for the readers to be able to articulate issues of greenhouse gases and subsequent warming.
That is why the discourse of clean energy development is being propagated in order to manage carbon emissions and industrial emissions through burning fossil fuels resulting in a safer energy environment.

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