What is the Green House Gas Effect?
Written By: Maya Ardon
Edited By: Vanessa Lu Langley
"We can visualise the greenhouse effect as a blanket wrapped around the Earth made of gases like CO2 and CH4 that are naturally present, but that are being produced way more than is normal from human activities."
When gasses in the atmosphere like carbon dioxide and methane trap heat from the sun, a natural warming of the planet occurs: the greenhouse effect. Think of a greenhouse: a building that is designed to trap heat from the sun and keep its plants warm, even when it is cold. This idea is particularly useful in understanding the greenhouse effect, where certain greenhouse gasses will absorb the energy from the Sun and keep the surface of the Earth warm, having a significant impact on the Earth’s climate.
Like climate change, the greenhouse effect is a naturally-occurring phenomenon that has been artificially altered by anthropogenic activities. Namely, the combustion of fossil fuels and the resulting emissions are responsible for global warming, the result of this disruption. The burning of fossil fuels ensues in greenhouse gas emissions, which trap solar heat and raise temperatures re: climate change learning corner. Prominent greenhouse gasses are carbon dioxide and methane.
According to the NRDC, the concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere was between 200 and 280 parts per million for the past 800,000 years. By contrast, over the past century, that number has jumped to more than 400 ppm. In other words, for years longer than human civilization has existed, the natural occurrence of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere has been stable but due to human activities, such as burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, the concentration has skyrocketed (Denchak, 2019).
The implications of this higher concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere are severe and reinforce the importance of an energy transition to eliminate emissions. As extra heat is trapped in the atmosphere, global temperatures rise, and disrupt natural climate processes further. Thus, eliminating emissions of these excess greenhouse gasses (and understanding the importance of the greenhouse effect) is vital to combating climate change.
Denchak, M. (2019, July 16). Greenhouse effect 101. NRDC. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.nrdc.org/stories/greenhouse-effect-101