In A Nutshell
Global warming and the greenhouse effect are terms that are often thrown around interchangeably to refer to the warming of Earth’s climate, but they are far from the same. The greenhouse effect is a process that regulates the planet’s temperature by the storage and release of different gases, while global warming refers to mankind’s interference with the process, the increase in the amount of trapped gases and the subsequent rise in temperature.
The Whole Bushel
Global warming and the greenhouse effect: Some people believe that we’re causing irreversible damage to the atmosphere of our planet, some people think it’s an absolute falsehood. Both terms are usually tossed around as the cause of an increase in the temperature of the planet, the melting of the polar ice caps, and the eventual rise of the oceans. But what’s the difference?
In short, the impact of the gases we’re releasing into the atmosphere is increasing the greenhouse effect and causing global warming.
The greenhouse effect has always been around, and it’s a good thing—it’s what makes Earth habitable, and what makes our planet different from the bitter, bitter cold and boiling hot temperatures we see on other planets. The atmosphere shields us from the full blast of the Sun’s rays and radiation, reflecting a lot of it back into space. But it also contains about 70 percent of that heat and radiation, acting as a filter to allow heat generated in large part by oceans to escape back into space. So named because our greenhouses act much the same way on a much smaller scale, it keeps the planet pleasant.
That was how it worked for millions of years, but once mankind started releasing all kinds of other gases into the atmosphere, it started to interfere with the ancient process of cooling and heating. Now, all the extra gases are trapping some of the planet’s heat inside the atmosphere, and that’s what’s believed to be causing global warming.
The greenhouse effect in itself isn’t bad, but our interference with the natural order of things is. The amount of gases that are building up inside the atmosphere is climbing steadily. Measured in parts per million, the levels of carbon dioxide have risen from 280 parts per million during the Industrial Revolution to 400 parts per million today.
In fact, it was during the Industrial Revolution that the greenhouse effect was discovered, after scientists calculated that the Earth should be much, much colder than it actually was, by about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. (Right now, the average temperature of the planet is about 59 degrees Fahrenheit, or 15 Celsius.) Those calculations were done in 1824 – it was in 1895 that it was discovered that the gases released into the air are impacting the functionality of the planet’s giant greenhouse.
Our interference with the greenhouse effect causes global warming, so what does global warming cause? From the sound of it, temperatures should be rising, but that’s just part of it. Rising temperatures mean drier land masses, which in turn means more dust storms, more droughts, and more wildfires. It means less snow, shorter winters, longer summers and worse heat waves. A warmer ocean means worse tropical storms and hurricanes.
It’s estimated that the difference between today’s average global temperature and the average needed to bring on an ice age is only about 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius). The normal fluctuation in temperature has, in the past, happened over millions of years, changing the landscape of the planet drastically. With our help, the greenhouse effect is changing the temperature of the world in the same way within a matter of decades.