An Inconvenient Truth: Global Warming
Global Warming or Climate Change, measurable increases in the average temperature of Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and landmasses. Scientists believe Earth is currently facing a period of rapid warming brought on by rising levels of heat-trapping gases, known as greenhouse gases, in the atmosphere.
Greenhouse gases retain the radiant energy (heat) provided to Earth by the Sun in a process known as the greenhouse effect. Greenhouse gases occur naturally, and without them the planet would be too cold to sustain life as we know it. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1700s, however, human activities have added more and more of these gases into the atmosphere. For example, levels of carbon dioxide, a powerful greenhouse gas, have risen by 35 percent since 1750, largely from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. With more greenhouse gases in the mix, the atmosphere acts like a thickening blanket and traps more heat.
Earth has warmed and cooled many times since its formation about 4.6 billion years ago. Global climate changes were due to many factors, including massive volcanic eruptions, which increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; changes in the intensity of energy emitted by the Sun; and variations in Earth’s position relative to the Sun, both in its orbit and in the inclination of its spin axis.
Variations in Earth’s position, known as Milankovitch cycles, combine to produce cyclical changes in the global climate. These cycles are believed to be responsible for the repeated advance and retreat of glaciers and ice sheets during the Pleistocene Epoch (1.8 million to 11,500 years before present), when Earth went through fairly regular cycles of colder “glacial” periods (also known as ice ages) and warmer “interglacial” periods. Glacial periods occurred at roughly 100,000-year intervals.
An interglacial period began about 10,000 years ago, when the last ice age came to an end....