The Greenhouse Gas Effect

We all know that the greenhouse effect is the main reason for climate change and global warming. But, does everyone really understand what the greenhouse gas effect means?

The greenhouse effect is a natural process that warms the Earth's surface. When the Sun's energy in the form of radiation reaches the Earth's surface, some gets reflected. So, what happens to the other amount of energy that is not reflected? It is actually absorbed by oceans and land, heating planet earth to not freeze up! The heat in planet earth then radiates towards space, and although some can escape Earth's atmosphere, some are trapped by greenhouse gases. As a result, Earth is kept warm enough to sustain life.

Some of you may be already wondering what the gases that produce this effect are. Greenhouse gases are defined as gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect by absorbing infrared radiation. There are predominantly four greenhouse gases. They are Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane, Nitrous Oxide, and Chloro Fluorocarbons (CFC's).

Now, let go a bit deeper into Carbon dioxide, the most renowned greenhouse gas today. Some Key sources of CO2 are deforestation, fossil fuel combustion, and cement production. Believe it or not, CO2 makes 82% of the greenhouse gases in the air. There were about 270 parts per million volumes(ppmv) of CO2 in the atmosphere by the mid-nineteenth century. Now the amount of ppmv in the atmosphere is 400 million!

On the other hand, Methane, also known as CH4, consists of Carbon and Hydrogen. The key sources of Methane are fossil fuel production, Agriculture, and Landfills. Due to the chemical bonds between molecules, Methane is much more efficient at absorbing heat than CO2 (nearly 86 times more efficient). Methane gas is also used as fuel; however, it releases CO2 into the atmosphere when burned. And so, as one of the most significant heat-trapping gases, it contributes by around 10 to 25% to global warming.

Subsequently, Nitrogen Oxide (NO2) is a natural part of the Nitrogen cycle. It is a laughing gas consisting of Nitrogen and Oxygen. The key sources of NO2 are fertilizers, fossil fuel combustion, biomass combustion, and industrial processes. Unlike Methane and CO2, it makes part of a smaller fraction of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (nearly 6%). Yet, Nitrous Oxide is 300 times stronger than CO2 and takes more than 114 years to break down. It may be found in smaller amounts, but it is definitely powerful!

Finally, CFCs are the only artificial greenhouse gas. The predominant source of CFCs is refrigerators. These destroy the ozone layer, which protects us from harmful rays. Fluorinated gases also warm the lower layers of the Earth and account only for 3% of greenhouse gases; however, they are 23,000 times stronger than CO2. A truly harmful gas!

Now that we know more about this process, what can we do to prevent emitting excess greenhouse gases? In other words, what can we do to avoid Planet earth becoming a human-roasting oven?

  1. We should reduce the usage of fossil fuels. We can use carbon-negative technology, such as using biochar, that keeps excess carbon underground.

  2. Use more energy-sufficient sources for power and transportation.

  3. Eating a vegetarian diet!

  4. Use public vehicles rather than private vehicles. Burning fossil fuels for transport adds up to 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. So, use buses and trains for transporting to some places than using your private vehicles.

  5. Use bioplastic made from recycled plastics rather than using plastics that come from fossil fuels.

  6. Protect the environment! Trees are naturally carbon-absorbing, so be mindful of them!

  7. Inform yourself about the electrical appliances you buy, for example, refrigerators. There are now some eco-friendly versions that restrict the emissions of fluorocarbons.