The concept of climate change was first developed in the early 1800s. The idea of greenhouse gases was developed in the 1800s, and the term was coined by the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius, who figured out in the 1890's that the increasing amount of CO2 in the air would warm the environment (in fact, he thought it would prevent the next ice age).
The greenhouse effect, in nature, is actually a good thing: it's the main reason that the Earth is significantly warmer than the Moon's surface (which doesn't have an atmosphere). The way it works is simple: sunlight is absorbed by the Earth, and instead of simply reflecting back into space, it's trapped by gases in the atmosphere that act as insulation. These gases, both natural and manmade, absorb and reflect parts of the infrared radiation: water vapor, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane and ozone are the primary greenhouse gases, along with entirely man-made gases such as hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons.
Left to itself, Nature is a careful balancing act. Whether you feel that it was made that way by God, or whether you want to take a more scientific approach, that is an indisputable fact. The earth could not have lasted either the billions of years that the scientists tell us, or the 6,000 years that the creationists want to promote, if this engine was out of balance. Let's use the metaphor of two machines and carbon dioxide (and we'll call it CO2, if only because it saves me typing ten letters every time - yes, I'm that lazy).
One machine puts out CO2, the other (which we'll call the "scrubber") absorbs it and cleans it up. The CO2 scrubber can absorb gases at only a certain speed, and can be overwhelmed by the amount produced by the other machine (that's because, to drop the metaphor for a second, plants can absorb CO2, but only at a fairly specific rate).
The system is set up for the CO2 machine to produce its gasses at a certain rate, which the scrubber can handle. This leaves a "safe," trace amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, and everybody's happy. But if the machine starts producing too much, you get a larger amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, and the insulating quality I described above starts to happen faster.
Now, the first machine is made up of people and animals breathing, fires, all the natural processes that go into the production of CO2. Now, suddenly, we introduce a second CO2 machine into the equation, pumping out even more CO2 (we even have a make and model for this second machine - the Industrial Corporation's "Revolution"). The scrubber can't keep up, and you have more and more CO2 in the air.
On top of this, remember that the scrubber is made up of the combined actions of all the plants in the world. And then consider this thing we call "deforestation," where more and more of the world's trees are being destroyed without anything new being planted. That's like somebody walking into the room every so often and dialing the scrubber to a lower setting, without turning down either of our machines.
This is obviously a very simplistic metaphor, but it gives a very basic overview of why the natural system isn't working the way it should, and why the gradual increase in CO2 that's been noted should be a cause for alarm.
Unfortunately, while the industries who've tied themselves to fossil fuels have waged a campaign to spread lies about climate change and global warming, these same industries openly ignored their own scientists. Back in the early 90's, the Global Climate Coalition represented these industries.
“The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood,” the coalition said in a scientific “backgrounder” provided to lawmakers and journalists through the early 1990s, adding that “scientists differ” on the issue.So we can ignore most of what the industries are telling us, since they're only worried about how much money they can make. (This is yet another reason why allowing the "Free Market" to operate unchecked may not be the best way to run a country, incidentally.) Meanwhile, in the real world, the news is only getting worse.
But a document filed in a federal lawsuit demonstrates that even as the coalition worked to sway opinion, its own scientific and technical experts were advising that the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted.
“The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied,” the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995.
The coalition was financed by fees from large corporations and trade groups representing the oil, coal and auto industries, among others. In 1997, the year an international climate agreement that came to be known as the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated, its budget totaled $1.68 million, according to tax records obtained by environmental groups.
Arctic sea ice thinned dramatically between the winters of 2004 and 2008, with thick older ice shrinking by the equivalent of Alaska's land area, a study using data from a NASA satellite showed.The big picture, by the way, is called "climate change" - the term "global warming" only refers to one specific aspect of climate change. An important, and even potentially disastrous aspect, but one that can still be corrected.
Using information from NASA's Ice, Cloud and Land Satellite (ICESat), scientists from the US space agency and the University of Washington in Seattle estimated both the thickness and volume of the Arctic Ocean's ice cover.
ICESat allows scientists to measure changes in the thickness and volume of Arctic ice, whereas previously scientists relied only on measurements of area to determine how much of the Arctic Ocean is covered in ice.
Scientists found that Arctic sea ice thinned some seven inches (17.8 centimeters) a year, or 2.2 feet (67 centimeters) over four winters, according to the study by NASA and the University of Washington, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans.