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What do you understand about global warming? Well, read this very informative story by Taofiq and you'll know even more. (Don't forget to look at the Planet Patrol story 'Day After Tomorrow' in Previous Articles for a more basic description of what's causing global warming).

We think it's great that as well as being really well informed, that Taofiq finds the time to do volunteer bushcare. Well done!

Name: Taofiq Huq
Age: 14
Favourite animal: Eagles
Favourite subject at school: Science & English
Interests/hobbies: Reading, writing, drawing, swimming, volunteer bushcare
If you were a world leader, what changes would you make?
I would invite peoples of this world to put aside their differences and unite into one harmonious nation, where they will look after each other and their environment to achieve a sustainable living for all life.

Global Warming and Our Planet

Nature is no stranger to global warming. During the time of the dinosaurs, lush forests covered much of a very warm and moist world, and sea levels, in the absence of polar ice caps, were so high that much of the Australian outback was covered by an inland sea (Dowswell et al 2000). But the success of human civilisation so far has been based on a stable climate, and global warming could just tip this balance.

These days we hear of this term, the Greenhouse Effect, but how many of us actually know how it works?

The Greenhouse Effect takes place when highly energetic short wavelength radiation from the Sun slices through the Earth’s atmosphere and is absorbed by the Earth. When this energy is re-radiated in the form of less energetic longer wavelength radiation, some of it is trapped by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane (Brown 1996).

To clear things up a bit, short wavelength radiation is the sort of radiation from radiators, which cause solid surfaces to heat up very much, but keeps the air fairly cool. In comparison, longer wavelength radiation, such as from gas heaters, is mostly absorbed by the air, which then rises upwards, allowing cool air to take its place, and rise up in turn. Thus, carbon dioxide and methane are easily passable for short wavelength radiation, but is opaque to longer wavelength radiation.

Now we have always heard that the Greenhouse Effect causes global warming, and it seems to be altogether a bad thing. But is this really true? The Greenhouse Effect not only causes global warming, but also acts as a warm blanket at night, trapping the heat of the day in. Without it, the Earth would be like the Moon, with temperatures of hundreds of degrees during the day, and -180°C (Couper & Henbest 1999) at night. But with too much of it, Earth would become like its once supposed sister world of Venus, with average temperatures of 500°C (Couper & Henbest 1999) during the day and the night. Thus we should regulate our greenhouse gas emissions.

In the past, global temperatures have been kept steady by millions upon millions of tiny plants in our oceans. They take in carbon dioxide for photosynthesis and release oxygen. When the temperatures are high, then their rate of photosynthesis speeds up, causing the temperatures to drop. When the temperatures are low, they die off, allowing carbon dioxide to again accumulate in the air (Burke 1989). Thus with this natural regulator, we can sit safe in our homes, or can we?

There is a term called the tipping point. It can be explained like so. If an object is tipped slightly, it will right itself. This is similar to how the natural regulators keep the temperature of Earth in balance. But if it is tipped too much, it will not be able to right itself, and the object will topple. There are massive amounts of methane trapped in the permafrost of Siberia and the bottom of the oceans. It has been found that due to a current increase in average temperatures, the Siberian permafrost has started to melt. Now, if it melts, then it releases more greenhouse gases into the air, which will increase temperatures further, causing more to melt. This way, many millions of tonnes of methane could be released in a chain reaction that could increase temperatures by several degrees (Pittock 2005). But if this happens, what would be the side effects?

Many of us have heard that the rising sea levels will be an immediate problem. Thermal expansion of the waters of Earth and eventual melting of the ice caps would cause low lying areas such as Bangladesh to be permanently flooded, causing almost a 150 million people in that region to become homeless (Pittock 2005). This would raise economic and demographic problems around the world, but there is much more. Cyclones only take place over oceans that have temperatures of 27°C or greater (Brown 1996).

If global warming took place, the zone of cyclones would be far widened and even cities as far south as Sydney could be affected. Rapid changes of climate would catch most species off balance, causing mass extinctions of up to 40% of all species (Pittock 2005). Changes in the water’s salinity, being caused by massive amounts of ice melting, could result in changes of the sea currents (such as the Gulf Stream, which keeps Europe warm and moist), causing massive unpredictable climate changes (Burke 1989), not as sudden as in the popular disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow, but devastating nonetheless.

With global warming as an accepted fact among 99.9% of all scientists around the world, governments should take measures to prevent such catastrophic changes in global climate from taking place. Countries reliant on mining and selling fossil fuels to run their economies, such as Australia, should not hesitate to slow down or stop the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, even though it would result in an economic depression. The fact is that if global warming is not stopped, it would result in the Mother of all Economic Depressions for humanity, and wipe almost half of Nature’s creatures off the Earth’s surface.

Brown P (1996) Global Warming: Can Civilisation Survive? Biddles Ltd, London, Great Britain
Burke J (1989) After the Warming: Volume 1 Ambrose Video Publishing, New York, United States of America
Couper H, Henbest N (1999) Space Encyclopaedia Dorling Kindersley, London, Great Britain
Dowswell P, Malam J, Mason P, Parker S (2000) The Ultimate Book of Dinosaurs: Everything you always wanted to know about dinosaurs – but were too afraid to ask Parragon, London, Great Britain
Pittock AB (2005) Climate Change: Turning up the Heat CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia