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A Rise in Greenhouse Gases Due to Human Negligence

written by: Anurag Ghosh•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 8/30/2011

The greenhouse effect is key to the ecosystem's sustainability, but increased levels of greenhouse gases can have an adverse effect on our environment. How, though, does human activity play a role in elevated greenhouse gas levels in the Earth's atmosphere?

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    Greenhouse gases occur naturally or are a result of industrial activities. The naturally-occurring gases include methane, ozone, water vapor, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. Hydro fluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride are a result of unwarranted industrial processes. The natural gases trap the sun’s heat in the Earth’s atmosphere in order to keep our planet warm. This phenomenon is called the greenhouse effect. Without greenhouse gases, the heat would bounce back into space after hitting the outer atmosphere and the temperature would be 15.56 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit) colder, which is far too cold for organisms, plants and animals to survive. The greenhouse effect is important for our ecosystem’s sustainability. However, a stronger greenhouse effect may cause excessive warming not suitable for the ecosystem.

    The main cause of a stronger greenhouse effect is excessive greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This causes hotter climates, dire weather conditions for animals and plants, and natural calamities. Human activity is responsible for increasing levels of greenhouse gases. Activities such as vehicular and industrial pollution, agricultural processes and human carelessness release excess methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. This leads to unfavorable climatic conditions.

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    Carbon Dioxide

    The carbon cycle is seen as the key reason for the release of carbon dioxide. Following the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s, deforestation and coal-burning have increased the CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Increased level of carbon dioxide is also due to the burning of fossil fuels, oil, coal and natural gas, as well as solid products and wood. Other key reasons include combustion of municipal solid wastes, aluminum, and limestone and cement production. Car pollution is also one of the main reasons for elevated levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.

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    An important greenhouse gas, methane, has a high potential to increase the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere—a phenomenon called global warming. The global methane levels were calculated at 1850 parts per billion (ppb) by 2010—a tremendous increase which never occurred in the previous 400,000 years. In an urban environment, high levels of methane are released due to organic waste decomposition in landfills. Methane is also released during the production of fossil fuels or during its transport. Other human-related sources of methane include production of iron and steel, treatment of wastewater and mobile combustion.

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    Nitrous Oxide

    Nitrous oxide is mainly emitted due to natural sources or human activities, such as sewage treatment and industrial processes which release nitric acid and adipic acid.

    Besides nitrous oxide and methane, high levels of fluorinated gases are also responsible for a stronger greenhouse effect. Industrial processes and other human activities are responsible for releasing greenhouse gases like hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons.Fluorinated gases are very powerful synthetic gases and are often labeled as High GWP (Global Warming Potential) gases.

    Along with industrial processes, our daily activities such as electricity use, housing and commuting are also responsible for the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. According to the EPA, the rise of greenhouse gas emissions can be controlled if serious efforts are being made to increase the use of newer, cleaner and environmentally-friendly technologies.