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Green vs. Green House

May 04, 2010 | By: GBB | No Comments on Green vs. Green House

The Environmental Protection Agency has expressed concern over the potential hazard posed by rising levels of Carbon Dioxide gas in the earth’s atmosphere. CO2 is what all animal life breathes out and used by plant life to ‘fix’ carbon and convert it to a source of energy. CO2 is a natural part of our planet’s atmosphere. The EPA says that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases “are well above the natural range of atmospheric concentrations compared to the last 650,000 years.”

At this point let me quickly simplify the greenhouse effect. The earth receives solar energy as sunlight. If you remember, visible sunlight is made of the seven colors of the rainbow. The invisible parts of solar energy are called ultra violet and infra red radiations. Infra red rays are essentially heat energy. I am sure you are with me so far.

Sunlight brings the earth to life, quite literally. Unused solar energy bounces off the earth and is dissipated harmlessly into space. However, certain substances like glass have the ability to trap these infra red radiations. This principle is used to man’s advantage in designing ‘hot houses’ or ‘green houses’. Gases like carbon dioxide, methane and water vapor also trap this infra red energy (read ‘heat’), causing global warming.

Carbon dioxide is produced by the burning of organic fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. It is also produced in industrial processes as a by-product, as in cement manufacture. Thus the burning of conventional fuels by internal combustion engines and industrial processes produces more and more carbon dioxide. Of course, no situation is so bad that it cannot get worse. When burnt completely and efficiently, conventional fuels produce CO2 as waste. If burnt incompletely and inefficiently, the same processes can produce Carbon monoxide, which is a serious toxin.

The EPA has expressed concerns about rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and consequent heat trapping. For regulatory purposes, EPA has grouped CO2 along with five other green house gases which include methane, nitrous oxide, hydro fluorocarbons, per fluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride.

Unlike Ozone, which forms in the atmosphere by the action of sunlight, the above green house gases are produced directly as a consequence of industrial processes and combustion. Global warming has led to melting of polar ice caps, rising sea levels, unpredictable and often disaster ridden world weather. Entire eco-systems have turned topsy turvy and many species of plant and animal life are on the brink of extinction.

The EPA has pointed out two possible benefits of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere. Firstly, trees undergo accelerated growth, counter acting deforestation. Also, faster growing marsh grasses provide a barrier of sorts against rising sea levels.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has clearly indicated a need for strict reduction of emissions. The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012. It remains to be seen how many of the strict guidelines laid down by the Kyoto Protocol have actually been implemented by the leading industrialized nations of the world.

(Sources:EPA, UCSD, Kyoto Protocol)


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