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Thesis: While the average citizen of an African nation can do little to lower em

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Thesis: While the average citizen of an African nation can do little to lower emissions, it turns out that the American citizen is producing more greenhouse gasses on average than anyone else on earth.Summary: The world’s scientists no longer have any doubt about the fact that we are changing the chemical concentration of our atmosphere. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), since the Industrial Revolution ushered in a new age of fossil fuel consumption in the nineteenth century, the percentages of the three most common heat-trapping gasses in the atmosphere have increased dramatically. Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have always been components of our atmosphere, and are part of what makes our planet livable. Without these gasses, too much of the heat we gain from the sun would be reflected back out of the atmosphere, making for a much cooler earth. The problem arises when these gasses become too dense, retaining more and more of the sun’s heat and gradually increasing the overall temperature of the earth and its atmosphere. The good news in this story is that there are worldwide efforts in place to slow climate change even as we work to learn more about it. The dangerous increase in greenhouse gas emissions is largely caused by manufacturing processes, the burning of fossil fuels, and increases in agriculture.IntroductionAbout twenty years ago, strange stories began trickling into the popular press about a discussion scientists were having on climate change. We were seeing elaborate diagrams and graphs which talked about “the greenhouse effect,” “greenhouse gasses,” and “global warming.” The science quickly unfolded into dramatic predictions about deserts appearing in our wetlands and ferocious lightning storms that alternately reminded us of biblical prophecies and mediocre science fiction movies.Unable to imagine such things becoming part of our familiar modern world, most of us were unable to believe any of it, at first. The problem was that, unlike predictions of a judgment day on January 1, 2000, these theories didn’t go away. Now, the question is not whether we are helping to change the earth’s climatic temperatures, but what risks we are choosing to take with our world.The Science of Global WarmingThe world’s scientists no longer have any doubt about the fact that we are changing the chemical concentration of our atmosphere. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), since the Industrial Revolution ushered in a new age of fossil fuel consumption in the nineteenth century, the percentages of the three most common heat-trapping gasses in the atmosphere have increased dramatically. Carbon dioxide has increased 30 percent, methane has increased more than 100 percent, and nitrous oxide has increased about 15 percent. Meanwhile, the US National Academy of Sciences reports that the surface temperature of our planet has risen about one degree Fahrenheit in the last 100 years, and that much of that increase has occurred since the 1980s, when we first started talking about the problem. With growing information about how our climate works, scientists are now more willing to say that these two observations are linked.Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have always been components of our atmosphere, and are part of what makes our planet livable. Without these gasses, too much of the heat we gain from the sun would be reflected back out of the atmosphere, making for a much cooler earth. The greenhouse gasses get their name for their ability to retain some of this solar heat and re-disperse it throughout the earth’s atmosphere, keeping the planet at a comfortable 60 degrees Fahrenheit or so.The problem arises when these gasses become too dense, retaining more and more of the sun’s heat and gradually increasing the overall temperature of the earth and its atmosphere. Ironically, many scientists believe that we would have seen a larger increase in temperature over the past few decades except for our production of another pollutant, sulfate aerosols, which tend to reflect solar heat away from the earth. Because sulfate aerosols also cause smog, acid rain, environmental damage, and human respiratory problems, we are not considering this as a long-term solution.Increasing the RiskIn a 2001 report, the National Academy of Sciences found “new and stronger evidence” that human beings were responsible for most of the increase in global temperatures. The report also estimated that, unless we do something about our emissions now, average global temperatures will increase anywhere from 2.2 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. Even at the lower end of this estimate, scientists agree that we would likely see some dramatic changes to our world, with early signs already beginning to show.The year 2001 saw the highest global temperatures in recorded history, and a measurable diminishing of glaciers and ice caps is undoubtedly related. Melting will increase sea levels. As the earth loses its ability to disperse solar heat, we may also see increased rates of water evaporation, so that many regions may dry out. At the same time, the increased movement of water vapors through the atmosphere in the wake of glacier melting and large-scale evaporation may lead to spells of violent, torrential rain. Added to this is a likelihood that warmer ocean temperatures will create stronger, longer lasting hurricanes and monsoons, and contribute to the dramatic shifts in weather pattern associated with El Nino.While our scientists steadfastly refuse to commit to any of these predictions, they do agree on one thing: the more concentrated we let our greenhouse gasses become, the greater the risks we take. It seems we may have found another way to make our own planet uninhabitable.Slowing Climate ChangeThe good news in this story is that there are worldwide efforts in place to slow climate change even as we work to learn more about it. The dangerous increase in greenhouse gas emissions is largely caused by manufacturing processes, the burning of fossil fuels, and increases in agriculture.The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was open for ratification by member countries in 1992, and the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997. Under these agreements, signatory nations commit to take steps to lower the emissions of greenhouse gasses to earlier levels in order to contain the threat of global warming. In addition, constant progress in technologies, such as improvements in manufacturing, alternative energy sources, and cleaner burning automobiles all help to make lowering our greenhouse gasses a realistic option for any nation that chooses to make it a priority.For those of us in the United States, there is more good news. While the average citizen of an African nation can do little to lower emissions, it turns out that the American citizen is producing more greenhouse gasses on average than anyone else on earth.Individual ChoiceWe in the US emit approximately 6.6 tons of greenhouse gasses per person per year, reflecting an increase of about 3.4 percent between 1990 and 1997. The experts tell us that about 82 percent of these emissions come from burning fossil fuels (mostly oil) to create electricity and power our cars. If that figure is not enough to rouse us to action, there’s this: the EPA estimates that about 32 percent of the gasses we’re emitting in this country are a matter of individual choice.In other words, even if we made no effort to further clean up our manufacturing processes, our agricultural techniques, or our industries, we could still cut up to a third of our gas emissions by making some small changes to the electricity we use in our homes, the way we get to work, and the waste we choose not to recycle. The whole world would thank us for it.Ponder This1. According to the author, on which aspects of climate change do most scientists agree?2. On which aspects of climate change are scientists less certain?
3. Give an example of an action the international community has taken to address global warming.
4. According to the author, who has the greatest opportunity to slow the emission of greenhouse gasses? Why?
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