Our world is forever changing. Since its formation, naturally occurring earth processes have influenced the climate causing it to either warm or cool. In the past, these natural cycles have resulted in global climates that are very different from what we are experiencing in the year 2013. Take for instance the last ice age of the Pleistocene epoch. Still at work today, these natural influences have recently been overshadowed by the human influences on climate, said to be caused mostly by our use of fossil fuels. To fully understand how that can be, we must first understand the natural process called the greenhouse effect (see Fig. 1). The greenhouse effect is the natural effect that releases radiation from the sun into the atmosphere near the earths surface. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, ozone, and water vapor in the lower atmosphere (troposphere) absorb some of that heat radiated by the earths surface, warming the lower atmosphere (Miller-Spoolman 2013). In turn, some of that heat is also deflected back into space. The major concern here, is that if higher concentrations of these greenhouse gases (the greatest concern being carbon dioxide), coupled with other natural earth processes inability to remove them, the average temperature of the lower atmosphere would increase. This phenomenon has become known as global warming. The purpose of this research is to better understand why the earth's climate is changing, and to pinpoint human involvement in the problem and the solution. To do so we must start with the most obvious questions: what is global warming, how is it related to the greenhouse effect, and how can we slow this process? If left unanswered, natural and ecological systems could suffer irreversible effects, and the results on humans could be catastrophic.
What is global warming? Global warming is defined as: an increase in the earth's atmospheric and oceanic temperatures widely predicted to occur due to an increase in the greenhouse effect resulting especially from pollution (Merriam-Webster, 2013). There are some skeptics, however. Few scientist believe that the warming we have seen is nothing more than a natural Earth process, one that has been occurring for 4.5 billion years, and that there is no need for alarm. Most of them seem to disagree, so in 2007 the UN (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) began to do more research. They forecasted that by 2100, and depending on a range of scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions, global average surface temperatures would increase 3.2–7.2 °F (1.8–4.0 °C). The panel also stated that it was now 90 percent certain that most of the warming observed over the previous half century could be attributed to greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activities (i.e., industrial processes and transportation). Many scientists predict that such an increase in temperature would cause polar ice caps and mountain glaciers to melt rapidly, significantly raising the levels of coastal waters, and would produce new patterns and extremes of drought and rainfall, seriously disrupting food production in certain regions. Yet other scientists still maintain that such predictions are overstated. The 1992 Earth Summit and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change attempted to address the issue of global warming, but in both cases the efforts were hindered by conflicting national economic agendas and disputes between developed and developing nations over the cost and consequences of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.
The graph above (see Fig. 2) was produced from the research of Dr. Makiko Sato and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and shows a line plot of the global mean land-ocean temperature index from 1880 to present (the dotted black line is the annual mean and the solid red line is the five-year mean, the green bars show uncertainty estimates). It indicates that