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Global Warming
Understanding the causes of and responses to global warming requires interdisciplinary cooperation
between social and natural scientists. The theory behind global warming has been understood by
climatologists since at least the 1980s, but only in the new millennium, with an apparent tipping point in
2005, has the mounting empirical evidence convinced most doubters, politicians, and the general public
as well as growing sections of business that global warming caused by human action is occurring.


Global warming is understood to result from an overall, long-term increase in the retention of the suns
heat around Earth due to blanketing bygreenhouse gases, especially CO2 and methane. Emissions of
CO2 have been rising at a speed unprecedented in human history, due to accelerating fossil fuel burning
that began in the Industrial Revolution.
The effects of the resulting climate change are uneven and can even produce localized cooling (if
warm currents change direction). The climate change may also initiate positive feedback in which the
initial impact is further enhanced by its own effects, for example if melting ice reduces the reflective
properties of white surfaces (the albedo effect) or if melting tundra releases frozen methane, leading
to further warming. Debate continues about which manifestations are due to long-term climate change
and which to normal climate variability.


Global warming involves an unprecedented speeding up of the rate of change in natural processes,
which now converges with the (previously much faster) rate of change in human societies, leading to a
crisis of adaptation. Most authoritative scientific bodies predict that on present trends a point of no

return could come within ten years, and that the world needs to cut emissions by 50 percent by mid
twenty-first century.
It was natural scientists who first discovered and raised global warming as a political problem. This
makes many of the global warming concerns unique.Science becomes the author of issues that
dominate the political agenda and become the sources of political conflict (Stehr 2001, p. 85). Perhaps
for this reason, many social scientists, particularly sociologists, wary of trusting the truth claims of
natural science but knowing themselves lacking the expertise to judge their validity, have avoided
saying much about global warming and its possible consequences. Even sociologists such as Ulrich
Beck and Anthony Giddens, who see risk as a key attribute of advanced modernity, have said little
about climate change.
For practical purposes, it can no longer be assumed that nature is a stable, well understood, background
constant and thus social scientists do not need direct knowledge about its changes. Any discussion of
likely social, economic, and political futures will have to heed what natural scientists say about the
likely impacts of climate change.


While originally eccentric, global warming was placed firmly on the agenda in 1985, at a conference in
Austria of eighty-nine climate researchers participating as individuals from twenty-three countries. The
researchers forecast substantial warming, unambiguously attributable to human activities.
Since that conference the researchers position has guided targeted empirical research, leading to
supporting (and increasingly dire) evidence, resolving anomalies and winning near unanimous peer
endorsement. Skeptics have been confounded and reduced to a handful, some discredited by revelations
of dubious funding from fossil fuel industries.
Just before the end of the twentieth century, American researchers released ice-thickness data, gathered
by nuclear submarines. The data showed that over the previous forty years the ice depth in all regions of
the Arctic Ocean had declined by approximately 40 percent.
Five yearly aerial photographs show the ice cover on the Arctic Ocean at a record low, with a loss of 50
cubic kilometers annually and glacier retreat doubling to 12 kilometers a year. In September 2005 the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) doubled its estimates of the volume of melted
fresh water flowing into the North Atlantic, reducing salinity and thus potentially threatening the
conveyor that drives the Gulf Stream. Temperate mussels have been found in Arctic waters, and news
broadcasts in 2005 and 2006 have repeatedly shown scenes of Inuit and polar bears (recently listed as
endangered) cut off from their hunting grounds as the ice bridges melt.

In 2001 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations scientific panel on
climate change, had predicted that Antarctica would not contribute significantly to sea level rise this
century. The massive west Antarctic ice sheet was assumed to be stable. However, in June 2005 a
British Antarctic survey reported measurements of the glaciers on this ice sheet shrinking. In October
2005 glaciologists reported that the edges of the Antarctic ice sheets were crumbling at an
unprecedented rate and, in one area, glaciers were discharging ice three times faster than a decade
In 2005 an eight-year European study drilling Antarctic ice cores to measure the past composition of the
atmosphere reported that CO2 levels were at least 30 percent higher than at any time in the last 65,000
years. The speed of the rise in CO2 was unprecedented, from 280 parts per million (ppm) before the
Industrial Revolution to 388 ppm in 2006. Early in 2007 the Norwegian Polar Institute reported
acceleration to a new level of 390 ppm. In January 2006 a British Antarctic survey, analyzing CO 2 in
crevasse ice in the Antarctic Peninsula, found levels of CO 2 higher than at any time in the previous
800,000 years.
In April 2005 a NASA Goddard Institute oceanic study reported that the earth was holding on to more
solar energy than it was emitting into space. The Institutes director said: This energy imbalance is
the smoking gun that we have been looking for (Columbia 2005).
The second IPCC report in 1996 had predicted a maximum temperature rise of 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit
by the end of the twenty-first century. The third report, in 2001, predicted a maximum rise of 5.8
degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the twenty-first century. In October 2006 Austrian glaciologists
reported in Geophysical Research Letters (Kaser et al.) that almost all the worlds glaciers had been
shrinking since the 1940s, and the shrinking rate had increased since 2001. None of the glaciers
(contrary to skeptics) was growing. Melting glaciers could pose threats to the water supply of major
South American cities and is already manifest in the appearance of many new lakes in Bhutan.
In January 2007 global average land and sea temperatures were the highest ever recorded for this
month; in February 2007 the IPCC Fourth Report, expressing greater certainty and worse fears than the
previous one, made headlines around the world. In 1995 few scientists believed the effects of global
warming were already manifest, but by 2005 few scientists doubted it and in 2007 few politicians were
willing to appear skeptical.
Although rising temperatures; melting tundra, ice and glaciers; droughts; extreme storms; stressed coral
reefs; changing geographical range of plants, animals, and diseases; and sinking atolls may conceivably
all be results of many temporary climate variations, their cumulative impact is hard to refute.


The science of global warming has progressed through tackling anomalies cited by skeptics. Critics of
global warming made attempts to discredit the methodology of climatologist Michael Manns
famous Hockey stick graph (first published in Nature in 1998). Manns graph showed average global
temperatures over the last 1,000 years, with little variation for the first 900 and a sharp rise in the last
century. After more than a dozen replication studies, some using different statistical techniques and
different combinations of proxy records (indirect measures of past temperatures such as ice cores or tree
rings), Manns results were vindicated. A report in 2006 by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences,
National Research Council, supported much of Manns image of global warming history. There is
sufficient evidence from the tree rings, boreholes, retreating glaciers and other proxies of past surface
temperatures to say with a high level of confidence that the last few decades of the twentieth century
were warmer than any comparable period for the last 400 years. For periods before 1600, the 2006
report found there was not enough reliable data to be sure but the committee found the Mann teams
conclusion that warming in the last few decades of the twentieth century was unprecedented over the
last 1,000 years to be plausible (National Academy of Science press release 2006).
Measurements from satellites and balloons in the lower troposphere have until recently indicated
cooling, which contradicted measurements from the surface and the upper troposphere. In August 2005
a publication in Science of the findings of three independent studies described their measurements
asnails in the coffin of the skeptics case. These showed that faulty data, which failed to allow for
satellite drift, lay behind the apparent anomaly.
Another anomaly was that observed temperature rises were in fact less than the modelling of
CO2 impacts predicted. This is now explained by evidence on the temporary masking properties of
aerosols, from rising pollution and a cyclical upward swing of volcanic eruptions since 1960.
Critics of global warming have been disarmed and discredited. Media investigations and social research
have increasingly highlighted the industry funding of skeptics and their think tanks, and the political
pressures on government scientists to keep silent. Estimates of the catastrophic costs of action on
emissions have also been contradicted most dramatically by the British Stern Report in October 2006.
Many companies have been abandoning the skeptical business coalitions. The Australian Business
Round Table on Climate Change estimated in 2005 that the cost to gross domestic product of strong
early action would be minimal and would create jobs.

In May 2001 sixteen of the worlds national academies of science issued a statement, confirming that
the IPCC should be seen as the worlds most reliable source of scientific information on climate change,
endorsing its conclusions and stating that doubts about the conclusions were not justified.

In July 2005 the heads of eleven influential national science academies (from Brazil, Canada, China,
France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) wrote to the
G8 leaders warning that global climate change was a clear and increasing threat and that they must
act immediately. They outlined strong and long-term evidence from direct measurements of rising
surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures and from phenomena such as increases in
average global sea levels, retreating glaciers and changes to many physical and biological
systems (Joint Science Academies Statement 2005).
There are many unknowns regarding global warming, particularly those dependent on human choices;
yet the consequences for society of either inadequate action or of any effective responses (through
reduced consumption or enforced and subsidized technological change) will be huge. It is, for example,
unlikely that the practices and values of free markets, individualism, diversity, and choice will not be
significantly modified either by economic and political breakdowns or alternatively by the radical
measures needed to preempt them.


Kyoto targets are at best a useful first step. However, even these targets, which seek to peg back
emissions to 1990 levels by 2010, are unlikely to be met. World CO 2 emissions in 2004 continued to rise
in all regions of the world, by another 4.5 percent, to a level 26 percent higher than in 1990. A rise of
over 2 degrees is considered inevitable if CO 2 concentrations pass 400 ppm. At current growing
emission rates, the concentration would reach 700 ppm by the end of the twenty-first century. The
continuing industrialization of China, recently joined by India, points to the possibility of even faster
rises than these projections indicate.
If unpredictable, amplifying feedback loops are triggered, improbable catastrophes become more likely.
The Gulf Stream flow could be halted, freezing Britain and Northern Europe. Droughts could wipe out
the agriculture of Africa and Australia, as well as Asia, where millions depend on Himalayan melt water
and monsoon rains. If the ice caps melt completely over the next centuries, seas could rise by 7 meters,
devastating all coastal cities. Will the human response to widespread ecological disasters give rise to
solidarity and collective action, such as the aid that came after the 2004 Asian Tsunami or to social
breakdowns, as seen in New Orleans after 2005s Hurricane Katrina and in the Rwandan genocide?
Social and technical changes with the scale and speed required are not unprecedented. The displacement
of horsepower by automobiles, for example, was meteoric. Production of vehicles in the United States
increased from 8,000 in 1900 to nearly a million by 1912. Substantial regulation or differential taxation
and subsidies would be indispensable to overcome short term profit motives and free riding dilemmas

(where some evade their share of the cost of collective goods from which they benefit). Gains in auto
efficiency in the 1980s, for example, were rapidly reversed by a new fashion for sport utility vehicles.
The debates that have emerged in the early twenty-first century have been related to responses, with
different winners and losers, costs, benefits, dangers, and time scales for each response. Advocates of
reduced energy consumption or increased efficiency, or energy generation by solar, wind, tidal, hydro,
biomass, geothermal, nuclear, or clean coal and geo-sequestration, argue often cacophonously. Yet it
seems probable that all these options are needed.
It will be essential for social and natural scientists to learn to cooperate in understanding and
preempting the potentially catastrophic collision of nature and society. In order to accomplish this,
market mechanisms; technological innovation; international, national, and local regulations; and
cultural change will all be needed. Agents of change include governments, nongovernmental
organizations, and public opinion, but the most likely front-runner might be sectors of capital seeking
profit by retooling the energy and transport systems, while able to mobilize political enforcement.
SEE ALSO Disaster Management; Greenhouse Effects; Science

Columbia University Earth Institute. 2005. Press release 28,
Cooper, Richard N., and Richard Layard. 2002. What the Future Holds: Insights from Social Science.
Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
Diamond, Jared. 2005. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive. Camberwell, U.K.: Penguin,
Allen Lane.
Dunlap, Riley H., Frederick H. Buttel, Peter H. Dickens, and August Gijswijt, eds. 2002, Sociological
Theory and the Environment: Classical Foundations, Contemporary Insights, Lanham, MD: Rowman
and Littlefield.
Flannery, Tim. 2006. The Weather Makers. Berkeley, CA: Grove Atlantic.
Kaser, G., et al. Mass Balance of Glaciers and Ice Caps: Consensus Estimates for 1961
2004. Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 33. 2006.
Legget, Jeremy. 2000. The Carbon War: Global Warming and the End of the Oil Era. New York:
Leggett, Jeremy. 2005. Half Gone: Oil, Gas, Hot Air and the Global Energy Crisis. London: Portobello.

Monbiot, George. 2006. Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning. London: Allen Lane.
National Academy of Sciences. 2006. Press release 22,
Stehr, Nico. 2001. Economy and Ecology in an Era of Knowledge-Base Economies. Current
Sociology 49(1) January: 6790.
Zillman, John W. 2005. Uncertainty in the Science of Climate Change. InUncertainty and Climate
Change: The Challenge for Policy, Policy Paper 3. Canberra: Academy of the Social Sciences in
Constance Lever-Tracy

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GLOBAL WARMING. Gases created through human industrial and agricultural practices (primarily
carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and wood, as well as methane, nitrous oxide, and
chlorofluorocarbons) increase the heat-reflecting potential of the atmosphere, thereby raising the
planet's average temperature.

Early Scientific Work

Since the late nineteenth century, atmospheric scientists in the United States and overseas have known
that significant changes in the chemical composition of atmospheric gases might cause climate change
on a global scale. In 1824, the French scientist Jean-Baptiste Fourier described how the earth's
atmosphere functioned like the glass of a greenhouse, trapping heat and maintaining the stable climate
that sustained life. By the 1890s, some scientists, including the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius and
the American geologist Thomas Chamberlain, had discerned that carbon dioxide had played a central
role historically in regulating global temperatures.
In 1896, Arrhenius provided the first quantitative analysis of how changes in atmospheric carbon
dioxide could alter surface temperatures and ultimately lead to climatic change on a scale comparable
with the ice ages. In 1899, Chamberlain similarly linked glacial periods to changes in atmospheric
carbon dioxide and posited that water vapor might provide crucial positive feedback to changes in
carbon dioxide. In the first decade of the twentieth century, Arrhenius further noted that industrial
combustion of coal and other fossil fuels could introduce enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to
change the temperature of the planet over the course of a few centuries. However, he predicted that

warming would be delayed because the oceans would absorb most of the carbon dioxide. Arrhenius
further posited various societal benefits from this planetary warming.

Developing Scientific Consensus

Over the course of the twentieth century, scientists con-firmed these early predictions as they probed
further into the functioning of the earth's atmospheric system. Early in the century, dozens of scientists
around the world contributed to an internationally burgeoning understanding of atmospheric science. By
the century's close, thousands of scientists collaborated to refine global models of climate change and
regional analyses of how rising temperatures might alter weather patterns, ecosystem dynamics,
agriculture, oceans and ice cover, and human health and disease.
While no one scientific breakthrough revolutionized climate change science or popular understanding
of the phenomenon, several key events stand out to chart developing scientific understanding of global
warming. In 1938, Guy S. Callendar provided an early calculation of warming due to human-introduced
carbon dioxide and contended that this warming was evident already in the temperature record.
Obscured by the onset of World War II and by a short-term cooling trend that began in the 1940s,
Callendar's analysis received short shrift. Interest in global warming increased in the 1950s with new
techniques for studying climate, including analysis of ancient pollens, ocean shells, and new computer
models. Using computer models, in 1956, Gilbert N. Plass attracted greater attention to the carbon
dioxide theory of climate change. The following year, Roger Revelle and Hans Suess showed that
oceanic absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide would not be sufficient to delay global warming.
They stressed the magnitude of the phenomenon:
Human beings are now carrying out a large scale geophysical experiment of a kind that could not have
happened in the past nor be reproduced in the future. Within a few centuries we are returning to the
atmosphere and oceans the concentrated organic carbon stored in sedimentary rocks over hundreds of
millions of years. (Cristianson, Greenhouse, pp. 155156)
At the same time, Charles Keeling began to measure the precise year-by-year rise in atmospheric carbon
dioxide from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. In 1965, the President's Scientific Advisory
Committee issued the first U.S. government report that summarized recent climate research and
outlined potential future changes resulting from increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, including the
melting of the Antarctic ice cap, the rise of sea level, and the warming of oceans.
By the late 1970s, atmospheric scientists had grown increasingly confident that the buildup of carbon
dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons, and related gases in the atmosphere would have a significant,
lasting impact on global climate. Several jointly written government reports issued during President
Jimmy Carter's administration presented early consensus estimates of global climate change. These

estimates would prove consistent with more sophisticated models refined in the two decades following.
A 1979 National Research Council report by Jule G. Charney, Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A
Scientific Assessment, declared that "we now have incontrovertible evidence that the atmosphere is
indeed changing and that we ourselves contribute to that change. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon
dioxide are steadily increasing, and these changes are linked with man's use of fossil fuels and
exploitation of the land" (p. vii). The Charney report estimated a doubling of atmospheric carbon
dioxide concentrations would probably result in a roughly 3-degree Celsius rise in temperature, plus or
minus 1.5 degrees.

Global Warming Politics

As climate science grew more conclusive, global warming became an increasingly challenging political
problem. In January 1981, in the closing days of the Carter administration, the Council on
Environmental Quality (CEQ) published Global Energy Futures and the Carbon Dioxide Problem. The
CEQ report described climate change as the "ultimate environmental dilemma," which required
collective judgments to be made, either by decision or default, "largely on the basis of scientific models
that have severe limitations and that few can understand." The report reviewed available climate models
and predicted that carbon dioxiderelated global warming "should be observable now or sometime
within the next two decades"
(p. v). With atmospheric carbon dioxide increasing rapidly, the CEQ report noted that the world was
already "performing a great planetary experiment" (p. 52).
By the early 1980s, the scientific models of global warming had established the basic contours of this
atmospheric phenomenon. Federal environmental agencies and scientific advisory boards had urged
action to curb carbon dioxide emissions dramatically, yet little state, federal, or international
policymaking ensued. Decades-old federal and state subsidies for fossil fuel production and
consumption remained firmly in place. The federal government lessened its active public support for
energy efficiency initiatives and alternative energy development. Falling oil and natural gas prices
throughout the decade further undermined political support for a national energy policy that would
address the problem of global warming.
A complicated intersection of climate science and policy further hindered effective lawmaking.
Scientists urged political action, but spoke in a measured language that emphasized probability and
uncertainty. Many scientists resisted entering the political arena, and expressed skepticism about their
colleagues who did. This skepticism came to a head in reaction to the government scientist James
Hansen's efforts to focus national attention on global warming during the drought-filled summer of
1988. As more than 400,000 acres of Yellowstone National Park burned in a raging fire, Hansen

testified to Congress that he was 99 percent certain that the earth was getting warmer because of the
greenhouse effect. While the testimony brought significant new political attention in the United States
to the global warming problem, many of Hansen's scientific colleagues were dismayed by his definitive
assertions. Meanwhile, a small number of skeptical scientists who emphasized the un-certainty of global
warming and the need to delay policy initiatives fueled opposition to political action.
In 1988, delegates from nearly fifty nations met in Toronto and Geneva to address the climate change
problem. The delegates formed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), consisting of
more than two thousand scientists from around the world, to assess systematically global warming
science and policy options. The IPCC issued its first report in 1990, followed by second and third
assessments in 1995 and 2001. Each IPCC report provided increasingly precise predictions of future
warming and the regional impacts of climate change. Meanwhile, books like Bill McKibben'sThe End
of Nature (1989) and Senator Albert Gore Jr.'s Earth in the Balance(1992) focused popular attention in
the United States on global warming.
Yet these developments did not prompt U.S. government action. With its major industries highly
dependent on fossil fuel consumption, the United States instead helped block steps to combat climate
change at several international conferences in the late 1980s and 1990s. At the United Nations
Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, U.S. negotiators successfully
thwarted a treaty with mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, the Rio conference
adopted only voluntary limits. In 1993, the new administration of Bill Clinton and Albert Gore Jr.
committed itself to returning United States emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000. The
administration also attempted to adjust incentives for energy consumption in its 1993 energy tax bill.
Defeated on the tax bill and cowed when Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994, however, the
Clinton administration backed away from significant new energy and climate initiatives.
At the highly charged 1997 United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Kyoto, Japan, more than
160 countries approved a protocol that would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous
oxide, and three chlorofluorocarbon substitutes. In the United States, powerful industry opponents to
the Kyoto Protocol, represented by the Global Climate Coalition (an industry association including
Exxon, Mobil, Shell Oil, Ford, and General Motors, as well as other automobile, mining, steel, and
chemical companies), denounced the protocol's "unrealistic targets and timetables" and argued instead
for voluntary action and further research. Along with other opponents, the coalition spent millions of
dollars on television ads criticizing the agreement, focusing on possible emissions exemptions for
developing nations. Although the Clinton administration signed the Kyoto Protocol, strong Senate
opposition to the agreement prevented ratification. In 2001, President George W. Bush withdrew his
executive support for the protocol.

Growing Signals of Global Warming

By the end of the 1990s, climate science had grown increasingly precise and achieved virtual
worldwide scientific consensus on climate change. The 2001 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change concluded that global average surface temperature had increased by 0.6 degrees
Celsius during the twentieth century, largely due to greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon dioxide
concentrations in the atmosphere had increased by approximately 30 percent since the late nineteenth
century, rising from 280 parts per million (ppm) by volume to 367 ppm in 1998.
By 2001, signs of global warming were increasingly widespread. With glaciers around the world
melting, average sea levels rising, and average precipitation increasing, the 1990s registered as the
hottest decade on record in the past thousand years. Regional models predicted widespread shifting of
ecosystems in the United States, with alpine ecosystems expected largely to disappear in the lower
forty-eight states while savannas or grasslands replace desert ecosystems in the Southwest. The IPCC
2001 report estimated an increase of between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees Celsius by 2100, a projected increase
in global temperature very likely "without precedent during at least the last 10,000 years."
Global warming is the gradual rise of the earth's near-surface temperature over approximately the last
hundred years. The best available scientific evidencebased on continuous satellite monitoring and
data from about 2,000 meteorological stations around the worldindicates that globally averaged
surface temperatures have warmed by about 0.3 to 0.6C since the late nineteenth century. Different
regions have warmedsome have even cooledby different amounts. Generally, the Northern
Hemisphere has warmed to a greater extent than the Southern Hemisphere, and mid to high latitudes
have generally warmed more than the tropics.
Since the advent of satellites, it has become possible for scientists to thoroughly monitor the earth's
climate on a global scale. To examine the historical climate record, however, scientists have to use
earlier, sparser forms of measurement, such as long-standing temperature records and less exact "proxy"
data, such as the growth of coral, tree rings, as well as information from ice cores, which contain
trapped gas bubbles and dust grains representative of the climate in which they were deposited. The
bubbles in these cores contain oxygen, particularly oxygen isotopes 180 to 160, which are sensitive to
variations in temperature. From the ratio between these isotopes at varying ice depths scientists can
reconstruct a picture of the temperature variations over time in specific locations. Greater measurement
uncertainty surrounds the earlier parts of this record because of sparse coverage (especially in ocean
regions). Despite this uncertainty, the balance of scientific evidence confirms that there has been a
discernable warming over the last century.


Gases such as water vapor, methane, and carbon dioxide allow short-wave radiation from the sun to
pass through to the surface of the earth, but do not allow long-wave radiation reflected from the earth to
travel back out into space. This naturally occurring insulation processdubbed the greenhouse

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effectkeeps the earth warm: In its absence, the earth would be about 33C cooler than it is now.
However, as the concentration of greenhouse gases increases (due largely to human activities), most
scientists agree that the effect is expected to intensify, raising average global temperatures.
However, the earth's climate is known to vary on long timescales. The existence of naturally occurring
ice ages and warm periods in the distant past demonstrates that natural factors such as solar variability,
volcanic activity, and fluctuations in greenhouse gases play important roles in regulating the earth's
climate. A minority of scientists believe that purely natural variations in these factors can account for
the observed global warming.

Climate in the Twenty-first Century

Climate forecasts are inherently imprecise largely because of two different sorts of uncertainty:
incomplete knowledge about how the system worksunderstandable for a system governed by
processes the spatial scales of which range from the molecular to the global and uncertainty about how
important climate factors will evolve in the future. A variety of factors affect temperature near the
surface of the earth, including variability in solar output, volcanic activity, and dust and other aerosols,
in addition to concentrations of greenhouse gases.
However, this uncertainty does not stop one from making some broad statements about (1) the
likelihood of the sources of observed global warming and (2) the likely effects of continued warming.
In the first case, attempts by climate modelers to reproduce the observed global near-surface
temperature record using only natural variability in climate models have proved inadequate. The Third
Assessment Report (2001) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) attributes some
80 percent of recent rises in global temperature to human activities, with other important contributions
coming from volcanic and solar sources. Over the coming century, likely effects of continued warming
include higher daily maximum and minimum temperatures, more hot days over most land areas, fewer
frosts in winter, fewer cold days over most land areas, a reduced daily range of temperatures, more
extreme precipitation events (all very likely), increased risk of drought, increases in cyclone peak wind,
and precipitation intensity (likely). Other effects, such as the disintegration of Antarctic ice sheets, carry
potentially enormous implications, but are considered very unlikely.

Responses to Climate Change

These effects are likely to be beneficial in some places, but disruptive in most, and as a consequence,
governments around the world have begun planning responses to climate change. These fall into two
categories: mitigation, which involves taking action to prevent climate change (usually by cutting
greenhouse gas emissions) and adaptation, which involves adapting to the effects as and after they
happen. For example, if sea levels rise in the next century due to thermal expansion of the oceans, low
lying areas such as the Netherlands and Bangladesh may be flooded. A mitigation strategy would
involve trying to cut emissions to forestall the heat-driven sea level rise, whereas an adaptation strategy
might be to build large barriers to prevent the sea level rise from flooding these countries. In wealthy
countries such as the Netherlands this is perhaps a viable option. It is not so clear that Bangladeshone
of the world's poorest countrieswill be in a position to implement this sort of strategy.
Because of the potentially serious ramifications of continued global warming, the World Meteorological
Organisation and United Nations Environment Programme jointly established the IPCC in 1988. It
assesses scientific and socioeconomic information on climate change and related impacts, and provides
advice on the options for either mitigating climate change by limiting the emissions of greenhouse
gases, or adapting to expected changes through developments such as building higher flood defenses.

In the wake of the general increase in the awareness of environmental issues in the Western world since
the 1970s, global warming has become an important political issue in the last decade. Following the
successful implementation of the Montral Protocol (1987) that prohibited the production of ozonedepleting gases (i.e., chlorofluorocarbons [CFCs], halons, and carbon tetrachloride) starting in 2000, the
international community sought to address the problem of global warming in the Kyoto Protocol
(1992). This involves industrialized countries taking the lead on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The
protocol requires them to decrease their emissions to 90 percent of their 1990 levels. The Kyoto
Protocol comes into effect if fifty-five parties to the convention ratify the protocol, with "annex 1" (or
industrialized) parties accounting for 55 percent of that group's carbon dioxide emissions in 1990.
This approach has proved controversial for a variety of reasons: (1) It applies primarily to industrialized
countries, freeing some of the world's worst polluters, such as China and Saudi Arabia, from having to
comply; (2) the reductions are arbitrarily fixed at 10 percent of a country's 1990 level, irrespective of
whether that country is a big polluter, like the United States, or a relatively small polluter, like Sweden;
(3) disagreements about whether the cuts imposed by the treaty will actually be worth the economic
costs; (4) the treaty targets only gross emissions rather than net emissionsduring the negotiations key
differences emerged between a group of nations that favored the use of man-made forests as "carbon
sinks" planted to soak up carbon emissions, and countries that believed this to be an inadequate
Although the Kyoto Protocol has been enthusiastically backed by European countries, various wealthy
countries remain outside the treaty, most notablyAustralia and the United States. The U.S. decision to
not sign the Kyoto Protocol has proved particularly controversial, as the United States emits some 23
percent of global greenhouse emissions, while only containing 5 percent of the global population. The
current Bush administration does not intend to ratify the agreement on the grounds "that the protocol is
not sound policy," according to U.S. Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky.
see also Carbon Dioxide; CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons); Greenhouse Gases; Halon; Methane (CH4);
NOx (Nitrogen Oxides); Ozone; Treaties and Conferences.

Global Warming and the Ocean

The Earth's climate seems stable in respect to humankind's limited length of historical knowledge, but
in reality, it is an ever-changing system. Climate change has been occurring since the Earth began,
passing through long periods of fluctuating temperatures.
Climatologists refer to the historical record, which goes back to the mid-nineteenth century, to study
recent shifts in climate. This record of temperature measurements indicates that since 1860, the mean
(average) annual surface temperature of the Earth has risen by about 0.5 Celsius degrees (0.9 Fahrenheit

degrees). This finding supports the theory that the Earth is presently in a period of global warming. The
questions important to scientists and policymakers are the extent, period, and cause of the warming.

Factors in Global Warming

One major factor in global warming is a solar heating process termed thegreenhouse effect . The glass
structure of a greenhouse allows most of the Sun's light inside, but stops a good share of the heat from
escaping. This causes the temperature inside the greenhouse to be warmer than the outside air.
The Earth's atmosphere, along with certain greenhouse gases , acts much like a greenhouse, absorbing
the infrared energy emitted by the Earth and warming the atmosphere. Without the presence of a
greenhouse effect, the temperature of the Earth would be about 18C (0.4F) instead of its present
15C (59F).
The most abundant greenhouse gas is water vapor, followed closely by carbon dioxide (CO 2). There also
are trace gases including methane (CH 4), nitrous oxide (N2O), tropospheric ozone (O3), and human-made
chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). These trace compounds, though in very low concentrations, are important
because they absorb far more radiation, molecule per molecule, than does carbon dioxide. The
estimated percent contributions of these greenhouse gases to increased greenhouse effect based on their
present concentration in parts per billion by volume (ppbv) are as follows.



1700 15







Carbon Dioxide.
The carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere varies over time. Carbon dioxide is both natural and
human-made, and has increased by 25 percent in the last 125 years. Human industrial activities,
especially since the Industrial Revolution , have increased the CO2 content of the atmosphere. The
increase is evident in the following figure, which shows atmospheric CO 2 in parts per million (ppm) at

three locations: South Pole (red circle); Siple, Antarctica (blue square); and Mauna Loa, Hawaii (green
The burning of fossil fuels , such as oil, coal and natural gases, are sources of energy that release carbon
dioxide. Carbon dioxide uptake by plants during photosynthesis, and release by animals during
respiration also influences the amount of atmospheric CO 2.
There are more land plants in the Northern Hemisphere than in the Southern Hemisphere simply
because there is more land north of the equator. Each year during Northern summers, plants absorb
more carbon dioxide than is produced. When the growing season ends in the Northern Hemisphere, the
carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere resumes the increase that results from the burning of fossil
fuels. The seasonal influence of land plants is obvious in the following diagram, which shows
atmospheric CO2 in parts per million (ppm) for Mauna Loa, Hawaii.
Because carbon dioxide is 30 times more soluble in water than are most common gases, the ocean
contains most of the carbon dioxide in the oceanatmosphere system. The phytoplankton living in the
surface layers of the world's oceans convert CO 2 into plant tissue, and in some cases use CO 2to build
calcium carbonate (CaCO3) shells. As organisms die, their remains deposit on the ocean floor, along
with other debris, burying calcium carbonate and organic carbon in sea-floor sediments. The ocean
therefore performs as a giant sink for carbon dioxide, absorbing the gas and removing it from the
atmosphere while depositing much if it as marine sediments.

Ocean Water and Temperature.

The Earth seems to have had a relatively constant temperature over long periods of geologic time. It is
reradiating energy back to space at a rate approximately equal to the rate it receives energy. Most of the
energy the Earth receives from the Sun lies within the ultraviolet and visible light spectra. The
atmosphere is transparent to most of this radiation, but the oceans and the continents absorb about half
of it.
Because of the high heat capacity of water, the oceans can absorb and hold much more solar energy
than the air or the continents. When the oceans reradiate this stored energy back toward space, it is
changed to infrared energy. The greenhouse gases in the atmosphere absorb some of this infrared
radiation, which warms the atmosphere.

To understand how the present-day global climate compares to past climates, scientists have had to look
beyond the limited 140 years of weather data and examine the Earth's paleoclimate. Paleoclimate is a

term used to describe the ancient climate long before instruments were developed. Instead of
instrumental measurements of weather and climate, paleoclimatologists use natural environmental
(proxy) records to estimate past climate conditions.
Research methods involve analyzing sediment core samples from the ocean floor and ice cores from the
polar ice packs.* Some of the things being sought are fossil plankton , plant pollen, and preserved
insects that are locked in ocean sediments, and chemical and isotopic data from sediments and polar
ice. By dating the samples and identifying species and abundance, researchers can reconstruct the
general climate of a region during its geologic past. For example, globally averaged temperatures and
the atmospheric concentration of CO2 in parts per million (ppm) over the past 160,000 years have been
estimated as follows.
The paleoclimatic record not only allows scientists to examine global temperature fluctuations over the
last several centuries, but it also reveals past climate change even farther back in time. This perspective
is an important tool used to help understand the possible causes of the present-day global warming.

The Effects of Global Warming

In 1988, the United Nations established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to
evaluate information on climate change. In a 2001 report, the IPCC concluded that 1) global warming
will occur if greenhouse gas concentrations increase, and 2) the concentration of greenhouse gases in
the atmosphere is increasing. It can thus be inferred that global warming is occurring.
Each year, human activities inject 6 billion tons (6 gigatons) of CO 2 into the atmosphere. Three gigatons
remain there, 1.5 gigatons go into the ocean, and the fate of the remaining 1.5 gigatons is unknown. Preindustrial levels of carbon dioxide were about 280 parts per million by volume (ppmv), and current
levels are about 370 ppmv. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today has not been
exceeded in the last 420,000 years. By the end of the twenty-first century, some scientists expect to see
carbon dioxide concentrations of anywhere from 490 to 1260 ppmv, which is 75 percent to 350 percent
above the estimated pre-industrial concentration.
The projected temperature change of 1.5C to 4C (3F to 7F) by the year 2100 would be
unprecedented in comparison with the best available records from the last several thousand years. This
could cause higher sea-surface temperatures, intense tropical storms, longer and more intense heat
waves, and melting of ice in glaciers and ice shelves.
Warming is expected to be more pronounced in high northern latitudes than in high southern latitudes.
An increase in temperature accompanied by an increase in rainfall could decrease the density of the
surface sea water that now sinks to the ocean floor forming the North Atlantic Deep Water. In that case,

the thermohaline circulation of the ocean would be altered, and could further accelerate global
warming. Computer models of climate change are undergoing continual refinement in an effort to
decrease the uncertainty of these predictions.
see also Algal Blooms in the Ocean; Carbon Dioxide in the Ocean and Atmosphere; Climate and the
Ocean; El Nio and La Nia; Glaciers, Ice Sheets, and Climate Change; Global Warming and Glaciers;
Global Warming and the Hydrologic Cycle; Global Warming: Policy-making; Ice at Sea; Ice Cores and
Ancient Climatic Conditions; Ocean Biogeochemistry; Ocean Currents; Ocean-Floor Sediments;
Oceans, Polar; Sea Level; Sea Water, Physics and Chemistry Of.

Science and Technology

Science and technology is quite a broad category, and it covers everything from studying the
stars and the planets to studying molecules and viruses. Beginning with the Greeks and
Hipparchus, continuing through Ptolemy, Copernicus and Galileo, and today with our work on
the International Space Station, man continues to learn more and more about the heavens.
From here, we look inward to biochemistry and biology. To truly understand biochemistry,
scientists study and see the unseen by studying the chemistry of biological processes. This
science, along with biophysics, aims to bring a better understanding of how bodies work
from how we turn food into energy to how nerve impulses transmit.
Chemistry is a science that explains how salt, something on every table in the world, can be
made from sodium and chlorine, two elements that are poisonous to humans. From its
beginnings, when Aristotle defined the existence of the atom, to modern chemistry, which
combines atomic theory and organic chemistry, this field continues to advance our lives.
In technology, youll find many of the things that make life easier today. This includes medical
advances like MRI machines, fuel-efficient transportation, portable computing devices, and flat
screen televisions. Advances in the field of technology continue to amaze and astound.
Modern computing technology is able to communicate wirelessly to the Internet and to other
devices advances that have freed computers from desks and made technology and
information available to more and more people.
Science and technology hold the answers to many of lifes questions.

Astronomy and Space Exploration



Biology and Genetics


Computers and Electrical Engineering




Environmental Studies

acid rain http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/acid_rain.aspx#3

Agent Orange http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Agent_Orange.aspx

air pollution








endangered species

environmental impact statement




food chain


global warming

greenhouse effect




Integrated Pest Management


Kyoto Protocol

land use

nitrogen cycle

noise pollution

nuclear winter


ozone layer


radioactive waste



septic tank


Sierra Club



solid waste





water pollution

water supply




World Wildlife Fund

conservation of natural resources



Conservation biology


Radioactive waste storage




International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources


Thermal pollution

Biosphere II Project


Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer

National Audubon Society

Biological Oxygen Demand


Rain forests

Nuclear Waste






climax community



Wildlife Preservation


Earth Summit



Toxic Waste




biological diversity



Political Science and Government

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Foreign Government Agencies

International Affairs: Diplomacy

International Organizations

Military Affairs (nonnaval)

Naval and Nautical Affairs

Political Parties and Movements

Political Science: Biographies

Political Science: Terms and Concepts

U.S. Government

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Philosophy, Terms and Concepts

Philosophy: Biographies

Philosophy and Religion

Throughout history, philosophy and religion have played a significant role in the development
of a society, how it treats outsiders, and how it treats its own members. Humans have
frequently looked to gods or deities to lead them and to answer some of lifes mysteries.
The Romans and the Greeks were led by a group of deities who shared many of the same
traits and powers. The Greeks thought that the gods Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon were the
supreme lords of the sky, the underworld, and the ... Read more

Ancient Religions


Eastern Religions



Other Religious Beliefs and General Terms


The Bible

Earth and the Environment

Want to learn about earth and the environment? Youll find it all here. From the most basic
descriptions of atmosphere and weather, to in-depth studies of the oceans, metallurgy and the
sciences, this category includes both broad and specific information on a variety of topics.
To start with, this category includes biographies and personal stories from some of the most
treasured and noted scientists and scholars. Were talking about more than just a few famous
names. These biographies ... Read more

Atmosphere and Weather


Ecology and Environmentalism


Geology and Oceanography

Minerals, Mining, and Metallurgy

South Asian History

South Asian History


Awami League

Bharatiya Janata party

Black Hole of Calcutta

Delhi Sultanate

Fatehpur Sikri




Indian Mutiny

Indian National Congress

India-Pakistan Wars



Muslim League

Opium Wars

Sikh Wars





Congress Party