Ella Fitzgerald wasn’t singing about the weather when she sang “It’s too darn hot,” but today, the song has a new meaning. The planet is heating up, causing significant changes in our climate and on the natural resources we all rely on to sustain life.
The science behind global warming is complex, so here are the basics in a nutshell: Heat-trapping gases—primarily carbon dioxide, but others as well—from vehicles, homes, power plants and deforestation are accumulating in the atmosphere, acting like a thick blanket. That blanket is heating up the Earth. (You can read more about the source of heat-trapping gases here .)
This process is known as the “greenhouse effect.” Just like the glass walls of a greenhouse trap heat and increase the temperature inside, the Earth’s greenhouse effect is warming the planet. Under normal and natural circumstances, the greenhouse effect is not only good, but essential, as it keeps the planet alive. The problem has come because of the dramatic increase in heat-trapping gases generated by the human race in the last century.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists:
“The greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon that keeps the Earth in a temperature range that allows life to flourish. The sun's enormous energy warms the Earth's surface and its atmosphere. As this energy radiates back toward space as heat, a portion is absorbed by a delicate balance of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere—among them carbon dioxide and methane—which creates an insulating layer. With the temperature control of the greenhouse effect, the Earth has an average surface temperature of 59°F (15°C). Without it, the average surface temperature would be 0°F (-18°C), a temperature so low that the Earth would be frozen and could not sustain life.
"Global warming" refers to the rise in the Earth's temperature resulting from an increase in heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.”1
How the Greenhouse Effect Works. Source: Union of Concerned Scientists
We’ll get to why there has been an increase in these gases and the role human beings have played, but first, a word about the ozone layer.