The Role of Atmospheric Gases in Global Warming

Richard P. Tuckett

School of Chemistry, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, United Kingdom



5. General Comments on


Origin of the Greenhouse Effect:

Long Lived Greenhouse Gases

'Primary' and 'Secondary'

6. Conclusion




The Physical Chemistry


Properties of Greenhouse Gases


The Lifetime of a Greenhouse

Gas in the Earth's Atmosphere

If the general public in the developed world is confused about what the greenhouse effect is, what the important greenhouse gases are, and whether greenhouse gases really are the predominant cause of the recent rise in temperature of the earth's atmosphere, it is hardly surprising. Nowadays, statements by one scientist are often immediately refuted by another, and both tend to state their claims with almost religious fervour. Furthermore, politicians and the media have not helped. It is only 14 a (years) ago that the newly appointed Secretary of State for the Environment in the United Kingdom made the cardinal sin of confusing the greenhouse effect with ozone depletion by saying they had the same scientific causes. (In retrospect, John Gummer was closer to the truth than he realised, in that one class of chemicals, the chlorofluoro-carbons (CFCs), are both the principal cause of ozone depletion and are major greenhouse gases, but these two facts are scientifically unrelated.) Furthermore, to many, even in the respectable parts of the media, 'greenhouse gases' are two dirty words. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, in that there has always been a greenhouse effect operative in the earth's atmosphere.

Climate Change: Observed Impacts on Planet Earth

Copyright © 2009 by Elsevier B.V. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.

Without it we would inhabit a very cold planet, and not exist in the hospitable temperature of 290 300 K.

The purpose of this opening chapter of this book is to explain in simple terms what the greenhouse effect is, what its origins are and what the properties of greenhouse gases are. I will restrict this chapter to an explanation of the physical chemistry of greenhouse gases and the greenhouse effect, and not delve too much into the politics of 'what should or should not be done'. However, one simple message to convey at the onset is that the greenhouse effect is not just about concentration levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), and it is too simplistic to believe that all our problems will be solved, if we can reduce CO2 concentrations by x% in y years. Shine [1] has also commented many times that there is much more to the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide levels.

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