Public perception is critical to the future of global warming. Whether people understand that global warming is an important issue that must be dealt with will determine the future of the Earth. Many people's perceptions are shaped by the media. Information learned at school and conversations with adults are also important sources of information for students. It is important to become educated about the topic. Be aware of what scientists know, what they suspect, and of the controversy surrounding it. There are many organizations both in governments and the private sector with Web sites that have information about global warming and the environment. These include the Environmental Defense Fund, the World Wildlife Fund, the National Wildlife Federation, Greenpeace, the Nature Conservancy, the Wilderness Society, the National Geographic, the IPCC, the EPA, and many others. A listing of more sites can be found in the Further Resources section.
Scientists who study global warming agree on specific key points:
• The greenhouse gases currently in the Earth's atmosphere are what keep the Earth warm and habitable. Natural levels of greenhouse gases are vital to life. Without them, the Earth would always exist in an ice age. However, too high a level of greenhouse gases is already causing harm to present-day systems, and increasing amounts would cause unknown changes to those systems.
• The concentration of greenhouse gases is increasing. Since CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere began to be regularly mea sured (see the Keeling curve, discussed in chapter 1), the record indicates that CO2 is building up in the atmosphere. Humans are increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, as well as other greenhouse gases, through various activities, such as agribusiness, burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and development in wetlands, and many other practices.
• Scientists theorize that if the concentration of greenhouse gases continues to rise, the Earth may become uninhabitable. This is supported by observations of other planets and the use of sophisticated computer models.
Global warming is controversial because so many issues remain theoretical. As technology improves and more research is completed, solid answers will be available and less controversy will remain. One of the biggest problems with controversy is not that people are arguing; it is that while arguing, time is being wasted and important decisions are not being made. The time to make critical decisions about changing from nonrenewable to renewable energy resources is now. Every day, every week, more polar ice melts, sea levels rise, flooding occurs, droughts occur, diseases spread, and intense weather causes damage. Some of the issues being argued today include:
• How much the Earth's atmosphere will heat in the future
• Whether warming is part of a natural cycle
• The cause of warming
• Global warming's effects on the oceans
• Global warming's effects on life-forms
• The explanation for the warming of the past 100 years
Action to reduce greenhouse gases needs to be taken now, before the controversy is settled. When CO2 and other greenhouse gases enter the atmosphere, they stay for many years. There is no time to waste.
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