Human Activities Are Associated with a Net Warming Effect on Climate

Human activities have led to higher concentrations of a number of GHGs as well as other climate forcing agents. For example, the human-caused increase in CO2 since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is associated with a warming effect equivalent to approximately 1.6 Watts of energy per square meter of the Earth's surface (Figure 2.4). Although this may seem like a small amount of energy, when multiplied by the surface area of the Earth it is 50 times larger than the total power consumed by all human activities.

In addition to CO2, the concentrations of methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), ozone (O3), and over a dozen chlorofluorocarbons and related gases have increased as a result of human activities. Collectively, the total warming associated with GHGs is estimated to be 3.0 Watts per square meter, or almost double the forcing associated with CO2 alone. While CO2 and N2O levels continue to rise (due mainly to fossil fuel burning and agricultural processes, respectively), concentrations of several of the halogenated gases are now declining as a result of action taken to protect the ozone layer, and the concentration of CH4 also appears to have leveled off (see Chapter 6 for details).

Human activities have also increased the number of aerosols, or particles, in the atmosphere. While the effects of these particles are not as well measured or understood as the effects of GHGs, recent estimates indicate that they produce a net cooling effect that offsets some, but not all, of the warming associated with GHG increases (see Figure 2.4). Humans have also modified Earth's land surface, for example by replacing forests with cropland. Averaged over the globe, it is estimated that these land use and land cover changes have increased the amount of sunlight that is reflected back to

FIGURE 2.4 Climate forcing due to both human activities and natural processes, expressed in Watts per square meter (energy per unit area). Positive forcing corresponds to a warming effect. See Chapter 6 for further details. SOURCE: Forster et al. (2007).

space, producing a small net cooling effect. Other human activities can influence local and regional climate but have only a minor influence on global climate.

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