Global Climate Change

The third major environmental, human, and economic problem associated with the use of coal as an energy source is global climate change. Evidence suggests that anthropogenic increases in atmospheric carbon are leading to increased mean global temperatures, and changes in regional climates.

Several gases, including methane, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and ozone, known as greenhouse gases, absorb infrared radiation and lead to increased atmospheric temperatures. This, in turn, creates a negative feedback loop of increased ice melts at high latitudes and high elevations, and lower overall albedo. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued several reports suggesting that even if greenhouse gas emissions were reduced to zero, there is enough system-wide momentum that climate change impacts will be felt for years into the future. The IPCC reports also predict increased droughts in middle latitudes, as well as stronger storm events in coastal regions. If humans continue with "business as usual," mitigating the effects associated with global climate change is likely to cost billions of dollars.

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