Global Warming and Climate Change

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Over the years, the environmental policy domain has become diversified into a variety of issues demanding attention. As Michael Kraft (2001:15) has suggested, we are now facing a "third generation'' of environmental problems that are quite distinct from earlier concerns about "first generation" issues involving air and water pollution and "second generation" issues dealing with toxic chemicals and hazardous wastes. As Kraft (2001:15) explains, "third generation" policy problems including global climate change are "global in origin and effects,'' are more "politically controversial" and are more "difficult to address than the environmental issues of earlier eras''

Over the centuries, the Earth's climate has changed as a result of natural cycles alternating between periods of warmth and ice ages. Beginning with the Industrial Revolution in the mid-to-late 19th century, human activities began to have an influence on the Earth's atmosphere. During this period, several "greenhouse effect pioneers'' including French mathematician Jean-Baptiste Fourier in 1827, British scientist John Tyndall in 1861 and Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius in 1896 discovered that a buildup of greenhouse gases was associated with the warming of the Earth (Sussman et al. 2002:291). Over time, scientific knowledge about global warming expanded with new experimentation and research findings by British engineer, G. S. Callendar in 1938, Roger Revelle and Hans Suess of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the late 1950s and Stephen Schneider of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the late 1980's (Sussman et al. 2002:291). For instance, Revelle and Suess argued that "mankind is now engaged in a great experiment'' while Stephen Schneider suggested that global warming "could well cause climate change over the next two generations as large or larger than civilization has experienced.''

As described by the Energy Information Administration of the Department of Energy of the United States:

Many chemical compounds found in the Earth's atmosphere act as ''greenhouse gases.'' These gases allow sunlight to enter the atmosphere freely. When sunlight strikes the earth's surface, some of it is reflected back towards space as infrared radiation (heat). Greenhouse gases absorb this infrared radiation and trap the heat in the atmosphere. Over time, the amount of energy sent from the sun to the Earth's surface should be about the same as the amount of energy radiated back into space, leaving the temperature of the Earth's surface roughly constant (U.S. DoE 2004).

There are four major types of greenhouse gases - namely, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases (U.S.EPA 2006c). The main culprit is carbon dioxide that is produced primarily from the burning of fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas). World carbon dioxide emissions are, in most cases, increasing. As the data in Table 1 show, however, among a selected sample of countries/ regions, variation in greenhouse gas emissions is evident. Where OECD (Europe) and Russia are projected to reduce their emissions by about 5% by 2010, China's contribution will increase by almost 9%. A modest decrease is expected for the United States while Japan's emissions will remain relatively stable. The problem remains that the U.S. will continue to be the major producer of greenhouse gas emissions unless fundamental changes are implemented while China's contribution is expected to surpass the U.S. very shortly.

Table 1 World Carbon Dioxide Emissions, Selected Countries (% total emissions) Country/Region 1990 2003 2010 (projected) Percent Change

Table 1 World Carbon Dioxide Emissions, Selected Countries (% total emissions) Country/Region 1990 2003 2010 (projected) Percent Change
















OECD (Europe)










United States





Adapted from the Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy, "International Energy Outlook 2006' at Accessed August 15, 2007. * Calculations by author.

Adapted from the Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy, "International Energy Outlook 2006' at Accessed August 15, 2007. * Calculations by author.

In 2001, the National Research Council stated:

Greenhouse gases are accumulating in the Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and sub-surface ocean temperatures to rise. Temperatures are, in fact, rising. The changes observed over the last several decades are most likely due to human activities, but we cannot rule out that some significant part of these changes is also a reflection of natural variability'' (U.S. DoE 2004).

Five years later, however, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2006b) stated that ''scientists know with virtual certainty'' that the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere including the burning of fossil fuels is largely the result of human activities. Moreover, beginning in 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued four reports on global warming and climate change. The conclusions set forth in the IPCC's Fourth Report issued in February 2007 was important and noteworthy since it stressed that scientists are ninety percent certain that human activities are the cause of the conspicuous increase in the warming of the Earth's atmosphere.

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