Introduction to greenhouse gas emissions

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Image:Wikimapia
Image:Wikimapia

Do you know what this is? Uh huh – a greenhouse. A transparent structure in which plants are grown. This one is a greenhouse at Wilson Farm, East Lexington MA. If you want to see how beautiful a greenhouse is, watch how David Attenborough introduces the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in a beautiful series shot in Kew Gardens, London, in this video.

In a greenhouse, the warmth of the sunlight is preserved for a longer time, which otherwise would have been lost to the atmosphere. This is a conducive environment for the plants. Now imagine our Earth as a big greenhouse, including its atmospheric layer. Although the mechanisms in both the cases vary, they have one thing common – whatever sunlight enters inside, gets trapped, if not entirely. In case of the Earth, it is known as the ‘greenhouse effect’. It is said that because of this effect, there exists on our planet the life as we know it.

(Too see how our atmosphere looks from the outside and the immensity of it, here’s a video by National Geographic explaining the gases that are essential to life.)

Greenhouse effect can be thought of as a popular party game in which a parcel is passed from one person to another – ‘Pass the parcel’. The players are – greenhouse gases; the earth’s surface; and the sun. The parcel is a greenhouse gas. In scientific terms, the visible light (short-wavelength) that comes to the earth from the sun is absorbed by the earth’s surface. The earth’s surface then re-radiates it in the form of longer wavelengths of light (infrared), back to the atmosphere. This re-radiation is taken up by the greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (largest contributor so far), methane, nitrous oxide and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), to mention a few. Absorption of radiation means rise in the atmospheric temperature i.e. global warming.

Did you know: Water vapor is known to be Earth’s most abundant greenhouse gas, but the extent of its contribution to global warming has been debated.

The research on the greenhouse effect by Svante Arrhenius; Thomas Chamberlin; Gilbert Plass and Charles Keeling, played a major role in the event that took place in the year 1979: the first World Climate Conference (WCC). Nine years later in 1988, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up. Owing to rising concerns over global warming caused by humans, until today various reports have been released, meetings have been held and various regulations have been laid down. The Kyoto Protocol (KP) came into force in 2005 after its adoption in 1997. As we can see, KP went through changes for 8 long years. It is KP that encourages countries all over the world to stabilize GHG emissions. It did so by binding countries into achieving certain GHG emission reduction targets and incentivizing the process through carbon market mechanisms: emissions trading and carbon tax. If you’d like to see UNFCCC emissions data visualized using Google Maps, click here.


This blog post was first published at GreenHatters on January 24, 2014.

GreenHatters is a not-for-profit initiative that cares for the environment and promotes sustainability, strives to create awareness on Energy conservation and Carbon footprint responsibility.

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2 thoughts on “Introduction to greenhouse gas emissions

  1. Hi Anuja, I am working so a quick repsonse. The email has no links or posts. Satdeep

    1. Thank you for your response, Satdeep. Could you please forward the email to me? I’ve subscribed to my own blog to keep a track of how it appears in the emails and my email looks just fine.

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