How Small Amounts of Co2 Have a Large Impact on Climate Change

Co2 greenhouse effect.

Climate skeptics say: The atmosphere contains too little carbon dioxide to cause climate change. They are wrong.

Greenhouse gases lead to global warming

Driving less, heating less, eating less meat – there are numerous suggestions to counter climate change. Action will be measured by how much it reduces carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The more of it is in the atmosphere, the hotter it gets on our planet. Since the industrial revolution, chimneys have been emitting more and more exhaust gases into the air. Since then, the concentration of CO2 has been rising steadily – with consequences for the climate. Today it is already around one degree warmer than at the end of the 19th century. Scientists fear that this trend could continue.

According to climate models, the increase by the end of the century could lead to an average temperature that is about three degrees higher. (If you want to know how much CO2 your car emits, you can find a CO2 calculator here).

Climate skeptics claim that low CO2 content has no effect.

The cause of anthropogenic warming is the so-called greenhouse effect, which is caused by the earth’s atmosphere and its components. However, a look into the atmospheric layers also shows that only a fraction of it is carbon dioxide (around 0.04 percent by volume). 

  • Nitrogen, 
  • oxygen 
  • and argon makes up the majority (around 99 percent). 

How can so many years of international climate negotiations and countless media reports be attributed to this small percentage?

The climate skeptics’ argument may seem plausible at first glance due to the low CO2 content (around 0.04 percent by volume). But the low value is deceptive regarding the climate impact of carbon dioxide. More important than the concentration, after all, is the effect. Just as humans can eat kilograms of sugar, still, a few nanograms of poison can be enough to cause mortality.

Even little CO2 is all it takes

To understand why CO2 and other greenhouse gases play an essential role for our planet, one can imagine, for example, the Earth without any atmosphere.

Our moon, for example, has no atmosphere. Solar radiation heats the planet’s surface to more than 100 degrees Celsius during the day. But at night, it falls to about minus 160 degrees. Without the atmosphere, there would be a much more significant difference in temperature on Earth. Researchers have calculated that the average temperature on Earth would be minus 18 degrees. The actual temperature is 15 degrees Celsius – around 33 degrees higher.

Temperature difference between day and night

The fact that the temperatures are not extreme during the day or night is due to our atmosphere, which also acts as a protective shield. First of all, our atmosphere prevents all solar radiation from reaching the earth. In total, less than half of the solar radiation reaches the earth’s surface. Clouds, for example, reflect a quarter of the solar radiation directly back into space, while snow masses reflect a significant portion.

The remaining energy reaches the earth’s surface, is converted there and sent back into space in the form of thermal radiation. What is important here is that what reflects back from the earth’s surface is different from the radiation coming from the direction of the sun. However, the thermal radiation coming from the earth can be mirrored between the atmosphere and the ground and, in a certain sense, trapped by greenhouse gases.

These gases (water vapor, CO2, methane and others) thus prevent the heat radiation from immediately escaping into space. Instead, some of it is sent back to earth – and this is where the climate effect of CO2 and others lies: the chemical structure of the gases in the atmosphere is crucial. Greenhouse gases are composed of three or more atoms. Carbon dioxide, for example, consists of one carbon and two oxygen atoms.

These gas molecules are – unlike oxygen or nitrogen (two atoms) – sensitive to certain radiation. The important thing is their wavelength. The radiation energy is absorbed and sets the molecules in motion, specifically in oscillation. This movement in turn releases energy, which is emitted as thermal radiation in different directions.

Consequences of Global Warming.

Among the consequences of global warming are:

  • Melting off the ice
  • Rising ocean levels
  • Desertification
  • Changing rainfall patterns
  • Floods
  • And reduced biodiversity

One of the most remarkable consequences is the melting of the ice. The most affected regions are:

  • The Arctic
  • Antarctica
  • Greenland 
  • And several mountain ranges

According to scientific research, the average temperature of the Earth, in the last hundred years, has risen by about 0.5ºC. Suppose the current air pollution rate continues in the same proportion. In that case, it is estimated that between the years 2025 and 2050, the temperature will increase by 2.5 to 5ºC.

How to avoid the greenhouse effect?

  • Make short trips on foot or by bicycle;
  • Give preference to public transport;
  • Use recyclable products;
  • Save electricity;
  • Reduce the consumption of beef and pork;
  • Compost the organic material.

Air conditioners release HFC-type gases, more potent than CO₂ when it comes to trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

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