There’s a lot of discussion regarding greenhouse effects. While some people believe greenhouse effect is important for a sustainable environment, some believe it is responsible for putting our lives in danger. But what is this greenhouse effect, and why should we care? Before we can decide whether the impact of the greenhouse effect is beneficial or harmful, it is important to learn what it is and why the greenhouse effect is important.
What is a greenhouse?
A greenhouse is an air-tight glass building that is used extensively by commercial plant growers, gardeners and botanists to grow plants which otherwise would not survive cold weather. Greenhouse buildings are usually used in the countries with cooler climates.
The Greenhouse effect explained:
Greenhouse effect is the mechanism by which thermal radiation from earth’s surface is reabsorbed by greenhouse gases and redirected in all directions. Some of the major green house gases are water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane and ozone. Most of these gases are poor absorbers of solar radiation, therefore allowing much of the solar energy to pass through the earth’s atmosphere thereby warming up the earth’s surface. On the other hand, a proportion of the outgoing energy is absorbed by these gases, which is then redirected to earth’s surface therefore further warming up the atmosphere. This is what is called a greenhouse effect. For ages there has been a delicate balance between how much solar energy is redirected to earth and how much is reflected back to the space. With the increased burning of fossil fuels, the percentage of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has significantly increased thereby adding to the greenhouse effect.
The greenhouse buildings are made mostly of translucent material that offers plants in the building maximum access to sunlight. When the sunlight touches the solid surface inside the greenhouse, the surface absorbs some of the energy and converts it into heat (infrared energy).
While light can easily pass through the glass walls, the infrared energy (heat) cannot escape through the glass walls due to a longer wavelength. Being trapped inside the building, the heat warms the air inside the greenhouse and creates a favorable atmosphere for the plants inside the building.
There are several benefits of a greenhouse. Using this greenhouse advantage, we are growing various crops in an artificial atmosphere. Also, the solar powered water heaters are utilizing the greenhouse effect to warm up waters, saving 20-30% of the energy bills at home.
What is the natural “greenhouse effect?
Quite similar to the mechanism of greenhouse buildings, the earth’s atmosphere also cloaks the surface of the earth while allowing the sunlight to reach earth’s surface. While some energy is absorbed by the surface, the majority of the heat gets reflected. However, the greenhouse gases present in earth’s atmosphere reabsorb the reflected energy and direct it back to surface, keeping the planet’s atmosphere warm.
There are 5 major greenhouse gases that influence the greenhouse effect. They include:
- Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
- Methane (CH4)
- Nitrous Oxide (N2O)
- Ozone (O3)
- Water vapor (H2O)
However, the list has several other greenhouse gases that are commonly found in earth’s atmosphere. Chlorodifluoromethane (CHClF2), Dichlorodifluoromethane (CCl2F2), commonly referred to as Freon-12, Tetrafluoromethane (CF4) and Hexafluoroethane are some of the greenhouse gases that are worth mentioning.
Now if you are wondering why is the greenhouse effect important or is the greenhouse effect good or bad, here’s what you need to know:
Are there any benefits of the greenhouse effect?
You’ll be surprised the know that the presence of the greenhouse gases, which most of us despise for contributing to global warming, is one of the major reasons why life can be sustained in this planet. Some of the most positive effects of greenhouse gases include the following:
- The greenhouse effect helps to maintain a certain temperature level on Earth’s surface, making it habitable for the living beings (humans, animals, plants and other organisms). Thanks to the greenhouse gases, the earth is warm enough to sustain life. Otherwise, the heat would have escaped the atmosphere, making earth’s surface way cooler than what it is.
- The greenhouse gases help block the harmful solar radiation from reaching planet’s surface. These gases work like a filter and bounce back most of the unwanted and damaging energy into space.
- Ozone, which is one of the crucial greenhouse gases, absorbs the harmful ultra-violet (UV) rays of the sun. If there wasn’t any Ozone layer in our atmosphere, the UV rays could reach the surface directly and affect the life on earth on a massive scale.
- The greenhouse effect has allowed the planet to maintain its water level on the surface. Thanks to the moderate temperature, the planet’s ice has not been melted completely, and the polar ice caps are restricted to the polar regions of the planet.
These points tell us why are greenhouse gases important for our planet. For millennia, the greenhouse effect has helped the planet keep a perfect balance between the amount of absorbed energy and the reflected energy.
Unfortunately, the increase in the use of fossil fuel in the recent years has raised the amount of greenhouse gases in earth’s atmosphere, causing more absorption of infrared energy. This is what heats up the planet’s surface, causing an anomaly in the environment, we know as “global warming”.
Why is the Greenhouse effect bad?
Well, the surge in the concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is undeniable, and we have already seen some critical changes in the climate due to the greenhouse effect. Some disadvantages of the greenhouse effect are quite evident:
- Global warming: As mentioned previously, the increasing amount of greenhouse gases are causing a gradual rise in the earth’s temperature. As a result, the ice in the Polar Regions has started melting and resulting in massive climate changes.
- Increased level of CO2: The concentration of CO2, which is one of the common greenhouse gases, is not only affecting the marine lives but are also disrupting the photosynthesis process of plants.
- Rising water levels: Because of the greenhouse effect and global warming the water levels are rising, putting millions of lives in danger.
As you can see, the greenhouse effect has both positive and negative sides. We have all enjoyed the benefits of this natural phenomenon for long, but now our own deeds are wrecking havoc on the planet. We, humans need to be more careful with how we treat our environment. Otherwise, no one can save us from our impending doom.
The disadvantages of Green house effect:
- Since green house gases helps to maintain the temperature, the primary effect of the increase in greenhouse gases would be on climate. This would mean warmer summers with natural disasters. Hurricanes have become common in recent years.
- Water level balance of the earth would be destroyed. Polar ice caps would melt leading to an increase in the ocean level. Floods will inundate low lying areas.
- Marine life and ecosystem would be destroyed. Oceans absorb carbon dioxide thereby affecting the level of alkalinity. Many forms of marine life would be adversely affected if alkalinity increases. Polar ecosystems would be destroyed. In the Arctic, melting polar caps are threatening the habitats of polar bears and penguins.
- Global warming would also affect the weather pattern. Rainfall would become erratic in many parts of the world. This might eventually lead to desertification.
- The effect on human and economic life would also be tremendous. It is estimated that the rise in temperature would reduce global output by 2 to 3 percent. This cost would run into trillions of dollars. As agricultural production is affected, this might lead to frequent famines and famine related diseases.
Overall the impact of increased green house effect on climate and human life would be disastrous. The world community therefore needs to wakeup now before it is too late.
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