Science, Tech, Math › Science A Overview of Global Warming Share Flipboard Email Print Artem Hvozdkov / Getty Images Science Weather & Climate Understanding Your Forecast Storms & Other Phenomena Chemistry Biology Physics Geology Astronomy By Nicole Lindell is a former ThoughtCo writer who covered global warming and the environment. our editorial process Nicole Lindell Updated January 21, 2020 Global warming, the general increase in the earth's near-surface air and ocean temperatures, remains a pressing issue in a society that has expanded its industrial use since the mid-twentieth century. Greenhouse gases, atmospheric gases that exist to keep our planet warm and prevent warmer air from leaving our planet, are enhanced by industrial processes. As human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation increases, greenhouse gases such as Carbon Dioxide is released into the air. Normally, when heat enters the atmosphere, it is through short-wave radiation; a type of radiation that passes smoothly through our atmosphere. As this radiation heats the earth's surface, it escapes the earth in the form of long-wave radiation; a type of radiation that is much more difficult to pass through the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere causes this long-wave radiation to increase. Thus, heat is trapped inside of our planet and creates a general warming effect. Scientific organizations around the world, including The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the InterAcademy Council, and over thirty others, have projected a significant change and future increase in these atmospheric temperatures. But what are the real causes and effects of global warming? What does this scientific evidence conclude in regards to our future? Causes of Global Warming Nylon and nitric acid production, the use of fertilizers in agriculture, and the burning of organic matter also release the greenhouse gas Nitrous Oxide. These are processes that have been expanded since the mid-twentieth century. Melting of the Polar Ice Caps Melting ice caps will desalinize the ocean and disrupt natural ocean currents. Since ocean currents regulate temperatures by bringing warmer currents into cooler regions and cooler currents into warmer regions, a halt in this activity may cause extreme climate changes, such as Western Europe experiencing a mini-ice age. Another important effect of melting ice caps lies in a changing albedo. Albedo is the ratio of the light reflected by any part of the earth's surface or atmosphere. Since snow has one of the highest albedo levels, it reflects sunlight back into space, helping to keep the earth cooler. As it melts, more sunlight is absorbed by the earth's atmosphere and the temperature tends to increase. This further contributes to global warming. Wildlife Habits/Adaptations Another example of changing wildlife adaptations involves the polar bear. The polar bear is now listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Global warming has significantly reduced its sea ice habitat; as the ice melts, polar bears are stranded and often drown. With the continuous melting of ice, there will be fewer habitat opportunities and risk in the extinction of the species. Ocean Acidification/Coral Bleaching Since coral is very sensitive to increased water temperature over a long period of time, they lose their symbiotic algae, a type of algae that gives them coral color and nutrients. Losing these algae results in a white or bleached appearance, and is eventually fatal to the coral reef. Since hundreds of thousands of species thrive on coral as a natural habitat and means of food, coral bleaching is also fatal to the living organisms of the sea. Floods and Droughts and Global Warming Global warming has caused heavy rains in the United States due to warmer air having the ability to hold more water vapor than cooler air. Floods that have impacted the United States since 1993 alone have caused over $25 billion in losses. With increased floods and droughts, not only will our safety be affected, but also the economy. Population Risk and Unsustainable Development Similarly, climate change impinges on sustainable development. In developing Asian countries, a cyclic disaster occurs between productivity and global warming. Natural resources are needed for heavy industrialization and urbanization. Yet, this industrialization creates immense amounts of greenhouse gases, thus depleting the natural resources needed for further development of the country. Without finding a new and more efficient way to use energy, we will be depleted of our natural resources needed for our planet to thrive. Climate Policy Other U.S. and international policies, such as the Climate Change Science Program and the Climate Change Technology Program, have been reinstated with a comprehensive objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions through international cooperation. As the governments of our world continue to understand and acknowledge the threat of global warming to our livelihood, we are closer to reducing greenhouse gases to a manageable size. Personal Action This reduction can also be made by improving vehicle-fuel efficiency. Driving less than needed or buying a fuel-efficient car will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Although it's a small change, many small changes will someday lead to a bigger change. Recycling whenever possible greatly reduces the energy needed to create new products. Whether it is aluminum cans, magazines, cardboard, or glass, finding the nearest recycling center will aid in the fight against global warming. Global Warming and The Road Ahead As global warming progresses, natural resources will be further depleted, and there will be risks of wildlife extinctions, melting of the polar ice caps, coral bleaching and disintegration, floods and droughts, disease, economic disaster, sea level rise, population risks, unsustainable land, and more. As we live in a world characterized by industrial progress and development aided by the help of our natural environment, we are also risking depletion of this natural environment and thus of our world as we know it. With a rational balance between protecting our environment and developing human technology, we will live in a world where we can simultaneously progress the capabilities of mankind with the beauty and necessity of our natural environment.