With the increasing buzz around climate change and global warming, the whole idea of the greenhouse effect is being increasingly discussed. While some experts illustrate how greenhouse gases are important for sustainable growth, others highlight the detrimental effect it has on the human existence. Invariably, there are both negative and positive effects of greenhouse effect.
Before we jump to say if the greenhouse effect is good or bad, it will be a good idea to understand what is the greenhouse effect and what are the advantages and disadvantages of the greenhouse effect. This article will draw a comparison between the pros and cons of the greenhouse effect by delving deep into the whole phenomenon-
What is the Greenhouse Effect?
Greenhouse effect refers to a process where thermal radiation from the earth’s surface is reabsorbed by greenhouse gases and then radiated in all directions. The main greenhouse gases include Carbon Dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide and Ozone. However, the first three are more worrying when it comes to the greenhouse effect as Ozone’s detrimental role kicks in more with respect to global warming. How the greenhouse effect functions is a two way process.
Firstly, being poor absorbers, these gases are unable to prevent the solar radiation that enter the earth’s surface. This in turn raises the earth’s temperature. However, these gases effectively absorb outgoing radiation and redirect it to the earth’s surface. This further adds to the earth’s temperature.
This in a nutshell is the greenhouse effect. For centuries, this process has been in play to maintain the earth’s temperature. In fact, some countries which have lower temperatures artificially replicate this mechanism to construct greenhouse buildings to create pleasant temperate conditions.
So what’s the Problem?
If we say that the greenhouse effect has been in play for centuries and is in fact a necessity for human existence, then the question remains, why is it a cause for concern over the past few years. Well, the answer is not too difficult to guess. The rise in the burning of fossil fuels and an increase in the carbon footprint across the globe is leading to an excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
This exponential increase in atmospheric CO2 is creating a temperature imbalance. The logic is simple. As the amount of CO2 is increasing so is its power to entrap solar radiation and direct it to the earth’s surface. This is contributing to an incremental rise in the earth’s temperature, which is now touching dangerous levels. Additionally, the greenhouse effect is causing rapid climate change with global warming, melting glaciers, erratic temperate conditions, etc. Thus, it is not the greenhouse effect essentially which is the cause of the problem.
In fact, it is the human interference that has ruined the balance between the incoming and outgoing radiation, due to increased CO2 which is problematic.
Greenhouse Effect Advantages
To discount the contribution of the greenhouse effect by labelling it as an evil is an overstatement. As mentioned above, the greenhouse effect is an important element for sustainable living. There are several greenhouse effect benefits. Some of the top benefits of greenhouse gases are as follows-
Greenhouse effect supports and promotes life
It is no surprise that human existence and life is only possible at a certain temperature. While the earth’s atmosphere also faces variations, they are within a set limit and not too erratic. The greenhouse effect helps earth maintain a decent temperature that makes this planet habitable. The entire credit for this inhabiting temperature goes to the greenhouse gases.
Owing to the presence of these greenhouse gases, the earth is warm enough. Simply because the greenhouse gases are able to entrap the solar radiation and bounce it back to the earth’s surface, is the reason the earth hasn’t frozen yet. Additionally, the greenhouse gases also ensure that we are not fried by the sun’s heat by absorbing some percentage of the radiation.
Therefore, on the one hand, benefits of greenhouse gases turn to their ability to prevent the heat from escaping the earth’s surface help human life have a warm enough climate. On the other hand, their ability to bounce of a fair share of the radiation, help the human life avoid an unpleasantly hot and unbearable atmosphere. Additionally, they have been of vital importance in maintaining our planet’s water level. In the absence of greenhouse gases, the polar caps would rapidly melt, raising water levels beyond alarming marks.
Protection from Danger
Imagine a sieve that you use at home to filter milk and dispose off the impurities. Well, the greenhouse gases play the exact same role in protecting earthlings from dangerous solar radiation. They block those parts of the solar radiation which are harmful to our existence and bounce them back into the atmosphere.
The greatest example is that of the UV or Ultra- Violet radiation. Ozone, which is one of the main greenhouse gases, acts as a shield against the UV rays entering the earth. In the absence of the ozone layer, there will be no resistance to the UV rays and they would reach us directly. They carry immense potential to harm the earth’s surface and its inhabitants.
Benefits of Greenhouse Gases for Photosynthesis
Photosynthesis, the process by which plants create their own food and in turn initiate the food chain for existence depends upon 3 important elements. These include CO2 , water and sunlight. CO2 which is an important greenhouse gas is vital here. In the absence of this gas, plants will be unable to produce food. While this may not be a direct benefit of the greenhouse effect, it is an indirect impact.
Since the greenhouse effect is nothing but a process involving the greenhouse gases, their contribution in any form deserves recognition. Additionally, as the greenhouse effect contributes to increasing CO2 levels, under controlled settings, it can lead to greater food production.
Plants in regions with greater concentration of carbon dioxide grow bigger and make greater food contribution. In fact doubling of the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels can result in 32% increase in agricultural yields.
Greenhouse Effect Disadvantages
It is true that the greenhouse effect is a boon to maintaining the earth’s habitable temperature and has multiple other benefits. However, it comes with a few disadvantages as well-
While the greenhouse effect maintain the temperature, its increase directly translates to rising temperatures. As the volume of greenhouse gases is increasing with more burning of fossil fuels, etc, its is contributing to an increase in the planet’s average temperature and climate.
In fact, the past few years have seen much warmer summers in comparison to the decadal average trend. As the gases increase, their ability and power to trap the heat and radiate it back to the earth also increases. This invariably increases the earth’s temperature.
Increasing Water Levels
Next in line comes the increase in water levels above the safe marks. The logic is quite simple. As the average temperature of the earth is steadily increasing, the polar ice caps are rapidly undergoing a melt down. This is resulting in massive rise in water levels, well beyond the safe levels. This rapid increase in the ocean water levels can invariably lead to flooding of low lying areas and demand evacuation.
The increase in water levels will accentuate displacement and cost human lives along with destruction of flora and fauna. Additionally, the existence on the polar caps of penguins and polar bears is under deep threat,
Destruction of Marine Life
It is a well known fact that oceans absorb CO2 and maintain the alkalinity. However, the rate at which carbon dioxide is increasing is bad for marine life. As more and more carbon dioxide gets absorbed by the oceans, their alkalinity levels will touch dangerous marks. This is increasingly posing a serious threat to the marine life that stands at a danger of extinction if the rise in alkalinity continues.
Why is Greenhouse Effect a Concern for Students
The pros and cons of greenhouse effect is one of the most popular topics given to students for assignment and essay writing. Most students wonder the reason behind the same. Academic institutions have two reasons for encouraging students to work on this topic. Firstly, being topical in nature, it is important for students to be aware about what is happening at the environmental level.
They need to be aware about how the greenhouse effect works and its impact. The logic is simple, to be update to date about the current happenings. Secondly, assignments on advantages and disadvantages of greenhouse effect can sensitize students about the need of the hour and help them realize how small steps they take can go a long way to preventing the increase in the greenhouse effect.
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