The average surface temperature of the planet has increased by about 1°C over the last 100 years . Of course, temperatures change naturally from day to day, year to year, and place to place, but on average they have increased and are continuing to do so at an accelerating rate [2,10].
The main reason for this is that we are burning fossil fuels, such as coal, natural gas and oil, which releases “greenhouse gases” [8,9]. These are gases that cause heat to be trapped in the atmosphere . CO2 is the greenhouse gas that causes the most warming .
Not all of warming is caused by greenhouse gases . For example, the trails of white cloud (called “contrails”) that airplanes leave in the sky, trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere . Another example is that when ice melts, it exposes more of the sea surface to sunlight; the sea is a darker colour than ice, and so heats up faster because it is absorbing more light and reflecting less .
Interestingly, some parts of the Earth are warming faster than others . For instance, the Arctic has become 2-3°C warmer , while large parts of the ocean have warmed by less than 1°C . Temperature changes are not uniform, so when we speak of global warming we talk of global averages .
Although greenhouse gases, contrails, and melting ice cause warming, humans are ultimately responsible for these changes . But why do we “choose” to make the planet warmer? Because, in the short-term, we can improve the quality of our lives through burning fossil fuels . And as economic growth continues, and the world population continues to rise , the problem multiplies . In simple terms: there are more of us, and we are making, buying, eating, and throwing away more stuff than we used to!
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