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Are humans to blame for Global Warming?

Global warming is the observed increase in the average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere and oceans in recent decades. The Earth's average near-surface atmospheric temperature raised 0.6 0.2 Celsius in the 20th century. With the amount of evidence that the worlds temperature is increasing it is hard to deny that Global Warming is taking place and that it will lead to very serious consequences such as the loss of the polar ice caps which could cause major flooding, severe drought and crop failure is also inevitable. But who is to blame for this, is it a naturally occurring process or has human activity lead to the rise in temperature? At the moment most scientist agree that "most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been attributable to human activities", however there is a lot of evidence to support other wise and say that climate change is just a natural process and the earth goes through cycles of warmer and cooler periods. Firstly there are long sequences of temperature records that exist for a number of places. These date back to around 1650 and show a gradual rise in temperature across the years, centuries before the industrial revolution or before humans had any real impact. Evidence from tree ring analysis, dendrochronology, dates back as far as 3000 years. Every year trees produce a new layer of xylem vessels, the diameter of the new vessels depends on the season in which they are produced; if its in the spring then wider vessels are made and in the winter and autumn the vessels have much smaller diameters. You can see the pattern produced when a tree is cut down or a core sample can be taken. By counting inwards on the rings you can date the year each ring was formed. If you found a ring that was wider than another you can tell that the conditions in that year were better for the tree to grow so probably warmer and wetter which gives clues about past climate. Dendrochronologists have found a big fluctuation of tree ring size which also shows that the temperature has naturally changed over time. Another source of evidence is from pollen grains, plants produce vast amounts of pollen during spring and summer that falls to the ground and lands on the surface of peat bogs. Pollen grains are very resistant to decay and also are unique to each species of plant so you can use them to identify plants and as peat bogs form in layers you can also see when the pollen fell. Each species of plant thrives under certain ecological conditions best so if there is an abundance of a certain species that grows best in warm conditions you know the climate was warm. Pollen grains can date back as far as 20000 years using carbon dating. All these methods show evidence to support that climate change is a natural process however in the past couple of centuries there have been certain anomalies that show a much sharper rise in temperature. This graph shows different scientists studies that used all of the evidence above and evidence from ice cores to estimate the temperature over 2000 years. The results quite a bit yet show similar trends and show

how the temperature gradually changes over time. Since the industrial revolution in the 19th century humans have been burning fossil fuels at an increasingly alarming rate. One problem is that fossil fuels are in finite supply but the other is that when burnt they release harmful gases including green house gases. Green house gases for example carbon dioxide are an issue because they effectively trap heat within the earths atmosphere. As the heat energy hits the earth from the sun some of it is absorbed for most is reflected back into the atmosphere as infrared radiation. This infrared radiation is then absorbed by green house gases in the atmosphere instead of just going into space; the radiation causes the molecules in the gases to vibrate creating kinetic energy which then creates heats energy which heats up the earth. This is a natural process that is necessary for human survival however because human activity is increasing the amount of green house gases more heat is being made which is making the earths temperature rise. CO2 levels now stand at 381 parts per million (ppm) - 100ppm above the pre-industrial average this shows a clear correlation with the rise in temperature. A study done in 2005 examined over 7 million observations of temperature recorded by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The present trend of warmer sea temperatures, which have risen by an average of half a degree Celsius (0.9F) over the past 40 years, can be explained only if greenhouse gas emissions are responsible, this research has revealed. The results are so compelling that they should end controversy about the causes of climate change, one of the scientists who led the study said yesterday. It found that natural variation in the Earths climate, or changes in solar activity or volcanic eruptions, which have been suggested as alternative explanations for rising temperatures, could not explain the data collected in the real world. Models based on man-made emissions of greenhouse gases, however, matched the observations almost precisely. Deforestation is also a major factor in the rise of CO2 levels, through photosynthesis trees take in a lot of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which decreases levels of CO2 however because humans are destroying forests for paper and wood. The concentration of methane has also increased from 715 ppb to 1774 (2005). The main reason for this sharp rise is due to agriculture and the increased number of cows needed for human consumption. To conclude I do believe that humans are to blame for global warming, I think that it is natural for the earths temperature to fluctuate however I think humans are speeding up the process. The observed warming of the atmosphere, ocean and the ice caps melting show that it is extremely unlikely that global warming over the past decade can be explained without external forces and very likely that its not due to natural causes alone.

By Amelia Ayesh-Meagher