Energy & Environment

Have you heard people talking about “Global Warming” and “Climate Change?” These topics are in the news quite a bit lately. The reason is that many scientists believe our earth is gradually warming up, and some believe that human activities are one of the causes.

This warming is thought to happen because we are burning fossil fuels like oil, gasoline, coal, and natural gas. When burned, these fuels release several gases, including a good bit of carbon dioxide (CO2).

We call these gases “greenhouse” gases because they act like a blanket around the earth that traps the sun’s heat. Without this blanket of greenhouse gases, more of the sun’s heat would escape to space, and not cause global warming.

Greenhouse Gases

A funny name, especially since the concept really has nothing to do with greenhouses or gas! The name does relate, though, to the warm glass houses in which we grow plants. These buildings are called greenhouses because they are filled with green plants.

Let’s look at how it works.

As you know, glass lets light pass through freely. That’s why we use it for windows—so we can see out and let the sun shine in. Once light energy passes through the glass and bounces around inside, it loses energy and becomes heat. Heat does not pass through glass as easily as light does; therefore, it gets trapped, builds up rapidly, and the space gets hot. Scientists are concerned this greenhouse effect is happening to our planet.

Using gasoline to fuel our cars, and burning gas, coal, oil, and other materials to make our homes comfortable releases greenhouse gases. These gases include carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor. As the gases build up in our atmosphere, more heat is trapped, and the earth’s temperature gradually rises.

Using less energy is one way we can all help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. For example, riding a bike, sharing a ride to school or work, or purchasing an electric vehicle will help reduce the use of fossil fuels. If you use gas or oil to heat your home, turning your thermostat down in the winter months to a more energy efficient setting like 65-68°F will also help reduce these greenhouse gases.