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Global Warming and Alternative Solutions

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Human life is rife with experiences, both sensational and valuable; that is mostly when one finds it good to live on in a world where life is pleasant and vivacious, getting what you seek and seeking what you get. Climate is one of such gifts that humanity is endowed with and it has been there in the scheme of things that served to entice humanity and is quite meat and drink for them.

If history is anything to go by, variations in day to day weather are occurring all the time. They are very much a part of our solemn lives. No two seasons are same or otherwise unique in their predispositions. It is daunting to say most the worst disasters in the world are weather or climate related: tropical cyclones, gales, wind storms, floods, tornadoes and droughts, to name a few. About eighty hurricanes and typhoons (other names for tropical cyclones) occur around the tropical oceans each year. They come in trendy household names like Hurricane Gilbert , Typhoon Mireille, Hurricane Andrew, Hurricane Mitch and the like, looking much too civil for one to feel scary about.

While mankind as a whole has adapted to its native climate over the centuries, any noticeable change to the climatic pattern of a particular nation is bound to spew its own associated fear in the minds of people. Moreover, these types of extreme climate events and climate disasters emphasize the significance of a global climatic frenzy, often made worse by such increasing demands on resources.

The Problem of Global Warming

Endeavors of mankind on account of its inclinations, ranging from illustrious to industrious, are all set to bring about certain unproductive changes, associated to modern living and population explosion. Some of those destructive changes include deforestation, chemicals and automation. This has resulted in emission of increasing quantities of gases, in particular - carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. This increase in carbon dioxide is cumulative in nature (Houghten, John Theodore, 1994). Acting as an absorber of heat radiation coming from the Earth’s surface, increased carbon dioxide acts like a blanket over the surface keeping it relatively warmer. With the increased temperature the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere also increases providing more blanketing and causing it to be even warmer. Despite the fact that in cold climates this kind of warmth is considered a welcome change, an increase in global temperature will lead to serious global climatic change. This might result in a predicted rate of change of three degrees a century which is faster than the rise in global average temperature over a period of ten thousand years.

A lot of ecosystems and human communities will find it difficult to adapt to this rapid rate of change. We are made to learn the impacts of global warming the harder way, by coming across rising seas, changes in rainfall patterns, melting of ice caps and glaciers, extinction of animal species, spread of diseases, loss of coral reefs, planktons and other attractions, and so on. Not all the climatic changes will in the end be adverse. Although more frequent droughts, floods and inundations are evident in some places, crop yields may increase due to the fertilizing effect of carbon dioxide. Places like the sub-arctic may become more habitable.

Principle of Global Warming

It is necessary for the radiation energy from the sun to strike a balance with the thermal radiation from the Earth and its atmosphere that is radiated out to the space. If this balance is disturbed by factors such as an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, the equilibrium has to be restored by an increase in the Earth’s surface temperature.

The greenhouse effect. The gases Nitrogen and Oxygen that make up the bulk of the atmosphere neither absorb nor emit thermal radiation (Houghten, John Theodore, 1994). It is the water vapor, carbon dioxide and some other minor gases present in the atmosphere in much smaller quantities that absorb some of the thermal radiation leaving the surface acting as a partial blanket for this radiation. This blanketing is known as the natural greenhouse effect which has been brought forth by natural greenhouse gases.  This is invariably complemented by the enhanced greenhouse effect which is the added effect caused by the gases present in the atmosphere due to human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation (Houghten, John Theodore, 1994).

The warming effect of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere was first recognized in 1827 by the French scientist Jean-Baptiste Fourier (Houghten, John Theodore, 1994). The basic science of the greenhouse effect has been known since early nineteenth century when the similarity between the radiative properties of the Earth’s atmosphere and of the glass in a green house was first pointed out.  In a greenhouse, visible radiation from the sun passes almost unimpeded through the glass and is absorbed by the plants and the soil inside. The thermal radiation that is emitted by the plants and the soil is, however, absorbed by the glass that reemits some of it back into the green house. The glass, thus, acts as a ‘radiation blanket’ helping to keep the green house warm.

The irony is that the transfer of radiation is not the only way heat is moved around in a green house. A more important means of heat transfer is due to convection in which less dense warm air moves upwards and more dense cold air moves downwards.

The natural green house effect is due to the gases, water vapor and carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere. While water vapor depends mostly on the temperature of the surface of the oceans facilitating evaporation and is not influenced directly by human activity, the amount of carbon dioxide has increased tremendously due to industrial revolution and deforestation. The important green house gases that are directly influenced by human activities are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, the chlorofluorocarbons and ozone.

Although the concentration of methane in the atmosphere is much less than that of carbon dioxide (less than 2 ppm, compared with about 370 ppm for carbond ioxide ) its greenhouse effect is far from negligible. That is because the enhanced greenhouse effect caused by a molecule of methane is about eight times that of a molecule of carbon dioxide. The main natural source of methane is from wetlands, leakage from natural gas pipelines and from oil wells, from generation in rice paddy fields, from enteric fermentation (belching) from cattle and other livestock. Increase of atmospheric methane follows very closely the growth of human population since the industrial revolution.

Human activities and the associated increasing fertilizer use, biomass burning and the chemical industry along with natural and agricultural ecosystems play an important role in the emission of nitrous oxide. It possesses a relatively long atmospheric lifetime of about 115 years.

The CFCs widely used in refrigerators also pose a serious problem due to their long lifespan in the atmosphere. The first problem is that they destroy ozone. Ozone (O3), a molecule consisting of three atoms of oxygen, is an extremely reactive gas present in small quantities in the stratosphere. Ozone molecules are formed through the action of ultra violet radiation from the sun on molecules of oxygen. They are, in turn, destroyed on absorbing the solar ultra-violet radiation that is, otherwise, harmful for to us. The chlorine in the CFC, stripped off by the ultra-violet radiation, reacts readily with ozone reducing it back to oxygen and adding to the rater of destruction of ozone. One chlorine molecule can destroy many molecules of ozone. Ozone depletion is concentrated at high latitudes while the greenhouse effect of the CFCs is uniformly spread over the globe. In tropical regions there is virtually no ozone depletion and so no change in the ozone greenhouse effect. As CFCs are phased out, they are being replaced to some degree by other halocarbons: hydrochloro-fluorocarbons and hydro-fluorocarbons (Houghten, John Theodore, 1994).

Environmental concerns keep growing over the climate change risks associated with power generation using fossil fuels (Global warming.com, 2011). Developments in mass renewable energy production in such areas as solar and wind power are of interest to all. As opposed to fossil fuels, which draw on finite resources that may eventually become too expensive to retrieve, renewable energy sources are generally unlimited in availability.Dependence on fossil fuels can be reduced by solar energy production which can be designed to be highly reliable while providing long-term, fixed price electricity supply.

Solar power production is credited with the fact that it generates electricity with a limited impact on the environment as compared to other forms of electricity production. In the year 1839, the French physicist Edmund Becquerel found out that the solar energy produced a certain effect called the photovoltaic effect (Global warming.com, 2011). Although selenium photovoltaic cells were developed and they could convert light into electricity with minimal efficiency of 1-2%, it was not until the discovery of Photo electric effect by Albert Einstein that people began to understand Photovoltaic effect.

Solar energy technologies range from photovoltaics, solar thermal heating and cooling to solar thermal power plants and solar chemical and water processing systems. The photovoltaic cells directly convert sunlight into electricity (Toothman, Jessika and Scott, Aldous, 2011). A solar panel is a group of cells that are connected electrically and packaged into a frame. Such frames are grouped into larger solar arrays.  ­Photovoltaic cells are made of special materials, which are called semiconductors. Among them is silicon. These materials have certain impurities like phosphorus, in order to make them conductive. The light energy knocks electrons loose, allowing them to flow freely resulting in generation of electricity.

It is necessary to keep the solar panels inclined at an angle as close to the area's latitude as possible to absorb the maximum amount of energy year-round (Toothman, Jessika and Scott, Aldous, 2011). A different orientation could be used in order to maximize energy production for the morning or afternoon, so also in the summer or winter. The solar panels should never be shaded by nearby trees or buildings, no matter the time of day or the time of year. In a PV solar panel, if even just one of its cells is shaded, power production can be significantly reduced.

It is essential for the people to consider the issues surrounding the usage of fossil fuel and move on for better strategies involving utilization of alternate fuel sources. This would facilitate the materialization of Green economy based on integrity of ecosystems and sustainable development (Wikipedia, 2012). 

Government policies can encourage a shift in production processes in vital sectors such as agriculture, thereby, increasing incomes while achieving sustainability (UNEP, 2011).  Policies that mandate or encourage technological shifts can foster a rapid uptake of existing and efficient clean technologies with relatively low economic costs and significant returns. Clear policies and incentives can stimulate private sector engagement in transformative sectors such as renewable energies. Prioritizing government investment in green sectors can be conducive to inclusive growth and long-term sustainability. Although most green economy activities are commercial in nature, providing positive returns on investment, external financing is sometimes required to complement public financing and catalyze private investment from both domestic and foreign (Green Economy Coalition and the Road to Rio,  2011).

 In order to knock out the current infrastructures demanding extensive usage of fossil fuel, and a certain slackness in deed in the governments to move out for a better alternative due to the constraints in decision making and local regulations to global challenges, much accomplished innovation processes and pathways need to be set out.

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