Natural gases in Earth’s atmosphere create an environment similar to that found in the air of a greenhouse, specially designed for plant growth.
In Earth’s atmosphere, greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide—allow the passage of the Sun’s rays to Earth, which provides energy and heat. The gases make up only 0.03 percent of the atmosphere, but they prevent 30 percent of the heat rebounding from Earth’s surface to escape back into space.
While this keeps Earth warm enough for life, increasing the amount of these gases will increase the global temperature.
Industry and technology in the twentieth century have loaded the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, which has increased 26 percent.
In addition, the development of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the 1930s, which are found in fire extinguishers, aerosol sprays, and refrigerators, among other useful inventions, has sent additional, new forms of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
CFCs reduce the amount of ozone in the atmosphere, and ozone protects Earth from the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation.
Many fear that the reckless use of industry’s beneficial inventions (after all, fire extinguishers put out destructive fires and fossil fuels run engines, factories, and power plants) will destroy the delicate balance of greenhouse gases.
If too much heat is retained within Earth’s atmosphere, the surface temperature will rise, causing massive environmental change, which can ultimately lead to extinction of many organisms.