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What does a greenhouse have to do with the Earth’s climate?

July 5, 2021 | Charles Lin

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

The short answer is the greenhouse effect, where energy from the sun is trapped to warm the Earth. Now for details.

A greenhouse is a building with glass walls and roof and is used to grow plants. Sunlight shines through the glass into the greenhouse and warms the air inside. The greenhouse stays warm as its walls and roof trap the heat. For the Earth, greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trap heat from the sun in much the same way as the walls and roof of the greenhouse, and keeps the planet warm. In fact, if it were not for this natural greenhouse effect, the average temperature on Earth would be about -18oC, well below the freezing point of water!

The major naturally occurring greenhouse gases are water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane. They keep the Earth at a sufficiently warm temperature conducive to life as we know it.

So where is the problem? Climate science tells us the Earth has been getting warmer in the past decades and century, largely a result of increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which in turn is due to human activities. Our use of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas) and land use changes are adding greenhouse gases, and this addition is occurring faster than removal by natural process, leading to their buildup.

How can we solve the problem? To mitigate the risks of further global warming, we must reduce considerably the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Canada’s commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050 is a major mitigation measure.

As consumers and citizens, we all have a part to play in Canada’s journey to net zero. This is why my team and I formed the impactnetzero initiative. Check out our story and join the action!

Charles Lin

Charles is a retired atmospheric scientist based in Toronto. He stays busy as founder and lead of ImpactNetZero, keeping healthy in mind and body, and reading stories to his two grandchildren.

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