Greenhouse effect

A layer of ‘greenhouse’ gases in the atmosphere insulates the earth. The gases allow sunlight in, which warms the earth. Some of this heat bounces off the earth as infrared radiation. The layer of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere acts like a blanket to stop heat escaping to space, keeping the temperature at the earth’s surface relatively even and accommodating for life. In fact, the greenhouse effect is necessary to make life on Earth possible. The big environmental problem is that we’re seeing an enhanced greenhouse effect occurring.

Since industrialisation, humans have been logging forests and burning huge amounts of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, to provide power. The burning of fossil fuels unlocks the stored carbon, producing an oversupply of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. They are adding to the planet's blanket and the blanket's getting too thick.

Individuals can make choices that reduce their greenhouse impact by targeting the sources of emissions in their lives.

Things to Consider:

  • Energy use – The use of electricity (particularly electricity from coal-fired power plants), LPG, wood fuel and natural gas in the home result in greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere. Energy efficiency and greener energy sources can reduce this impact.
  • Transport – Much of our greenhouse emissions come from the tailpipes of cars and other vehicles. In addition to the climate impact of transport, it also contributes to urban smog, contributing to poor health. Again, efficiency can make a huge difference.
  • Waste – Even the biodegradable waste we send to landfill has an environmental impact. This waste is typically buried, excluding air and sunlight, causing the material to break down in ‘anaerobic’ (without oxygen) conditions. When waste breaks down anaerobically it produces higher proportions of methane gas, which has a global warming impact 21 times greater than carbon dioxide. Reducing waste to landfill and home composting can reduce your personal contribution of methane to the greenhouse effect.
  • Embodied energy – Don’t forget that all of the products and services you buy have their own greenhouse impact – they needed energy to be made or provided to you. The more useless stuff we buy, the more material and energy has been used, and the more emissions have been produced. Remember the saying ‘less is more’. Favour companies that produce products using renewable energy and that have stringent greenhouse and environmental management systems.