Did you know that there used to be palm trees in the Arctic? It was 56 million years ago, but it was caused by greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere at an alarming rate. It’s hard to imagine palm trees swaying where we think of polar bears and glaciers, but due to the greenhouse gas effect, that was reality.

Today, we’re pushing more than ten times more carbon into the atmosphere than what was released 56 million years ago. In fact, carbon dioxide levels are the highest they’ve been in 800,000 years.

Now do the words “greenhouse gases” have your attention?

You’ve probably heard them floating around the news for the last several years, but many people still aren’t paying close enough attention to the mechanics behind greenhouse gases, and how carbon dioxide emissions are impacting our planet in a huge way. The more you know about the carbon cycle and how it works, the easier it is to see how we’re facing a major problem.

The good news? Knowing more about the greenhouse gas effect can make it easier for you to make better, more sustainable choices that will ensure a better (and cooler) future for our planet.

Greenhouse Gas Effect: Palm trees during the sunset
It’s hard to imagine palm trees swaying in the Arctic, where we think of polar bears and glaciers, but due to the greenhouse gas effect, that was reality.

What Is the Carbon Cycle?

Carbon itself is created naturally through specific processes in the environment. In a perfect world, this natural process allows for the carbon to be cleansed and released as oxygen. But, as a people, we continue to do things that pump more carbon into the air, and it throws off the balance of the atmosphere. Currently, plants and the ocean are able to take up about 55% of the carbon we’re pumping into the atmosphere. That leaves 45% extra in the atmosphere, creating the greenhouse gas effect. Even if plants and the ocean are able to take some of that carbon, much of it will remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years.

Unfortunately, that’s causing the entire planet to heat up. Carbon is a huge factor in the earth’s overall temperature. Too much of it in the environment causes more heat to build up.

So, what are the biggest factors when it comes to carbon emissions? One of the major causes is agriculture, including livestock manure. Manure releases CO2 emissions into the air at an alarming rate, contributing to the greenhouse gas effect. That’s why more people than ever are adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet. The less demand we have for cattle production, the less manure there will be to release gases into the air.

Wildfires are another culprit. They release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the air that can impact the climate on local and global scales. Unfortunately, wildfires are also an effect of greenhouse gases and the heating up of the planet, along with frequent droughts. Most recently, the wildfires in Australia brought attention to this serious matter.

Dangers of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The overall heating up of the planet is dangerous on its own, but greenhouse gases can have a hugely negative impact on people, too. First of all, too much carbon in the atmosphere can lead to poor air quality, which is often a nightmare for people with respiratory issues like asthma. Especially if you have a weakened immune system, poor air quality can potentially be dangerous, as it’s been linked to respiratory diseases, heart disease, and even cancer.

Rising sea levels due to increased precipitation and melting could also pose a threat to the general population. Saltwater from the ocean could start to seep into groundwater supplies, tainting our drinking water. Heatwaves can cause death to those in weakened states. They can also cause droughts and a decrease in crop production, which can greatly impact our food supply.

Life as we know it will continue to change if we continue to pump as much carbon into the atmosphere. As the planet keeps warming, we won’t be able to enjoy outdoor activities as much, which could be particularly detrimental to the people who rely on the great outdoors for self-care, mental health, or addiction-recovery reasons. Temperatures may become unbearable, and we’ll experience extreme weather conditions like flooding and torrential rains.

What Can You Do to Make a Difference?

There is still hope for the planet, as long as people are committed to making changes and reversing the impact of greenhouse gases. The easiest way is to start at home by recycling and reducing the amount of waste you produce. Things like using less heat and air conditioning, turning off lights when you’re not using them, and making the switch to energy-efficient products, can also make a big difference. Try eating less meat on a regular basis, too.

You can also change the way you get from place to place. Vehicles are a big problem with it comes to carbon emissions. Try carpooling to work and take public transportation whenever possible. If you really want to cut down on emissions, walk or ride your bike to your destination(s) as often as you can.

Finally, you can donate to charitable causes determined to save the planet from greenhouse gases. Beware of scammers trying to prey on people who want to make a difference. Instead, do your research on some credible charities doing great things to combat climate change, like the Clean Air Task Force.

Small changes can make a big difference when it comes to the sustainability of the world. The greenhouse gas effect is a scary reality right now, but it could get much worse if serious changes aren’t made. Thankfully, change can start right now – with you.

Frankie Wallace

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