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Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 1:21 EDT

What is Global Warming?

September 9, 2012

Hi, I’m Emerald Robinson, and in this “What Is” video, we’re going to discuss global warming.

Global warming is defined as a consistent rise in the earth’s average temperature. Global warming is not the same thing as, and in fact contributes to, climate change; the change that occurs in the earth’s average weather over an extended period of time.

Since the last ice age, Earth’s average temperature has been increasing very slowly. Over the last several thousand years, it’s only risen by about two degrees Fahrenheit. But that’s changed over the last century or so.

During the Industrial Revolution of the early 1800s, humans started to burn large amounts of fossil fuels like coal and oil to power factories and mills. Ever since we’ve used enormous amounts of fossil fuels to do things like make electricity and provide energy for transportation.

Combustion, or burning, of these fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere. Our fossil fuel use has increased the percentage of carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere enough that it functions as a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases act like glass in a greenhouse by trapping heat below the atmosphere. In just 100 years the average global temperature has risen by about 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit.

This warming has drastically affected the earth. Glaciers and large areas of sea ice have begun to melt. Rising ocean temperatures have caused some sea life to search for cooler waters, and have decreased the population of others. Scientists also note an increase in the number and intensity of hurricanes and tornadoes.

Over the next 100 years, scientists predict that Earth’s temperature will rise as much as another five degrees Fahrenheit unless we do something about the human contribution to global warming. Groups that study and try to protect our environment are working with scientists to find solutions for this growing problem.