Climate Change/FAQs

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Kyoto Protocol and the United States


What is the Kyoto Protocol?


The most basic objective of the Kyoto Protocol is to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions prior to the levels of 1990. This protocol and its agreements are a legally binding contract for developed countries to reduce six of the leading greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride, Perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)/Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). These gases are naturally occurring, except for the last four: SF6, PFCs, HFCs, and CFCs. These gases have a direct impact to Global Warming.

What is the greenhouse effect?


Greenhouse gases contribute to global warming, which is caused by the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect can be demonstrated in this way: suppose you are driving in a car on a hot summer day. The sun's rays shine down into your car through the windows. However, the heat cannot get out of the car because the windows reflect the heat trying to get out back towards the interior of the car. This causes the car to continue to heat up until the thing blocking the heat from getting out is removed or a cooling element of some type is activated in the car.

In the subject of global warming, the greenhouse gases are the "windows" and the Earth is the "car." The sun's rays are somewhat deflected or absorbed through their travel through space and the atmosphere, but most of the energy still reaches the Earth's surface. This energy is reflected back toward space by the Earth, but because of the greenhouse gases it cannot go back into space. Therefore, the entire Earth warms up.

The global temperature has only risen a few degrees since the start of the Industrial Revolution. However, one must remember that we are talking about a global temperature increase, not just in one relatively small location. One would expect the temperature in one location to be varied, but the forces required to raise the average temperature on the entire planet would have to be immensely strong.

Why are greenhouse gases detrimental to the environment?


Granted, greenhouse gases (GHG) occur naturally in the environment, but since the Industrial Revolution, humans have intensified this process by emitting more GHG into the atmosphere than our environment can handle. The main contenders are the automobile makers, industries such as coal (fossil fuel) burning power plants, and even landfills which release large amounts of hazardous methane (from decomposition). Some parties assert that this actually helps plant life to grow, on account of the fact that plants absorb carbon dioxide as a part of their photosynthesis. While this may be true, when the plant decays, the stored carbon is released back into the air. Scientists are afraid that if the dumping of greenhouse gases continues at the present rate, plant life may not be able to keep up.

Where does the US stand on the Kyoto Protocol?


Further Reading


To read the Articles listed under the Kyoto Protocol, please visit the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: [1]

For more general information about Kyoto Protocol, visit Wikipedia's page: [2]

To better understand Global Warming, check out the EPA's site: [3]