Definition: GHG and the Greenhouse Effect

Chances are if you have read anything about climate change,  whether a scholarly article or your grandma’s Facebook post – you have run into the term GHG.

GHG is an acronym used to represent “Greenhouse Gas”, but understanding what theses gases are and why they are important to climate change is a bit more complex.

This short animation does an excellent job of introducing this important topic.

As explained in the animation, GHGs are the gases in our atmosphere that trap heat from the sun within the Earth’s atmosphere.

While this process of trapping heat makes life possible on earth, recently the Greenhouse Effect has begun to work too well.

Over the past two hundred years humans have burned massive amounts of fossil fuels for energy, releasing exponential amounts of GHGs into the atmosphere. The more GHGs in the atmosphere, the more heat that is trapped and the higher our average global temperature. This pattern is what climate scientists and activists have dubbed the Enhanced Greenhouse Effect, and it has lead to record high temperatures globally – which every year just seem to get higher.

In trying to combat the Enhanced Greenhouse Effect and slow Climate Change, it is important to understand that not all GHGs are created equal.  Here is a handy chart that compares the attributes of the most common GHGs- Carbon DioxideMethane, and Nitrous Oxide – using their Global Warming Potential (GWP).

GHG Name Chemical Formual % of Emmisiosn GWP Major Source Reduction Strategy
Carbon Dioxide CO2 81 1 Fossil Fuels Alternative Energy
Methane CH4 10.6 25 Natural Gas Leakages, Livestock Reduced Meat Consumption
Nitrous Oxide N2O 6 298 Synthetic Fertilizers, Transportation Fuels Natural Fertilizers

As the table shows, even though there is much more CO2 being released than CH4 or N2O, CH4 and N2O have a large effect on the heat retention of our atmosphere as they have high GWPs. Finding a solution to the Enhanced Greenhouse Effect will need to address the reduction of emissions from all GHGs to be effective.

Want to learn more about global statistics of GHGs emissions? Click here

Want to learn more about GHG in general? Click here

Part 1 in a series on sustainability definitions. Click here to read other posts in this series.

%d bloggers like this: