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 Global Warming and the Psychology of reducing it

by Sean Daniel Weeks

Assignment for the Complementary Course:

             The idea of a man-made global climate change has been around for several centuries. However, global warming itself only originated in the late nineteenth century. In 1896 a Swedish scientist published a new idea. At the time it was merely a scientific hypothesis. There were only a few people actually aware of it, and even to them it remained mostly just as a curiosity.[1]

The theory of global warming is based on a few simple ideas. As the sun’s rays enter the earth’s atmosphere, many are reflected off of objects on the ground back towards space. Others penetrate the earth causing the ground to warm up. The rays that are heading back into space can actually be re-reflected back towards the ground if they strike gas molecules on their way to space. If the amount of green house gasses (primarily carbon dioxide) in our atmosphere increases, then the amount of re-reflected rays will also increase. This will cause more rays to remain longer in the atmosphere, allowing for the absorption an unprecedented amount of energy. This is phenomena is called the “greenhouse effect”.[2]

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a chemical byproduct of nearly all animal species, and has been expelled into the atmosphere for thousands of years. It is the recent burning of fossil fuels, however, mainly gasoline, that has drastically increased the volume of CO2 in our atmosphere by leaps and bounds. Deforestation has also contributed to greater amounts of CO2 in our atmosphere.[3]

            The concept of global warming has not been around for long. Only in the 1940’s did it become to get more obvious that over the past several decades something significant was happening to the world’s climate. Average temperatures were rising and causing some usual affects. These changes were not necessarily viewed negatively at the time, in fact most people figured that this climatic warming, whatever was causing it, would eventually become beneficial to the world and its species.

            This view continued for quite some time until more comprehensive studies were conducted after the Cold War of the 1950’s. One study conducted in 1961 determined that the amount of Carbon Dioxide in the world’s atmosphere was indeed increasing each year. During the 1970’s the issue of global warming was elevated to an international level, yet remained a controversial issue. Some scientists believed that the increased number of pollution particles in the air would block and the sun and thus cause global freezing. As a result the media one moment exclaimed how all the costal cities would get flooded, and the next moment would proclaim the coming of a new ice age. [4]

Since the development of computerized models of  the earth and its atmosphere, most people nowadays agree that the concept of global warming is a real issue. There is, however, still debate about as to what extent fossil fuels are really responsible for the earth’s gradual increase in temperature. Some say that carbon dioxide is solely responsible, while others say there are many third factors that are much more significant.[5]

            Some of these other factors include theories about the earth’s planetary orbit, or the existence of a natural climatic cycle that is acting as normally as it has for thousands of years. It is difficult to refute these ideas. There definitely is a correlation between the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the earth’s increase in temperature. However, just because there is a correlation does not mean that the increase in temperature is caused by the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There may very well be a third factor that human’s do not yet sufficiently understand. Recent studies have shown that small changes that may have seemed insignificant in the past can actually have a dramatic affect on the world’s climate, for example a volcano.[6]

            While there is a very wide range of predictions concerning the effects of global warming, most figure it reasonable to say that we are likely to notice some pretty large-scale impacts within our lifetime. Among these include the erosion of coastlines, unusual heat waves, pest infestations, snowfall changes, permafrost damage, and a temperature rise of 2.5-5.7 degrees[7]

            In order to learn more about global warming, it is essential that researchers work cooperatively on an international level. "The climatic world is one world even if politically we are not." A large number of world leaders and politicians have created various organizations over the years. One of the first one mainly devoted to studying global warming was The Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases (AGGG) set up in 1986. This soon merged into Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a unique organization standing on both scientific and political grounds. In 1997 the U.N. held a conference in Kyoto Japan attended almost exclusively by Americans, which stated that industrialized countries should reduce their emissions levels to the 1990 level over time. A stronger effort was held in Hague, 2000, but this time the Americans, along with President Bush, were more on the defensive side, favoring more market-friendly concessions.[8]

            The steps that must be taken to reduce the emissions of green house gases simply seem too strong for the economy to commit to. Some of these steps would be lowering the consumption of fossil fuels, finding and using more renewable energy sources, as well as promoting and reducing the costs of more energy efficient ways of living. However, when you get right down to it, the whole issue is also a psychological question. How can the behavior and the mind-set of the earth’s citizens be changed to save mankind from the possible dramatic affects of global warming?


            One of the major difficulties with our society today is the way it doesn’t seem to care much about the future. To almost everyone the quickest possible appeal to some form of “instant fulfillment” may seem very attractive, yet the long-term results are almost always much more consequential.

This is a trend that is particularly obvious in the way many Americans and Canadians spend their money. All people seem to care about is what they can do “right now”, and what they can have “right now”. As many know, this type of spending habit is exactly what may drive that person, family, or organization deep into debt. People are obsessed with extending their credit to the limit – payment for their cars, houses, and even groceries are often set as far away as possible into the future.

            The media doesn’t seem to be helping the matter at all either. Humans are bombarded with thousands of advertisements everyday, most of which appeal to some form of instant gratification. Even the change in our society’s moral standards strongly reflects the general desire of instant gratification, and the rejection of full long term commitment and anticipation of a future fulfillment.

            While global warming is a much larger issue than these individual and isolated examples, the principle remains the same. The only way that our society will be able to commit to saving the planet from probable eventual disaster is through the actions of many separate individuals. Collectively, it will add up to an enormous difference. This is what people must come to understand.

            One may take, for example, the successful action reducing CFC emissions, which significantly slowed the depletion of the ozone layer only a couple decades ago. Many people vehemently protested the restrictions arguing that they would ruin the economy. Not only did the regulations actually work, but also the economy even ended up better than it had been previously. The only main difference between this account compared to global warming, is that while the depletion of the ozone layer was eminent, climatic temperature change is harder to identify as being significantly potentially bad enough to call for even more drastic actions than in the case of the CFC emissions problem. Nevertheless many people are convinced that the quicker we react to the issue of global warming the less we will suffer from it in the years to come.

Humans must realize that the immediate present is of much smaller importance than the permanent long term affects that result in lack of future consideration. King Solomon wrote in Proverbs, “Turn to the ant thou sluggard, consider your ways and be wise…[which] Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.”[9] The issue of global warming must be addressed cooperatively and internationally, and followed by everyone. The leaders and various elite of all nations must be the first to set an example to those who follow, because actions speak stronger than words.

Humans can learn a lot if only they pause to take some time and consider what is at stake if they do not prepare for the future. On a global scale, we cannot afford to make even a single mistake.



Courtney, Richard., “Global Warming: How It All Began” Accessed Feb 9, 2004


“Fingerprints of Global Warming” Accessed Feb 11, 2004


“Global Warming Information Page” November 2000, Accessed Feb 2, 2004


Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “Global Warming: Early Warning Signs” Accessed

Feb 2, 2004 <http://www.climatehotmap.org/>

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Global Warming –Climate” Jan 2000, Accessed Feb 2, 2004


Weart, Spencer,. “Rising Seas” Accessed Feb 11, 2004 <http://www.aip.org/history/climate/floods.htm>

[1] Courtney, Richard., “Global Warming: How It All Began” Accessed Feb 9, 2004 <http://www.vision.net.au/~daly/history.htm>

[2] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Global Warming –Climate” Jan 2000, Accessed Feb 2, 2004 <http://yosemite.epa.gov/oar/globalwarming.nsf/content/climate.html>

[3] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “Global Warming: Early Warning Signs” Accessed Feb 2, 2004 <http://www.climatehotmap.org/>

[4] Weart, Spencer,. “Rising Seas” Accessed Feb 11, 2004 <http://www.aip.org/history/climate/floods.htm>

[5] Courtney, Richard., “Global Warming: How It All Began” Accessed Feb 9, 2004

[6] Weart, Spencer,. “Simple Models of Climate” Accessed Feb 11, 2004 <http://www.aip.org/history/climate/simple.htm>

[7] “Fingerprints of Global Warming” Accessed Feb 11, 2004 <http://www.climatehotmap.org/fingerprints.html>

[8] Weart, Spencer,. “Government: The View from Washington, DC” Accessed Feb 11, 2004 <http://www.aip.org/history/climate/Govt.htm>

[9] Bible, Proverbs 6:6-8


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