What is the primary cause of global warming?

This article discusses the primary cause for global warming and what can be done in order to reduce the contribution towards global warming.

What is the primary cause of global warming?

The primary causes of global warming are:

  • Rise in CO2 levels and other greenhouse gases
  • Burning of fossil fuels and other anthropogenic activities.
  • Change in land-use patterns.

What is Global Warming?

Global warming is just one of the results of anthropogenic-driven (i.e., dominated by human-based activities) climate change.

The worldwide yearly temperature has risen by a little more than 1 degree Celsius, or roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit, during the Industrial Revolution. 

It increased by 0.07 degrees Celsius (0.13 degrees Fahrenheit) per ten years between 1880 and 1980, when good record keeping began.

Since 1981, however, the pace of growth has more than doubled: the global annual temperature has risen by 0.18 degrees Celsius (0.32 degrees Fahrenheit) every decade for the previous 40 years.

What’s the end result? The world has never been hotter. After 1880, nine of the ten hottest years have happened since 2005, with the five warmest years on record all occurring since 2015.

Climate change doubters say that rising global temperatures have come to a “halt” or “slowdown,” however several studies, including one published in the journal Environmental Research Letters in 2018, have refuted this assertion.

People all across the world are already suffering as a result of global warming’s effects. 

Climate scientists have now concluded that we must limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2040 if we are to avoid devastating events in the future 

Some of the worst, most devastating effects of climate change: extreme droughts, wildfires, floods, tropical storms, and other disasters that we collectively refer to as climate change, will be part of everyday life around the world. 

These impacts affect everyone in some way, but they are felt most intensely by the poor, economically marginalised, and people of colour, for whom climate change is frequently a primary cause of poverty, relocation, hunger, and social unrest.

What causes global warming?

When carbon dioxide (CO2) and other air pollutants accumulate in the atmosphere, they absorb sunlight and solar energy that has bounced off the earth’s surface, causing global warming.

Normally, this radiation would escape into space, but these contaminants, which may persist in the atmosphere for years to centuries, trap the heat and cause the earth to warm. 

Greenhouse gases are heat-trapping pollutants such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapour, and synthetic fluorinated gases, and their impact is known as the greenhouse effect.

Even as natural cycles and fluctuations have caused the earth’s climate to change numerous times throughout the last 800,000 years, our current era of global warming is due to human activity.

Specifically, our burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil, gasoline, and natural gas, which results in the greenhouse effect. 

Transportation accounts for 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, followed by electricity production (28%), and industrial activity (22 percent).

Causes for rising emissions

The rising emissions that contribute towards global warming are attributed to the following factors:

  • Carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide are produced when coal, oil, and gas are burned.
  • Destruction of forests (deforestation). By absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere, trees assist to control the climate. When trees are cut down, the beneficial effect is gone, and the carbon contained in the trees is released into the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect.
  • Increased livestock production. When cows and sheep digest their meal, they produce a lot of methane.
  • Nitrous oxide emissions are produced by nitrogen fertilisers.
  • Fluorinated gases are emitted by fluorinated gas-using equipment and goods. These emissions have a warming effect that is up to 23,000 times stronger than CO2.

Humans and global warming

We are all aware that warming — and cooling — has occurred in the past, long before humans existed.

Changes in the sun’s intensity, volcanic eruptions, and heat-trapping chemicals in the atmosphere are all examples of “climate drivers” that can affect Earth’s climate.

So how do scientists know that people are mostly responsible for today’s warming by releasing too much carbon into the atmosphere when they burn coal, oil, and gas or clear forests? 

Because atmospheric CO2 contains information about its source, we know that human activities are causing the increase in CO2 concentrations. 

Scientists can tell how much CO2 originates from natural sources versus how much comes from coal, oil, and gas combustion (called fossil fuels).

Carbon from fossil fuels has a different “signature” than carbon from other sources, which is essentially the relative proportions of heavier and lighter carbon atoms.

The larger the quantity of carbon from fossil fuels, the lower the ratio of heavier to lighter carbon atoms.

Furthermore, natural variations alone cannot account for the temperature shifts we’ve observed. Scientists must first confirm that a computer model faithfully reproduces actual temperature changes in order for it to reliably estimate future climate.

When only reported natural climate drivers are used in the models, such as the sun’s intensity, the models are unable to reliably simulate the observed warming over the last half-century.

When human-caused climate factors are included into the equation, the models properly reflect recent temperature rises in the atmosphere and seas.

When all natural and human-caused climate drivers are weighed against one another, the rapid buildup of carbon from human sources is by far the most significant driver of climate change during the last half-century.

Biggest contributors to global warming

So far, we’ve discussed how emissions of greenhouse gases from anthropogenic activities have greatly contributed to global warming.

However, amongst these emissions, the following species are the most notorious, and have contributed to global warming more than the other greenhouse gases. These are:

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • Aerosols

We shall discuss their contribution in more detail.

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

Between 1750 and 2011, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a global climate assessment that compared the impact of three environmental changes caused by human activity: 

a.) The emission of key heat-trapping gases; b.) the release of tiny particles known as aerosols, and; c.) land use change.

The IPCC calculated the “radiative forcing” (RF) of each climate driver—in other words, the net increase (or decrease) in the amount of energy reaching Earth’s surface attributable to that climate driver—by measuring the abundance of heat-trapping gases in ice cores and the atmosphere, as well as other climate drivers and models.

Average surface warming is represented by positive RF values, whereas average surface cooling is represented by negative RF values. 

CO2 has the greatest positive RF of all the human-influenced climate factors examined by the IPCC.

Other gases, such as methane, are more powerful at trapping heat than CO2, but they don’t contribute nearly as much to global warming due to their scarcity in the atmosphere.


When gases, dust, smoke, or fumes reach dangerous quantities in the atmosphere, it is called air pollution. Aerosols are tiny atmospheric particles that are floating in our atmosphere and constitute a type of air pollution.

Aerosols come in two forms: solid and liquid. The majority are caused by natural processes such as volcanoes erupting, but some are also caused by human industrial and agricultural operations.

Aerosols have an impact on global warming that can be measured. In cloudless air, light-colored aerosol particles can reflect incoming solar radiation while dark particles absorb it. 

Aerosols have historically had a global net impact of somewhat offsetting the rise in global mean surface temperature. Aerosols can alter the amount of energy that clouds reflect and alter atmospheric circulation patterns.

Several climate intervention (also known as “geoengineering”) ideas for decreasing global warming involve reflecting the sun’s energy away from Earth using atmospheric aerosol particles. 

Because aerosol particles do not linger in the atmosphere for extended periods of time, while global warming gases do, cumulative heat-trapping gases will outweigh any temporary cooling provided by short-lived aerosol particles.

Can an individual do something about global warming?

Yes. While large-scale government action at the national level is required to win the battle, we also need the aid of individuals who are ready to speak up, hold government and business leaders accountable, and modify their everyday behaviours.

Do you want to know how you can help in the battle against global warming? Take a few simple ways to reduce your personal carbon footprint: Make energy conservation a part of your everyday routine and purchase decisions. 

Look for the government’s logo on new appliances like refrigerators, washers, and dryers; they satisfy a higher level for energy efficiency than the minimal federal requirements.

When shopping for a car, aim for one that gets the best gas mileage and emits the fewest pollutants. When possible, you may also limit your emissions by utilising public transit or carpooling.

While the new federal and state regulations are a start in the right direction, there is still much more to be done. 

Make your voice heard in favour of climate-friendly and climate-change readiness measures.

Furthermore, remind your legislators that a just transition from filthy fossil fuels to clean energy should be a key priority, as it is critical to the development of healthy, secure communities.

You also don’t have to do it alone. Climate action can build community, be led by those on the front lines of its effects, and create a future that is equitable and just for all, as demonstrated by movements around the country.


Global warming is just one of the results of anthropogenic-driven (i.e., dominated by human-based activities) climate change.

When carbon dioxide (CO2) and other air pollutants accumulate in the atmosphere, they absorb sunlight and solar energy that has bounced off the earth’s surface, causing global warming.

Human activities, such as burning of fossil fuels, change in land use pattern, and other factors cause emissions of greenhouse gases, primarily CO2 .

Although large-scale governmental action is required to fight global warming, it is our job as individuals to try and minimise our carbon footprint as much as possible.


Is global warming already happening?

Yes. Based on scientific evidence and observed changes in modern day climate, global warming has already begun. Month after month, year after year, record high temperatures are set both locally and worldwide.

Temperatures, on the other hand, are only one of several indications of global warming. Warmer temperatures bring a slew of changes, all of which hint to a planet in flux.

What are some examples of climate change?

The following are the example for observed climate change:

  • Since the pre-industrial period, the global average surface temperature has risen by around 1°C.
  • In the second part of the twentieth century, there was a decrease in snow cover and sea ice extent, as well as the retreat of mountain glaciers.
  • Global average sea level rise and ocean water temperature rise.
  • Average precipitation is expected to rise across the Northern Hemisphere’s middle and high latitudes, as well as over tropical land regions.
  • Extreme precipitation events are becoming more frequent and intense in various parts of the world.

The following are the example for physiological and ecological changes that are linked to climate change:

  • Permafrost thawing
  • In the middle and high latitudes, the growth season is lengthening.
  • Plant and animal ranges are shifting poleward and higher.
  • Some plant and animal species are on the decline.
  • Trees begin to bloom earlier.
  • Insects are emerging earlier.
  • Birds deposit eggs earlier.


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