Climate explained: rising carbon emissions (probably) won’t make the Earth uninhabitable
In the latest ‘Climate Explained’ piece for The Conversation, Dr Laura Revell writes that while rising carbon emissions won’t make Earth uninhabitable, it’s difficult to predict what the climate will do if a runaway greenhouse effect takes over.
Clouds can reflect sunlight back to space, or they can trap heat emitted by the Earth. In a warming world, scientists are still unclear on the role clouds will play. Photo credit: Flickr/scheendijk, CC BY
When sunlight enters the Earth’s atmosphere, some is reflected back to space by clouds, some is reflected by bright surfaces such as ice and snow and some is absorbed by the land surface and ocean.
To maintain a balance, the Earth emits energy back to space in the form of infrared, or longwave, radiation. Some longwave radiation is absorbed in the atmosphere by heat-trapping gases, such as carbon dioxide.
This is the well-known greenhouse effect.
As is already well established, concentrations of carbon dioxide have increased over the past 250 years, causing the average surface temperature to increase.