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What Is Global Warming?

The words "Global Warming" over an image of a dirty power plant running on fossil fuels, highlighting the causes and effects of global warming and climate change, and how we can stop global warming.
PublishedJuly 22, 2022
UpdatedJune 27, 2024
AuthorCory O'Brien HeadshotCory O'BrienSenior Director - Growth MarketingEditorRyan Barnett HeadshotRyan BarnettSVP, Policy & New Market Development
In this article
Global Warming Definition
Causes of Global Warming
Effects of Global Warming
The Role of Renewable Energy in Addressing Global Warming
Global Warming vs Climate Change
How to Stop Global Warming
Global Warming and Your Environmental Impact
Frequently Asked Questions

Earth is getting warmer and it’s a fact that’s harder to ignore. April 2024 was the hottest April ever since modern record keeping began, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It was the eleventh record-setting month in a row.

Though these recent effects of global warming are starkly obvious, we’ve known about the warming potential of adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere for over a century. In the 1850s, Eunice Foote showed that, when exposed to sunlight, glass cylinders with carbon dioxide got hotter than those just filled with air.

Since the start of the Industrial Revolution and the increased burning of fossil fuels, the concentration of carbon dioxide (and other gasses that act similarly) have warmed the planet by about 1.5 degrees Celsius. While that may not sound like a lot, the effects of global warming aren’t felt evenly around the globe and go beyond slightly warmer days.

So what are global warming’s causes? What are the effects? And, what can you do? We’ll answer all of that and more below.

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Global Warming Definition

At Palmetto, we define global warming as follows:

Global warming is a gradual, long-term increase in the average temperature of Earth's atmosphere due to the greenhouse effect where gasses from various human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels, trap heat from solar radiation.

A vast majority of scientists worldwide agree that global warming is very real and, if left unaddressed, could result in devastating effects for humanity. More than 99% of peer-reviewed scientific research acknowledges that humans are the major cause of this problem.

Causes of Global Warming

Global warming comes from the over-accumulation of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), and methane (CH4) in the Earth's atmosphere. The excess greenhouse gasses can come from a variety of sources, though most involve burning fossil fuels in some way:

  • Electricity generation: Burning coal, natural gas or other fossil fuels to generate electricity accounts for about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, the EPA estimates.
  • Transportation: Burning fuel to move people and goods is one of the largest sources of GHGs in the US.
  • Buildings: Fossil fuels burned to heat buildings and refrigerants that leak out of cooling systems are major sources of GHGs in buildings.
  • Deforestation: Deforestation removes the trees that act as a natural GHG filter, absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into our atmosphere.
  • Agricultural Practices: Modern farming accounts for more than 10% of all human-produced greenhouse gas emissions, largely due to livestock and rice cultivation.
  • Consumer goods: The energy used in the manufacturing and transportation of consumer goods leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Mining: Operations that rely on fossil fuels emit significant levels of GHGs.
  • Waste disposal: When plastics and other non-biodegradable waste decompose, it releases toxic gasses into the environment and the potent GHG methane.

A bar chart showing annual average temperatures from 1880 to present.

Credit: NOAA

Effects of Global Warming

A scientific report published by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) outlines the serious effects of global warming and global climate change as follows:

  • Higher temperatures: The average temperature on the Earth has increased by 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1900, and many scientists predict that this trend will continue due to global warming.
  • Rising sea level: Sea levels along the United States coastline are projected to rise between 10 and 12 inches by 2050, which could destroy islands and coastal cities.
  • Extreme weather events: Global warming has been linked to an increase in extreme weather events, such as floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes, which can cause deaths, famine, and disease. There have been more weather events that cause $1 billion in damage in recent years, according to NOAA.
  • Plant and animal extinction: Rising global temperatures can cause parts of the planet to become uninhabitable for many native plant and animal species.
  • Ocean acidification: Because of escalating carbon dioxide emissions, oceans are becoming more acidic and harmful to marine life.
  • Dirtier air: Hotter temperatures lead to more smog, which can trigger respiratory problems and aggravate existing health conditions.
  • Disappearing polar ice: When the water frozen in polar sea ice melts into the oceans, it can have a huge impact on rising sea levels and speed up the heating of Earth’s atmosphere.

The Role of Renewable Energy in Addressing Global Warming

Renewable, carbon-free electricity won’t address every source of GHGs, but it will cover a huge chunk.

Electricity generation accounted for 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the US in 2022. At the same time, demand for electricity is rising with new, power-hungry data centers being built. That demand will grow more as more furnaces get swapped out for heat pumps and electric vehicles replace gas-powered ones. 

Renewable energy, like solar, wind and hydroelectric, can help emissions even as demand for electricity increases.

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Global Warming vs Climate Change

While some people use “global warming” and “climate change” interchangeably, they are technically two different terms that describe weather and climate and warrant their own definitions.

  • Global warming is the rise in the temperature of the Earth's atmosphere.
  • Climate change is the transition from one climatic state to another over an extended time frame – including temperature, precipitation, and wind patterns.
  • Global warming is caused by the heat-trapping gasses that come from increased human activity.
  • Climate change is caused by global warming and other climatic shifts that happen naturally.

How to Stop Global Warming

Addressing global warming will take large-scale changes that are beyond what any one person can control. However, there’s plenty that individuals can do to reduce their contribution to the problem, from adopting simple lifestyle changes to using green energy.

  • Use renewable energy: Using solar power, wind power, or other alternative energy sources can reduce your carbon footprint (and may lower your electricity bill).
  • Recycle: Ensure that all waste materials, including paper, plastics, aluminum, and glass, are sent to your local recycling center or composted whenever possible.
  • Use less power: Turn off lights and unplug appliances when they're not in use.
  • Opt for sustainable transportation: Walk, bike, carpool, invest in an electric vehicle, or switch your daily commute to public transportation instead of driving a vehicle solo.
  • Change your diet: Diets heavy in meat and animal products typically produce more greenhouse gasses than those rich in vegetables, nuts, and beans.
  • Support the groups taking climate actions: Joining with others can amplify your donations or actions, whether that’s to advocate for positive change in your community, elect leaders who will address the issue or help people adapt to a warmer world.

A line graph with historic temperature rise and possible future warming scenarios.

Credit: IPCC

Global Warming and Your Environmental Impact

Our world is heating up. Because of global warming, temperatures are increasing and extreme weather is becoming more common. If we don't take preventative action now, future generations will be faced with warmer temperatures, as well as higher sea levels, extreme weather events, crop failures, extinctions, and other devastating effects.

You can help limit the impacts of global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, cutting down on your energy consumption, and shifting away from fossil fuels. Better still, plant trees around your neighborhood, and join a movement that voices support for clean energy sources.

Solar energy is one of the cleanest and most sustainable ways to power your home, as the energy produced doesn’t generate any greenhouse gasses. Installing a solar panel system on your home has the added benefit of helping to lower your utility bills.

Are you ready to help save the environment from the effects of global warming by going solar? Get started today with Palmetto. Check out our free Solar Design and Savings Estimate Tool to see how much you could save with solar panels, including an estimate of your personal environmental impact.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a simple definition of global warming?

Global warming is the gradual increase in global temperatures due to human activities like burning fossil fuels.

What is the main cause of global warming?

Global warming is largely driven by the use of fossil fuels for energy, though agriculture, land use and other factors play a role.

What can I do to address global warming?

Avoiding the worst effects of climate change will require governments, companies, and international coalitions to take action, but individual actions in your home can help. Installing solar panels, electrifying your home, and swapping your gas-powered car for an electric one are valuable steps. Smaller actions that conserve energy, like switching off lights and using less hot water add up. Reducing the amount of meat you eat and changing how you travel can make a difference too.

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About the AuthorCory O'Brien HeadshotCory O'BrienSenior Director - Growth Marketing

Cory brings over 8 years of solar expertise to Palmetto, and enjoys sharing that knowledge with others looking to improve their carbon footprint. A dog lover residing in Asheville, NC with his wife, Cory graduated from UCSB. If you run into him, ask him about the company he founded to rate and review beer!

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