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The Biosphere at Risk
Most energy today comes from burning fossil fuel – to make electricity, run factories, power vehicles and heat homes. Fossil resources – coal, oil and natural gas – are being consumed so fast as to be largely exhausted during the next century. With all fossil energy, waste products are dispersed directly into the air. Much of this waste takes the form of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.
Each year fossil fuel waste adds 25 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This equates to 70 million tonnes each day – or 800 tonnes a second. To analyse effects from the rapid build-up of heat-trapping gases, world experts are cooperating through the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The dynamics of climate change are complex and subject to competing theories. But scientists agree that increased greenhouse gases are causing the Earth to capture more solar heat. For most climate scientists, man-made greenhouse gases explain why the 10 warmest years in recorded history have occurred in the last 15 years. Climate experts are virtually unanimous in warning that the buildup of greenhouse gases could, in the century ahead, become catastrophic.
All nations are involved in climate change – in both cause and effect. North Americans release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a daily rate of 54 kilograms – or 120 pounds – per person. In Europe and Japan, daily per capita emissions are more than 23 kilograms – or 50 pounds. In fast-developing China, with 1.3 billion people, the emissions level already exceeds 6 kilograms – or 13 pounds – for each person each day.
Tonnes of carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuel increases at the rate of about 50,000 tonnes a minute.
(excerpted from World Nuclear Association's autoessay "Energy for Sustainable Development")