You’ve probably heard a lot lately about the greenhouse effect and its role in global climate change. All around the world, countries are spending billions of dollars to study this phenomenon and how it affects our environment. While we’ve heard a lot about it, there is still some confusion and many misconceptions about what the greenhouse effect actually is.

Greenhouse gases are gases that occur naturally in the upper atmosphere. They create a protective “heat barrier” that prevents a lot of heat from the surface from getting out into the atmosphere. While there are many kinds of greenhouse gases, the most well known are carbon dioxide and ozone.

Many people hear “greenhouse effect” and automatically think it’s a bad thing. The greenhouse effect is actually a natural occurrence that helps keep the earth at an even temperature. Without greenhouse gases, the earth would be unable to maintain a stable temperature. All life on earth would freeze after the sun went down at night.

The problem with the greenhouse effect is that modern day activities are taking materials out of the ground, like coal and oil, processing them and then releasing the excess gases, particularly carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. While the amounts of gas added by human activities are small when compared to the levels that occur naturally, they are still high enough to cause a change in global temperature. Plus, the amount of greenhouse gases being added to the environment is increasing at an alarming rate.

While studies show that the global average temperature is rising, there’s no real proof that the warming is linked to rising carbon dioxide emissions. Before the industrial revolution, there were many global temperature rises and falls that occurred naturally. The current temperature rise could be due to increased emissions or other natural factors.

One common misconception about the greenhouse effect is what it has to do with the ozone layer and ozone holes. Ozone is actually a greenhouse gas; a hole in the ozone layer would actually decrease the greenhouse gas levels and cause global cooling. Ozone holes are caused by man-made chemicals called CFCs and don’t have much to do with the current trend of global climate change.

Another thing to consider is that, even if increased greenhouse gas emissions are causing global warming, the earth may just correct the problem itself. The earth has natural “sinks” that take these gases out of the air and put it back in the earth. The biggest carbon dioxide sink is the earth’s forests. Many scientists think the earth will naturally absorb all the carbon dioxide that human activities have put into the atmosphere and global temperatures will go back to normal.

While a lot of research has been done, we still don’t fully understand the greenhouse gas cycle and its effect on global climate change. More research must be done to fully comprehend the global system.