Scientists Beginning to Sound Warnings About Atmospheric Nitrogen Compounds

B. McPherson

                                                This short film explains very well the greenhouse effect on Earth.

While the world is focussing on the production and release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, other gasses are quietly adding to the catastrophe. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and nitrous oxide is 300 times more efficient at keeping the Earth warmed.

While much of the Earth’s atmosphere is made up of the element nitrogen, it is the nitrogen in reactive compounds that is starting to worry atmospheric scientists.

The Green Revolution was made possible by the industrial production of chemical fertilizers. It, combined with antibiotics has allowed the Earth’s population of humans to swell from 1.6 billion at the beginning of the 20th century to seven billion this year. Nitrogen is a key nutrient in plant growth. Unfortunately over application of nitrogen fertilizers to crops breaks down into nitrous oxide in the atmosphere and may be swept into watercourses polluting them and eventually finding its way into the air as well.

Well meaning people have passed laws to subsidize the production of ethanol from corn to partly replace gasoline from foreign sources. Because corn is a ‘greedy feeder’ nitrogen fertilizer is lavished on it resulting in the suplus adding to global greenhouse gases.

“Current biofuel targets impart other major problems for global warming and human health that Howarth says scientists have "long underestimated." Fertilizers release significant quantities of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas with 300 times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide (CO2).”Scientific American

The industrialization of agriculture in N.America has seen the rise of concentrated confined animal husbandry. The waste of thousands of animals and sewage from humans contributes to the nitrogen compound loads being released into the atmosphere. The mass raising of meat animals has lowered the price per pound and allowed more people to afford more meat for their dinner tables.

The 20th century’s Green Revolution made possible an exponential amount of food around the world. It is in these later years that we are starting to see some of the unintended consequences of that revolution.

Major Greenhouse Gases – without these gases in the atmosphere too much heat would be lost from Earth and the planet would likely be locked in ice. Nature requires a balance to maintain homeostasis.
·         water vapour
·         carbon dioxide
·         methane
·         nitrous oxide
·         ozone

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