Global temperatures spiked in the late 1980s and 1990s, repeatedly breaking records set only a year or two earlier. The warmest year in recorded history was 1998, breaking the record set in 1996, which exceeded 1995’s new benchmark. According to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the ten warmest years since reliable records have been kept on a global scale (roughly 1890) occurred after 1980.
Carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases,” such as methane, nitrous oxides, and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), retain heat in the atmosphere. The proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from 280 parts per million (p.p.m.) to roughly 365 p.p.m. as the new millennium dawned on the Christian calendar. Other greenhouse gases also have risen in similar proportion. During the 1990s, a vivid public debate grew around the world regarding how much warmer the earth has become, and how much warmer it may become. A considerable body of scientific evidence and speculation has been published in a field which, to date, has produced very few reference works for undergraduate research. The Global Warming Desk Reference is an attempt to begin to fill that void.
Given the advent of global warming, coming generations may be subjected to something resembling an experiment in junior high school biology: put a frog in a beaker full of water and raise the temperature slowly. The frog’s nervous system will not tell it the water is too hot until it is too late. Humankind’s collective nervous system seems to be serving us no better. What’s more, most natural climate changes occur over long periods of time, by human standards. Global warming which is due at least partially to rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases is taking place on a much shorter time scale, one which human beings can recognize, in some cases, within a lifetime.
Since the beginning of the industrial age three centuries ago, humankind has been altering the composition of the atmosphere. We are carbon-creating crea-