Global warming and the greenhouse effect

Global warming

Let’s start with the fact that global warming and the greenhouse effect are not the same thing! The greenhouse effect occurs naturally and without it life on Earth would not exist. It causes the temperature on our planet to be 15 degrees C, not -18.

The greenhouse effect is caused by greenhouse gases. These are molecules that have a common property – they absorb heat. Our planet gets heated by the sun’s rays and gives off heat itself. Greenhouse gases are “sensitive” to this terrestrial radiation, first absorbing it more or less like a sponge absorbs water, only to get rid of it later and “send” it both toward Earth and space.

Some heat is thus trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere – in a manner similar to a greenhouse. This is how a thermal equilibrium is created, which is maintained until the amount of greenhouse gases is constant. But what we are dealing with today is an increase in the amount of these gases in the atmosphere. The average temperature on the globe is increasing, which we call global warming. It causes climate change, which will be discussed later in the newsletter.

Did you know that

The molecule that has the greatest impact on global climate change is… water vapor! Its impact on global warming is estimated at 37 – 70%. However, the most well-known is another gas – carbon dioxide (CO2). Although it affects the greenhouse effect to a lesser extent (9-26%), it has been noted that the concentration of this gas in the atmosphere has increased since the 18th century – by 36% compared to 1750. The concentration of another greenhouse gas – methane – has increased even more, by as much as 149%. Its contribution to the greenhouse effect is 4-9%. Other greenhouse gases include ozone and nitrous oxide (N2O).

Facts and myths

There are many misconceptions about climate change. One is that since water vapor contributes the most to global warming and there is the most water vapor, why not control it rather than CO2.

The fact is that carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere by burning coal, gas, logging and many other processes that depend on human activity. We cannot control the level of water vapor concentration. It depends primarily on temperature – the higher the temperature, the more water vapor can accumulate in the atmosphere. This in turn causes the global warming process to drive itself, because the more CO2, the higher the temperature, which means more water molecules in the atmosphere, which again increase the temperature. In other words, the best way to reduce the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in it.


Each of us has an impact on climate change and each of us can take action to reduce that impact. One of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions is electricity consumption. Therefore …
… install thermostats in your radiators and turn them down, especially at night. A 1ºC change in temperature equals a 10% reduction in heating energy. If every resident of Bydgoszcz adjusted the temperature this way, in a year the reduction in emissions would be 720kWh, which is 250 Gg (a billion grams) less CO2. In 2008, Poland’s greenhouse gas emissions were more than 325,000 Gg. As can be seen in the chart below, the average CO2 emissions per person are about 8.3 tons per capita, and are rising slightly. Admittedly, compared to the 1970s and 1980s, this is still a small number (which will make it easier for us to meet the Kyoto arrangements). Even so, emissions have increased slightly since 2000, so let’s save our money and the environment!


The article was written as part of a project with the acronym LAKS: Local Accountability for Kyoto goalS (pol. „Lokalna odpowiedzialność ze realizację celów Protokołu z Kioto”),which is co-financed by the European Community Financial Instrument LIFE+.

Climate Action, Komisja Europejska
Fourth Assesment Report, Historical Overview of Climate Change Science, IPCC, 2007
Water vapour: feedback or forcing?, RealClimate