Issue of February, 24, 2001
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Temperatures Rising
When we try to conceptualize ''the greenhouse effect'' we can think about it like this: a layer of gases that envelopes the Earth's atmosphere and traps the energy emitted by the planet. It is a natural phenomenon, but a new reality has become evident over the last few decades - the greenhouse effect has gone beyond its normal parameters because of human activity.

The emission of greenhouse gases can be attributed to naturally occurring fires or volcanic eruptions. But in the 20th century the major source has been the combustion processes created by our civilization, largely those involving the burning of fossil fuels, whether by factories or automobiles.

The problem with an abnormal greenhouse effect is that it leads to planetary climate change, in our case global warming. Scientists predict temperature variations that may seem minimal - a few degrees Celsius - but they are enough to gravely damage the Earth's ecosystems.

This phenomenon has triggered worldwide alarm. The nations of the world have been convened to take an active role in a United Nations-sponsored Framework Convention on Climate Change, and to sign the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement intended to counteract the greenhouse effect and its potentially devastating consequences.

Industrialized countries, which are the principal energy consumers, are being asked to take the lead in curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

The executive director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Klaus Topfer, has stated that the greatest threat confronting humanity today is that our economic activities are causing global warming.

Some of the consequences scientists predict are the melting of polar ice caps, rising sea levels, and even the disappearance or massive migration of species. And some of these ''symptoms'' are already evident

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