What are Greenhouse Gases?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Greenhouse gases are gases that work to keep heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. By doing so, they help keep the temperature on Earth within a livable range for human beings, plant life, and animals. Greenhouse gases are so named because they act in a similar manner to the glass ceiling and walls of a greenhouse. They allow light to penetrate Earth’s atmosphere, but prevent a significant amount of heat from leaving it.

The less dependent a car is on its gasoline engine, the fewer greenhouse gases are produced by the car.
The less dependent a car is on its gasoline engine, the fewer greenhouse gases are produced by the car.

A person may first learn about greenhouse gases during a discussion of the greenhouse effect. Essentially, the greenhouse effect means that temperatures on the Earth increase because of gases that filter energy from the sun, much like the panels of a greenhouse. If these gases did not behave in this manner, more of the heat from the sun would move back out of the Earth’s atmosphere and into space. Scientists theorize that this would leave the Earth considerably colder, with a temperature that averaged around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.55 degrees Celsius).

Some studies show that the livestock industry is the largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world.
Some studies show that the livestock industry is the largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world.

Thanks to the effects of greenhouse gases, people are able to live on the Earth, even in places that have colder climates. If these gases failed to trap heat, life would change and severe temperature drops might make Earth less hospitable. There is a flip side to that potential problem, however. Scientists say that a significant increase in the greenhouse gases that help Earth remain warm could cause the planet to become too warm. This could pose problems for animals, humans, and plants as well.

While greenhouse gases are present in Earth’s atmosphere naturally, some scientists have raised concerns about the effects human beings are having on them. For example, some scientists assert that human beings are doing things, such as burning high levels of fossil fuels in cars and factories, which may increase these gases to excessive proportions. Increased gases, they argue, would trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere which otherwise would have escaped. Over time, this may make the Earth excessively warm, a problem that is referred to as global warming.

While scientists cannot be sure exactly what the future holds, some predict that global warming will eventually become a serious problem, perhaps even contributing to the premature extinction of some species. It may, they assert, lead to more dangerous storms and flooding. It may change climates and cause the oceans to rise. It may also lead to more wildfires and droughts. In fact, global warming may cause a decrease in the quality of the air human’s need to survive.

Among the greenhouse gases that are naturally present in Earth’s atmosphere are carbon dioxide, ozone, and methane. Water vapor is a naturally occurring greenhouse gas as well. Through industry, humans create such greenhouse gases as hydrofluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments


What many people do not know is that in the United States the release of greenhouse gases has actually seen a decrease. Much of the decrease in these gases can be tracked back to reduced uses of coal, which is being replaced by natural gas and other natural and environmentally friendly forms of energy.

In our house, I make my children aware of what is going on in the world and what they can do to make a difference. To conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gases, we have gone on a strict light limiting program. Something as simple as reducing the amount of energy used in lighting a house does make a difference.

My children are now always conscious of not leaving lights on in unoccupied rooms. We always use the most energy efficient light bulbs. We have also connected dimmer switches to all of the lighting, so we can use only the amount of light we need at any given time. Every little bit makes a difference. That's what we teach our children.


@Drentel - I watched the recent Olympic Games held in China. After seeing all of he smog that was in the air there, I can't help but believe that the pollution we put in the air has the potential to change the environments of our planet in significant ways. We definitely need to do whatever we can to decrease the amount of greenhouse gases we release, so that we will not be adding to what is already a real issue in my opinion.


I understand that the planet as a whole is getting warmer, but you will have a hard time convincing me that this is the beginning of the end of the world as we know it, and this is happening because humans are putting too many pollutants into the air. If you look throughout history you will see that the climate on earth changes from time to time.

The next thing scientists will tell us is that humans were also responsible for the ice age. Yes, factories and cars are contributing factors to smog and general pollution, but it's a big leap to say the these same factors are the cause of "global warming". I'm not discounting the negative aspects of man-produced greenhouse gases, but let's not go overboard.

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