What are greenhouse gases?

What are greenhouse gases?

What is the meaning of the greenhouse effect? It might sound like a tricky term, but it’s a very important one to get to grips with. By having a better understanding of its impact, we can improve our awareness of how we treat the environment. Here we look at the key questions, from what are greenhouse gases to what does the greenhouse effect do, and delve into how we can play our part in reducing the effects of global warming.

What are greenhouse gases?

Let’s start with a simple definition of what a greenhouse gas is:

  • Greenhouse gases warm the planet, trapping heat in the atmosphere. They allow sunlight to come into the atmosphere but also prevent it from leaving– much like the process that takes place in a common garden greenhouse.

But, specifically, what is a greenhouse gas? The main gases are: 

  • Carbon dioxide
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Water vapour
  • Chlorofluorocarbons 
  • Methane 

But what do greenhouse gases do? Let’s delve a little deeper.

What is a greenhouse effect?

We need to know about greenhouse gases to explain how the earth is heated. They’re actually a good thing, when they stay at the right levels. Their presence in the atmosphere causes an effect that warms the planet, and if we didn’t have this process the earth would be frozen and uninhabitable. Not good.

But what is a greenhouse effect? That needs more investigation, and in particular an explanation of how this effect has negative consequences. The big problem, and the one that concerns scientists the most, is that some of the practices we humans undertake are artificially ramping up the natural greenhouse gas effect. Let’s look at the process in more detail.

Solar energy pours into the earth’s atmosphere, and around 70% is absorbed by oceans, land and the atmosphere. This is what heats the planet. And this heat then converts into a type of infrared light (which we can’t see) and radiates back towards space.

As the infrared light continues its journey back to space, approximately 90% is absorbed by greenhouse gases and sent back towards earth. And this process causes further warming.

What causes the greenhouse gas problems?

So, what’s the problem? Well, we have created a big increase in the amount of greenhouse gases over the past 100 years, and this has lead to more heat being trapped.

The cause of that increase? Human practices, such as: 

  • Burning fossil fuels 
  • Deforestation
  • Toxic products that end up in the environment
  • Single use plastics
  • But probably not your partner’s late-night trumps!

What does the greenhouse effect do?

So, what do greenhouse gases do? It’s time to consider and talk about the results of the greenhouse effect. The reality is that our way of life has lead to the increased rate of emission. And this has lead to the temperature of the planet continually climbing. 

But that doesn’t just equal warmer days and more sun. As the gases trap in more heat this has lead to an increase in pollution, damage to habitats and extreme weather, like forest fires. The natural order of environmental processes has been significantly disturbed, leading to troubling knock-on effects for the health of humans and animals. 

What can we do to combat the negative impact of the greenhouse effect?

Now that we know how greenhouse gases explain global warming, we can start to look at ways to reduce emissions. Here are some practical steps we can all take:

  • Use renewable energy suppliers
  • Use less electricity and water at home
  • Switch to an electric car or even better – a bicycle
  • Opt for non-toxic household products
  • Reduce plastic consumption and choose products with recyclable packaging


Keep carbon footprint in mind when buying everyday products. Plenty kitchen paper comes in CO2-reduced packaging — plus, the packaging is recyclable!

With a better understanding of what causes greenhouse gases, we can all do our bit to help reduce emissions, and play a role in protecting the planet for future generations. What we can’t do is reduce those pungent smells you can all but taste.

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