An overactive greenhouse effect can trap too much radiation in the atmosphere, causing the Earth to overheat. Too many heat-absorbing greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), trap more radiation than needed near the Earth. When we burn more fossil fuels and have fewer plants to absorb the CO2 because of deforestation, we tip the balance of the greenhouse effect.
In the 1990s, CO2 levels in the atmosphere were 300 parts per million (ppm). At the beginning of the 21st century, levels were about 360 ppm [source: NASA]. The Earth already has warmed 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius). Scientists predict irreversible effects from a 2-degree Celsius increase. That shift likely will cause melting ice sheets, flooding and rising sea levels, extreme climate patterns and damage to wildlife.
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