What role does chemistry play in our lives? Chemistry improves our standard of living. If we take a snapshot of any moment in our lives, chemistry’s effects can be measured. The chemistry industry has made our lives more productive and sustainable by providing us with the convenience of synthetic materials such as plastic, foam polystyrene and fabric; advancing our quality of living with pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and cleaning products; and improving our ability to produce food and purify water.
The population of the Earth is increasing while its resources are not, creating potential imbalances in supply and demand. The chemistry industry has introduced products and perfected technologies that will meet the needs of society and help to sustain our resources for an ever-growing population. The goods produced are designed to increase safety, production and efficiency while simultaneously minimizing the impact on resources and the environment.
People demand products to support their lifestyles. This demand has a direct impact on our environment. Working over the last several decades, scientists have shown that for the first time ever, human activities are altering the climate; the data supporting this conclusion continues to grow in depth and breadth. Since the Industrial Revolution began, research shows that the concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs), which trap heat in the atmosphere, have increased. The most prevalent greenhouse gas studied is carbon dioxide (CO2), which is produced from burning fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum. A rise in global temperatures corresponds to the rise in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
Energy from the sun passes through the atmosphere in the form of electromagnetic radiation, much of which reaches the Earth’s surface. The atmosphere, made of a mixture of gases including water vapor, absorbs some of the solar radiation. At the earth’s surface, the radiant energy from the sun is transformed into thermal energy. Most of the energy is reflected from the surface of the Earth back towards space. When greenhouse gas concentrations are at normal levels, most thermal energy continues out into space. However, when greenhouse gas concentrations are high, the thermal energy is absorbed by the greenhouse gases, heating the atmosphere. The reason that much of this energy remains in the atmosphere is due to the properties of greenhouse gases.
The atmosphere is composed mostly of nitrogen and oxygen. The rigid bonding structure of nitrogen (triple bonds) and oxygen (double bonds) do not allow for much flexibility with the bending, vibration, and stretching of their bonds. The greenhouse gases of carbon dioxide, methane, water, and nitrous oxide have a great deal of flexibility in the bonds of each molecule. Therefore, as the molecules are exposed to radiant energy, the bonds within these molecules have a great deal of potential to absorb it and transform it to thermal energy.
It is the increase of the kinetic energy within the bonds of these molecules that raises the internal energy of these molecules and can then be transmitted to other atmospheric gases to increase the temperature of the atmosphere. The result is a net increase in the average kinetic energy of the atmosphere gases, and an increase in the temperature of the land and water on the Earth’s surface.