The greenhouse effect is the way in which heat is trapped close to the surface of the Earth by “greenhouse gases.” These heat-trapping gases can be thought of as a blanket wrapped around the Earth, which keeps it toastier than it would be without them. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides.
Greenhouse gases arise naturally, and are part of the make-up of our atmosphere. Earth is sometimes called the “Goldilocks” planet – it’s not too hot, not too cold, and the conditions are just right to allow life, including us, to flourish. Part of what makes Earth so amenable is the naturally-arising greenhouse effect, which keeps the planet at a friendly 15 °C (59 °F) on average. But in the last century or so, humans have been interfering with the energy balance of the planet, mainly through the burning of fossil fuels that give off additional carbon dioxide into the air. The level of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere has been rising consistently for decades and traps extra heat near the surface of the Earth, causing temperatures to rise.