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Global Warming, increase in the average temperature of the atmosphere, oceans, and landmasses of Earth. The planet has warmed (and cooled) many times during the 4.65 billion years of its history. At present Earth appears to be facing a rapid warming, which most scientists believe results, at least in part, from human activities. The chief cause of this warming is thought to be the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, which releases into the atmosphere carbon dioxide and other substances known as greenhouse gases. As the atmosphere becomes richer in these gases, it becomes a better insulator, retaining more of the heat provided to the planet by the Sun.