October 23, 2007

Running out of time

Scientists have found that carbon dioxide is increasing in the atmosphere much faster than had been predicted. Carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere has accelerated since the late 90's when the increase had been averaging around 0.7% annually. Since 2000, the increase has been 2.9% per year (4 times greater!) which results in an increase of carbon dioxide that is 35% more than the previous estimates used in the IPCC models. And the increases are much greater than had been used for setting the targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions needed to avoid the worst effects of global climate change.

Corinne Le Quere, a climate expert at the University of East Anglia and British Antarctic Survey, who helped conduct the study, said: "It's bad news because the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide has accelerated since 2000 in a way we did not expect. My biggest worry is people are discouraged by this and do nothing. I hope political leaders will act on this, because we need to do something fast."

The study worsens even the gloomy predictions of this year's report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC, which shared the Nobel peace prize this month with Al Gore, said there were only eight years left to prevent the worst effects of global warming, by acting to curb emissions.

Dr Le Quere said: "We are emitting far more than anticipated when the IPCC scenarios were drawn up in the late 1990s." Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning has risen by an average 2.9% each year since 2000. During the 1990s the annual rise was 0.7%.

Three factors contribute to this worsening situation:

  • World economic growth
  • China's dependence of coal for energy
  • Depletion of the ability of the oceans, soils and forests to absorb excess carbon.

Half of the extra carbon dioxide growth in the atmosphere comes from the fact that the normal carbon sinks are becoming less able absorb the amount of carbon they've been consuming in the past. The other half comes from humans using more carbon intense energy.

If you watched the videos from wonderingmind42 posted this weekend, you would have seen how humans are emitting around 7 gigatons of carbon per year into the atmosphere, with around 4 gigatons of those emissions being absorbed by the oceans and plants leaving an excess of 3 gigatons contributing to the increasing carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere. So what happens to the global climate when instead of having 3 excess gigatons of carbon, we have 5 extra gigatons of carbon or even worse, 7 extra carbon gigatons being added to the atmosphere each year? The change would be significantly faster than any of us could manage. We are running out of time to deal with this problem. Do something.

Posted by Mary at October 23, 2007 12:32 AM | Environment | TrackBack(2) | Technorati links |