Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hurtling in reverse on greenhouse emissions

In the headlong international race to get control over climate change, you might wonder about pace.

Are we careening forward, creeping forward, barely moving?

Actually, we're hurtling in reverse.

(Image: The Keeling Curve, showing atmospheric CO2 levels continue to rise. Credit: NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory.)

Whatever starting line you choose is disappearing in the distance over the dashboard.

Japan's carbon dioxide emissions just hit a new record. Higher than they've ever been.

To be fair, Japan's arguably been doing at least a reasonable job, keeping emissions stable since 1995 at between 1.2 and 1.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. But they haven't been dropping, and they are not approaching the nation's Kyoto targets.

Nor are carbon dioxide global production figures.

The classic Keeling Curve, in which atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are measured at high elevation at the Mauna Loa Observatory, shows no change in the upward slope.

Despite all the talk, we're producing more and more carbon dioxide.

The average growth rate in parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere was less than 1 in the 1960s. It was between 1 and 2 in the 1970s. It exceeded 2 parts per million in three years of the 1980s, and continued to grow in the 1990s.

In this decade, the rate of growth has exceeded 2 parts per million on average. (See

The United States, long the leader in greenhouse gas production, has dropped to number-two. But that's not because of remarkable conservation in this country. Rather, it's that China is growing its economy and building coal-fired industrial facilities so fast that it has overtaken the U.S.

Both presidential candidates in the recent U.S. elections asserted their plans to do something about climate, but at some level, this is Nero fiddling as Rome burns. It takes more than something. It takes a great deal.

The oceans are measurably acidifying as the result of rising CO2, and the list of climate effects on the surface is endless.

We are living the reputed Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

© 2008 Jan TenBruggencate

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