Sunday, September 21, 2014

Scary stuff: Great Barrier reef growth down 40%, world (and U.S.) carbon production stll increasing

The ravages of climate change thunder onward, and recent science doesn’t provide much hope.

Coral decline has been an issue, associated with coral disease, coral bleaching and lots more. A new study indicates the problems just keep coming. And our use of carbon is (surprise!) still climbing.

(Parenthetically, it’s election season. You need to ask every candidate whether they deny climate change, in which case don't vote for them, And more importantly, ask what they’ll do to combat it. And vote accordingly.)

A 30-year study of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef shows that coral growth has dropped an astounding 40 percent. Here is the ScienceDaily story on that. 

The abstract of the paper, published in the journal Geochimic et Cosmochimica Acta, suggests pretty clearly that ocean acidification—a result of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—is the cause: 

“The similarity between the predicted and the measured decrease in (calcification) suggests that ocean acidification may be the primary cause for the lower CaCO3 precipitation rate on the Lizard Island reef flat.”

We're not aware of similar studies in the Hawaiian Islands, but it's reasonable to conclude that if it's happening on the largest reef system in the world, it might be happening elsewhere.

And, for all the talk, we’re not having much of an impact on the problem. Carbon dioxide emissions by human activities, far from declining or even staying level, are increasing. 

They're increasing more than the global average in the United States, India and China. The European Union has decreased carbon release, although it continues to import large amounts of goods from China, so it effectively shifts some of its carbon production there.

This is, of course, maddening. It’s like being on a careening bus, headed for a cliff, and being unable to agree to use the brakes.

A new study by the United Kingdom’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences at the University of Exeter, says carbon dioxide releases into the atmosphere will rise in 2014 by another 2.5 percent, to 40 billion tonnes.

As the Great Barrier Reef inquiry and myriad other studies show, the results are bad already. But they can and will get worse. Many scientists feel that 2 degrees Celsius is a tipping point for catastrophic change.

"We have already used two-thirds of the total amount of carbon we can burn, in order to keep warming below the crucial 2°C level. If we carry on at the current rate we will reach our limit in as little as 30 years' time–and that is without any continued growth in emission levels. 

"The implication of no immediate action is worryingly clear—either we take a collective responsibility to make a difference, and soon, or it will be too late," said Pierre Friedlingstein, a professor at Exeter and lead author of the paper. 

Need some data points? This is from a press release from the University of East Anglia:

    China's CO2 emissions grew by 4.2 per cent in 2013, the USA's grew by 2.9 per cent, and India's emissions grew by 5.1 per cent.
    The EU has decreased its emissions by 1.8 per cent, though it continues to export a third of its emissions to China and other producers through imported goods and services.
    China's CO2 emissions per person overtook emissions in the EU for the first time in 2013. China's emissions are now larger than the US and EU combined. 16 per cent of China's emissions are for goods and services which are exported elsewhere.
    Emissions in the UK decreased by 2.6 per cent in 2013 caused by a decline in the use of coal and gas. However the UK exports a third of its emissions by consuming goods and services which are produced elsewhere.
    CO2 emissions are caused primarily by burning fossil fuels, as well as by cement production and deforestation. Deforestation accounts for 8 per cent of CO2 emissions.
    Historical and future CO2 emissions must remain below a total 3,200 billion tonnes to be in with a 66 per cent chance of keeping climate change below 2°C. But two thirds (2,000 billion tonnes) of this quota have already been used.
    If global emissions continue at their current rate, the remaining 1,200 billion tonnes will be used up in around 30 years – one generation.
    Global emissions must reduce by more than 5 per cent each year over several decades to keep climate change below 2°C.
(Here is the citation for the coral study: J. Silverman, K. Schneider, D.I. Kline, T. Rivlin, A. Rivlin, S. Hamylton, B. Lazar, J. Erez, K. Caldeira. Community calcification in Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef: A 33 year perspective. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.gca.2014.09.011)
© Jan TenBruggencate 2014

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