Climate Photo of the Week
The average atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide -- CO2, the global warming gas which causes more than 60 percent of greenhouse warming -- reached 400 parts per million on May 9, according to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
400 parts per million (ppm) is measurably the highest level of CO2 for more than 800,000 years and probably the highest in several million years. Carbon dioxide concentration increases, which fluctuate daily and seasonally due to atmospheric conditions and vegetation changes, are being driven by fossil fuel use worldwide. The yearly increase in CO2 is now more than 2 ppm. NOAA senior scientist Pieter Tans of the Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder CO said, “The evidence is conclusive that the strong growth of global CO2 emissions from the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas is driving the acceleration.” Last year human activities spewed about 36 million metric tonnes of CO2 into the air -- a record amount -- even though direct U.S. emissions are slightly decreasing. Scientists from many nations have warned of the grave danger to Earth ecosystems, oceans, and human health from a CO2 concentration above 400-450 ppm.
Antarctic ice cores and other measures of prehistoric atmosphere levels confirm that CO2 is the strongest influence on Earth's air temperature. The NOAA report said that "during the last 800,000 years, CO2 fluctuated between about 180 ppm during ice ages and 280 ppm during interglacial warm periods." Scientists use arctic lake sediments to estimate CO2 and temperature levels farther back to the Pliocene, 5 to 2.5 million years ago, when CO2 was probably last at the 400 ppm level and air temperature was up to 8 degrees C higher. Between then and the ice ages, CO2 and temperature slowly decreased due to natural processes. NOAA said that today’s rate of increase due to the world's intense dependence on burning fossil fuels is more than 100 times faster than prehistoric changes in CO2 amounts. According to greenhouse gas theory and known climate history, Earth air temperature will sharply increase in the near future in response to the 400 ppm CO2 concentration.
CO2 is directly measured in a NOAA/Scripps Institution of Oceanography lab on Mauna Loa, Hawaii, seen in a World View of Global Warming report in 2011. At that time, the CO2 level was 392.65 ppm. Scripps has more information about measuring CO2.
Just the facts: Rapid climate change is everywhere. We are the cause. We have the power to change.
In World View of Global Warming I have witnessed and photographed climate science, the effects of rapid global warming and the world's out-of-control greenhouse gas emissions. I have seen that the effects of these emissions, especially from coal use, are damaging people, landscapes and the entire ocean. When I began in 1999 I was one of the few providing this direct view – now there are many more witnesses. Climate change is news and is now.
What is more important is that I see the keys to a far better, cleaner, healthier life all around us. The reality is that energy from wind, sun, water, and geothermal are available worldwide. Efficient ways to employ that power are very well known. Together they far exceed the energy the world needs and uses. We must move away from coal, oil and gas as our primary energy sources.
For the many citizens who are fighting the polluted political system, inertia of agencies, avarice of some corporations and indifference of neighbors – and who also are encouraging the growing number of leaders of our new energy age – I offer a few basic facts to keep uppermost.
• One: Rapid climate change is easy to understand. Knowledge is power.
It's happening now. It's happening everywhere. It threatens all we have and the Earth's processes which make life possible. Human energy use, dependence on fossil fuels and land abuse are causing it. We have abundant power to change. Time is running short to avoid a world many degrees hotter.
In short: Rapid climate change is everywhere. We’re causing it. We have the power to change. Now.
• Two: Coal is the greatest single contributor to climate change emissions. Stopping the use of coal is the real keystone to building a cleaner, cooler world.
All efforts must turn toward slowing and quickly stopping the use of coal. It is the fuel for 42 percent of world electricity and many industries, but at an unacceptable cost of unhealthy pollution, land destruction and more than 40 percent of CO2 emissions. We must find ways to price it out of business. Invent it out of business. Legislate it, tax it, force it, shame it out of business. Everywhere. Alternatives abound.
• Three: There is no "environmentally safe" way to get oil, gas and coal.
If we get it out of the ground without damaging the land, water or sea -- and stop me if you've heard this, but we can not do that --- we then will spill it during transport, pollute and poison air and water and send greenhouse gasses irrevocably high when we burn it. And not incidentally all the while paying dearly for the waste, slop, damaged groundwater, injury and death, political and military mayhem that our fossil fuel folly brings on. Every reduction in use counts, because every molecule of CO2 we launch into the atmosphere will be there for generations. The International Energy Agency says, "The most important contribution to reaching energy security and climate goals comes from the energy that we do not consume." Leave it in the ground.
• Four: We are on the verge of a new post-industrial revolution. Wind, water, waves, solar, geothermal and more. The time of clean, perpetual, widespread, ethical and healthy energy is now.
We must get on with it and turn all our resources to researching, demonstrating and installing efficient and non-carbon power generation for all the people of the world. Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi’s research shows “Supplies of wind and solar energy on accessible land dwarf the energy consumed by people around the globe.” Stop spending money on new drilling and mining and the impossible dream of "clean" fossil fuel power generation. Instead put all that money and engineering talent into energy conservation, solar, wind, waterpower, geothermal, hydrogen fuel cells and new inventions. Put a price on fossil fuel at the mine and well so that its horrible pollution and health costs are paid for and its use will shrink. Retrain those now in fossil industries to be leaders in the future of fuel.
I say these things knowing full well the transition I and others are calling for in impatient words is an enormous task. I also recognize and applaud all the actions that have been taken to reduce emissions. They show the way but they are barely a beginning. The changes that we so obviously need and are so clearly possible are being held back at every turn by political cowardice, the greed of some companies, international obstructionism and public indifference.
Having the facts is one step in overcoming the blockades and stemming the tide of rapid climate change. The work is for our generation, it can not wait. Know that your actions are meaningful in this great challenge. I am determined that the human spirit and intellectual power will win out over ignorance, greed and poverty.
References and connections here.
A single dedicated scientist’s 40-year study of seabirds in the Arctic is showing how global warming’s dire effects ricochet through entire ecosystems and food chains. Dr George Divoky says the melting away of Arctic Ocean sea ice in summer, which is coming faster than scientists predicted, will cause "the largest loss of an ecosystem the planet has experienced in modern times.” New satellite views show that now even in winter the Arctic ice is unstable. “You don’t have to care about Arctic seabirds or pack ice,” Divoky told World View of Global Warming, but the Arctic is not the only place where climate change is causing problems. “Species are struggling to deal with it,” he says, “and we are going to be in the same situation.”
“We commit ourselves to keep absorbing more carbon than we emit." Bhutan leads in environmental protection as climate change looms over this Buddhist kingdom of the Himalaya.
The fabled Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan stands alone among nations for its strong Buddhist faith, Constitutional concern for the happiness of its people, a monarchy that gave up power to establish democracy, its preservation of ecosystems and as the only nation to sequester much more carbon than it emits.
With a population of only 700,000 in an area about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined and almost no heavy industry, Bhutan has escaped the pollution and land degradation of other south Asian areas. Environmental protection is written into its constitution, which, for example, requires 60 percent of the land be forested.
In recent years, Bhutan, like other Himalayan areas, has seen an increase in landslides due to heavier rains, and some glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) as glaciers retreat. The GLOF threat is apparently Bhutan’s greatest climate change challenge so far. Bhutan’s 24 weather stations show a rise in temperature of about 1 degree C in summer and 2 degrees in winter since 2000. Recent studies show a reduction in water availability in some areas.
Our first visit to Bhutan in November 2012 resulted in initial impressions of Bhutan’s significant progress in sustainable development with environmental protection, accompanied by potential risks to its exquisite and rich ecosystems and cultural heritage. We traveled thanks to a grant from the Karuna Foundation – US to continue our documentation of climate change in the Himalaya and around the world and to provide information for the foundation’s planned support of climate adaptation in South Asia.
Update: The risky prospects for drilling for oil in the Arctic have now caused two international oil companies to suspend plans for work in the Chukchi Sea west of Alaska. Conoco-Phillips, which has drilling rights near to where Royal Dutch Shell had its rig last summer, called off its 2014 Arctic Ocean schedule in April. Shell, after repeated self-inflicted wounds to its drilling program, said in February it would not return to offshore Alaska in 2013. The Oil drilling rig Kulluk and the other Shell drill ship in Alaska are being towed to Asia for inspections and repairs. According to company spokespeople the Kulluk's hull was damaged when tow boats lost control and it crashed onto rocks south of Kodiak Island at the end of December. Seawater also caused electrical damage, said Shell. The company said their other vessel, the Noble Discoverer, required maintenance for it to be seaworthy and pass Coast Guard inspections. The company was cited on January 10 for numerous violations of EPA air pollution permits by its rigs in the Arctic Ocean last summer.
Please see our News and Views for recent reports on the loss of Arctic Sea Ice and the American Drought of 2011 at http://www.worldviewofglobalwarming.org/pages/nvoctober0912.php
Locations documented by Gary Braasch in World View of Global Warming, 1999-2012
This project would be impossible without scientists and observers around the world who have provided hundreds of scientific contacts and papers. See Background, Advisors, and Reference for documentation, funders and major advisors, without whom I could not complete the work.
World View of Global Warming is a project of the Blue Earth Alliance, Seattle Washington, a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization. The project is supported entirely by donations, grants, and license fees for the photographs. Please see information about how to contribute.
For other information about Gary Braasch's climate change projects and books, please see the books Earth Under Fire and How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate, and the exhibit "Climate Change in Our World" at the Books and Exhibits link on the left menu here.
Photography and text Copyright © 2005 - 2013 (and before) Gary Braasch All rights reserved. Use of photographs in any manner without permission is prohibited by US copyright law. Photography is available for license to publications and other uses. Please contact email@example.com. View more of Gary Braasch's photography here.