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 happened naturally at the end of the last ice age. 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.
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