Climate Negotiations falter at Doha as CO2 Emissions Push Earth toward 1400-year Storms

Human beings are hurtling toward an average temperature increase on earth by 2100, just 88 years from now, of 9 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit (5-6 degrees C.), according to a new study by the Global Carbon Project.

The United States accounts for 16 percent of global emissions, and Americans are the world’s biggest carbon polluters per person, at 17.2 tons of carbon per capita each year. As Michael Mann has pointed out, it is as though each American walks around with 2 elephants worth of carbon dioxide trailing them. Europe produces 11 percent of the carbon dioxide. The carbon production of US and Europe is declining very slightly, though they still are big carbon polluters, together accounting for over a quarter of the problem.

But China is now responsible for 28 percent of the carbon dioxide, and India for 7 percent, and while they are not nearly as guilty on a per capita basis, on a national basis China’s emissions equal those of the US and Europe together.

Worse, China and India are rapidly increasing their emissions, with China’s growing by about 10 percent and India’s by 7.5 percent in 2011.

Shooting past the 2 degrees C. goal to 5 degrees C. increase, which is what is likely to happen at this rate, would be catastrophic, as I have pointed out:

“About 55 million years ago, in the Eocene, volcanic activity spewed enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the air. The earth warmed by 4-5 degrees Centigrade. All surface ice melted, and every place on earth became tropical, even Antarctica. Sea levels rose a great deal and a significant amount of land was lost to the sea. It is estimated that sea levels rise some 10 to 20 meters (yards) for every 1 degree C increase in the average surface temperature, over the long term. But along with all that dramatic change came something else. The seas absorbed a lot of the new carbon dioxide, creating carbonic acid. About 50% of some sorts of sea creatures did not survive the change.”

Two scientists casually tossed off this about the Eocene warm period:

“Palynomorphs in the core seem to have been reworked which suggests erosion and redistribution of sediment by storms. The storms also seem to have lasted for long periods of time (1100 to 1400 years).”

Hmm. Storms that lasted 1400 years and marked the earth so dramatically that scientists can still see the effects!

They also found “environmental instability,” i.e. land seems frequently to have gone back and forth between being dry and being underwater. Although it was caused by volcanoes rather than by human beings, the Eocene warming period is seen by scientists as giving a good idea of what will happen to earth in our own time if we produce a similarly dramatic increase in average surface temperatures.

Human beings are in a race against time to avoid this fate by limiting the increase in the global average temperature to 2 degrees C. or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and we have as much chance of dodging that bullet as the dinosaurs had of outrunning the Chicxulub meteor 64 million years ago. The difference is that the meteor wasn’t summoned by the dinosaurs.

The 2012 annual emissions report by the GCP has just been published in the academic journal Nature Climate Change. It shows that humans will have dumped 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere by the end of 2012, an increase of 2.6%! The GCP released its data in the journal Earth System Science Data Discussions.

Aljazeera English reports on the disappointing results so far of the Climate Conference in Doha, Qatar.

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7 Responses

  1. I’ve always felt that the climate summits take the wrong approach. Country-based emission caps will always have winners and losers. There will be elements of foreign aid bundled with any such scheme, and of course it is hard to agree then.

    The same reductions, however, could be had by CO2 taxes. If the approach were national CO2 taxes with a globally agreed floor, then every country would just shift some of their taxes internally from labor to CO2 emissions (and strengthen their labor market in the process). Nothing would go to other countries. Of course, for this to be effective, subsidies of fossils, especially price regulation of gasoline, need to be abolished in the countries that have it.

    Btw, China’s rise in CO2 levels are astounding. They have now passed my own Sweden in CO2 emission per capita, as Sweden wisely employs nuclear and hydro to have essentially zero carbon emissions from electricity. Coal-based Germany, however, has almost twice the CO2 emission per capita and are still far “ahead” of China.

  2. CO2 levels set new record highs last year: Levels went up by 3.2%. Although the US was down slightly by 1.7% – no doubt due to the lingering effects of the Great Recession – Japan rose as it shut down nuclear power plants.

    And climate scientists report that sea levels rose 60% faster between 1990 and 2010 than they’d predicted.

    As the permafrost continues to deteriorate, the naturally-occuring CO2 levels trapped in the soil will be released into the atmosphere, as well. Once it is released, it cannot be recaptured.

    Yet the US continues to dither and Republicans still don’t believe there’s a problem.

    I’m glad I don’t have oceanfront property.

    • Folks with oceanfront property don’t worry.
      Based on historical experience, the federal government will rebuild whatever they lose, paid for by the taxpayer, if we still have any taxpayers by then.

  3. One wonders where an Eocene-type peak topples over into a permanent lead-melting hell-storm like we see on Venus. Did that planet once resemble ours? We’ll never know.

    • I’ve thought about that possibility ever since I was a kid in science class.

      Look, if the situation is that immediate and dire, you might as well just legalize everything and federally subsidize hedonistic orgies because we’re not fixing Global Warming in 10 years. Forget it. We need at least a half century of wiggle room to figure this out.

    • My understanding of this risk is that our civilization would collapse before we could release enough CO2 to trigger a runaway green house effect. I’m humble enough though to realize my understanding is limited.

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