tagged w/ 450 PPM
CO2 is termed the Earth's biggest control knob. It hadn't been until now, because a knob implies something that someone can turn to control things. In a normal, natural world and on relatively short timescales, say tens of thousands of years, carbon dioxide is interlocked with global mean temperature and other variables. Temperatures can drive carbon dioxide levels up or down, which in turn drive temperatures further up or down.
Carbon dioxide acts as a feedback that enhances temperature changes.
This is most obvious during the transitions between glacial and interglacial periods, when temperatures rise or drop and CO2 seems to follow along like a happy puppy. What is not obvious when looking at the readings is that while orbital forcings cause the initial change in temperatures, and CO2 levels rise or fall in accordance with that initial change, the subsequent temperatures themselves also rise and fall in accordance with the changing CO2 levels.
The basic formula behind a glacial termination is that something (orbital forcings) starts the increase in temperature. Actually, what really starts it is a change in the length and severity of northern hemisphere summers, without changing the overall amount of radiation reaching the planet at all. That stays fairly constant.
These seasonal changes in turn cause the ice sheets covering the northern hemisphere land masses to begin to melt. This reflects less sunlight back into space, and that really does change the amount of energy that the planet receives from the sun, which leads to warming. It also results in the release of methane, another powerful greenhouse gas, which warms the planet even further.
Then CO2 kicks in. The oceans warm. Warmer water cannot hold as much dissolved carbon dioxide and so the oceans release some CO2 into the atmosphere. CO2 in the atmosphere causes warming. The increased warming causes the ice sheets to retreat further, and the oceans to warm further, and more CO2 to be released.
This continues, but with limits. There is (or had been) only so much CO2 that could make its way into the atmosphere. The system only pushes this cycle so far. The many previous glacial terminations in the past 2.5 million years (a period known as the Pleistocene Epoch) have seen lows of about 180 ppm of CO2, and highs between 250 ppm and 300 ppm.
The main point is that temperatures and CO2 are interlocked, or at least had been until now. Temperature changes had to get the ball rolling, so on a graph they will lead the way, but the two work in concert. One is not pulling a leash to drag the other along. They each push and pull the other, working their way from low to high, or high to low, as an integrated system.
CO2 does not "lag" temperature. That's a simplistic, inaccurate and indiscriminate view of a complex interaction.
Turning the Knob
Unfortunately, contrary to recent natural history, man has learned how to remove the regulator and to dial up a far higher level of CO2 in the atmosphere. CO2 has become the climate's biggest control knob in the last two centuries or so, in the sense that it is in fact a control that mankind can twist, turn, tweak and, sadly, overdo.
A glacial termination happens on very, very long timescales relative to man. What we have done in the past two centuries, however, applies a change to CO2 levels — implying an equivalent change in climate — that would otherwise take nature 10 to 12 thousand years.
CO2 was once interlocked with temperature. In the past 200 years we have instead taken 337 gigatonnes of carbon out of the ground and injected it into the atmosphere and the oceans. Nature spent the better part of several hundred million years converting that carbon into new forms (coal, oil, gas) and sequestering it deep under the surface of the earth.
Man will be able to undo in 200 years what took nature hundreds of millions of years to accomplish, and in so doing, in that same time frame, we are duplicating a feat that normally takes nature 10,000 years to accomplish (i.e. increasing atmospheric CO2 levels by two thirds).
And, as an important point, we have no idea if we are capable of duplicating nature's feat of again sequestering that carbon underground. We have far too easily turned the knob in one direction, but with no capacity whatsoever to turn it in the other.
More at the linkCO2 is termed the Earth's biggest control knob. It hadn't been until now,... more
According to this scientific report, CO2 has been increasing by 2.3 % yearly doubling every 30 years since its first recording in 1958 (it actually increased 3% between 2006/2007.) Pre-industrial levels were at 280 PPM. Now, we are at 385 PPM inching ever closer to 450 PPM. At the current rate of CO2 emissions should they continue unabated (which I don't even know if that includes rates of deforestation) by 2050 the planet will likely surpass 500 PPM. And this is according to actual scientists who know what they are talking about and take these readings.
There are those scientists (James Hanson for example) who claim that to surpass 450 PPM will lead us into territory we do not want to visit. And while some scientists are hesitant to now use the term "tipping point" as they fear it will generate a lack of apathy towards action (which I can understand on one level,) should we not be trying to make people understand what is truly at stake here and that we still have time to head this off if we do what is necessary?
This is why when I read articles stating that governments including our own are still touting the 80% emissions cut by 2050 line I now have to shake my head. This is the same goal that was mentioned five years or more ago... and still we are waiting for action. With such an exponential rise in CO2 emissions as has been recorded and predicted taking into account deforestation, ocean CO2 saturation, and yes, natural cycle forcings, I do not see how continuing to tout that same goal is going to get us anywhere.
This is a moral crisis that now challenges the human species to answer this question: Just how much do you really care for this planet and your future on it? What are you prepared to do to not see these tipping points be reached? Reaching a higher level of consciousness about this is indeed necessary. I think about Carl Sagan and his wisdom in understanding the pale blue dot we live on and that it is the only home we have to sustain us. Does that really not matter? Have we become so blinded by politics, apathy, distractions, and lets face it, hatred for others that it blinds us to the issue at hand?According to this scientific report, CO2 has been increasing by 2.3 % yearly doubling... more
We are currently at 385PPM. At 450PPM, we enter a world where the tipping points begin to come one by one. It won't take long to get there now, and scientists are relatively sure we will reach even 600PPM by mid century. My child and his children will still be here. Heck, I may even be here still if I somehow live into my nineties. So why aren't more people truly concerned about this even with all we know and with all scientists are saying?
Well, I think the reason is obvious. It is because it is the human species that is entrusted with doing the right thing. Right there I believe there could be evidence to dispute the presence of a higher power. How could any such higher power think to place humans as stewards of anything? We seem to only destroy all we touch. I have stated many times that I have faith in humans and that we will do the right thing to save ourselves. I don't feel that way today.
I think about the future a lot. I think about the world our children will live in... and then I cry. I sign petitions, I speak out, I blog, I post, I scream, I support environmental organizations, I speak out to politicians, and I live my life in a way that I walk as lightly on this planet as I possibly can. Is it to be all for naught because of the selfish, apathetic, ignorant ones who think this is just some political game?
We must cap CO 2 emissions NOW. Not in five years, or ten years, or by 2050. NOW. So considering that scenario along with the fact that we are dealing with a system built on greed that blinds man to all that is important, I think it is safe to say we are screwed. Our procrastination for the last thirty years has brought us to this point, and STILL politicians play footsy with the sustainability of this planet as if we have time to sit and waste another thirty years. And people are still arguing over whether humans even cause it. All over the voices of the scientists speaking the truth to us and saying, you are failing morally in your duty to preserve this planet for your existence.
Shame on us all for still not paying attention.We are currently at 385PPM. At 450PPM, we enter a world where the tipping points begin... more