Resources Research

Making local sense of food, urban growth, population and energy

We are stifled by growth greed, our air reeks of carbon dioxide

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An image from the Atlas of Health and Climate, a joint publication by the World Meteorological Organization and the World Health Organization: “Human health is profoundly affected by weather and climate. Extreme weather events kill tens of thousands of people every year and undermine the physical and psychological health of millions. Droughts directly affect nutrition and the incidence of diseases associated with malnutrition. Floods and cyclones can trigger outbreaks of infectious diseases and damage hospitals and other health infrastructure, overwhelming health services just when they are needed most.”

The World Meteorological Organization has said that the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2011. Between 1990 and 2011 there was a 30% increase in what the climate scientists call “radiative forcing” – the warming effect on our climate – because of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping long-lived gases.

Since the start of the industrial era in 1750, according to the WMO’s 2011 Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, about 375 billion tonnes of carbon have been released into the atmosphere as CO2, most of this from fossil fuel combustion.

Our stifling (and that of the flora and fauna with which we share our Earth, and who are victims as much as we are) is taking place because about half of this CO2 remains in the atmosphere (the rest gets absorbed by the oceans and biospheres, usually forests – which are being cut down at a fearsome rate – around the world).

Do they learn and listen? Not at all, as this report in The Guardian has just explained. More than 1,000 coal-fired power plants are being planned worldwide, new research by the World Resources Institute has revealed. The huge planned expansion comes despite warnings – such as this one from the WMO – that the planet’s fast-rising carbon emissions must peak within a few years if runaway climate change is to be avoided. Coal plants are the most polluting of all power stations and the World Resources Institute identified 1,200 coal plants in planning across 59 countries, with about three-quarters in China and India. The capacity of the new plants add up to 1,400GW to global greenhouse gas emissions. India is planning 455 new plants compared to 363 in China.

“These billions of tonnes of additional carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will remain there for centuries, causing our planet to warm further and impacting on all aspects of life on earth,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “Future emissions will only compound the situation.”

This eighth WMO-Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) Annual Bulletin reports on the atmospheric burdens and rates of change of the most important long-lived greenhouse gases (very unhelpfully acronymed as ‘LLGHGs’, which is rivalled perhaps in unwieldiness by ‘LULUCF’). These are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, CFC-12 and CFC-11.

Radiative forcing, relative to 1750, of all the long-lived greenhouse gases. The NOAA Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI), which is indexed to 1 for the year 1990, is shown on the right axis. Chart: NOAA ESRL Global Monitoring Division

The three greenhouse gases we are most familiar with – carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4)and nitrous oxide (N2O) – are closely linked to anthropogenic activities, and interact strongly with the biosphere and the oceans.

Predicting the evolution of the atmospheric content of greenhouse gases requires an understanding of their many sources, sinks and chemical transformations in the atmosphere. There we are helped by the NOAA’s (the USA’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Annual Greenhouse Gas Indexin 2011 this index was 1.30, representing an increase in total radiative forcing by all long-lived greenhouse gases of 30% since 1990 and of 1.2% from 2010 to 2011. Read that again – more than one per cent from 2010 to 2011! What do the G20 governments and multinationals do not understand by these numbers? Are we to believe that the same people who design complex financial derivatives don’t get climate change math?

Written by makanaka

November 21, 2012 at 21:02

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