Tag Archives: carbon emissions

Humans didn’t exist the last time there was this much CO2 in the air

The last time atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were this high, millions of years ago, the planet was very different. For one, humans didn’t exist.

On Wednesday, scientists at the University of California in San Diego confirmed that April’s monthly average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration breached 410 parts per million for the first time in our history.

We know a lot about how to track these changes. The Earth’s carbon dioxide levels peak around this time every year for a pretty straightforward reason. There’s more landmass in the northern hemisphere, and plants grow in a seasonal cycle. During the summer, they suck down CO2, during the winter, they let it back out. The measurements were made at Mauna Loa, Hawaii — a site chosen for its pristine location far away from the polluting influence of a major city.

Increasingly though, pollution from the world’s cities is making its way to Mauna Loa — and everywhere else on Earth.

In little more than a century of frenzied fossil-fuel burning, we humans have altered our planet’s atmosphere at a rate dozens of times faster than natural climate change. Carbon dioxide is now more than 100 ppm higher than any direct measurements from Antarctic ice cores over the past 800,000 years, and probably significantly higher than anything the planet has experienced for at least 15 million years. That includes eras when Earth was largely ice-free.

Not only are carbon dioxide levels rising each year, they are accelerating. Carbon dioxide is climbing at twice the pace it was 50 years ago. Even the increases are increasing.

That’s happening for several reasons, most important of which is that we’re still burning a larger amount of fossil fuels each year. Last year, humanity emitted the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions in history — even after factoring in the expansion of renewable energy. At the same time, the world’s most important carbon sinks — our forests — are dying, and therefore losing their ability to pull carbon dioxide out of the air and store it safely in the soil. The combination of these effects means we are losing ground, and fast.

Without a bold shift in our actions, in 30 years atmospheric carbon dioxide will return back to levels last reached just after the extinction of the dinosaurs, more than 50 million years ago. At that point, it might be too late to prevent permanent, dangerous feedback loops from kicking in.

This is the biggest problem humanity has ever faced, and we’ve barely even begun to address it effectively. On our current pace, factoring in current climate policies of every nation on Earth, the best independent analyses show that we are on course for warming of about 3.4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, enough to extinguish entire ecosystems and destabilize human civilization.

Climate change demands the urgent attention and cooperation of every government around the world. But even though most countries have acknowledged the danger, the ability to limit our emissions eludes us. After 23 years of United Nations summits on climate change, the time has come for radical thinking and radical action — a social movement with the power to demand a better future.

Of the two dozen or so official UN scenarios that show humanity curbing global warming to the goals agreed to in the 2015 Paris Accord, not one show success without the equivalent of a technological miracle. It’s easier to imagine outlandish technologies, like carbon capture, geoengineering, or fusion power than self-control.

Our failed approach to climate change is mostly a failure of imagination. We are not fated to this path. We can do better. Yes, there are some truly colossal headwinds, but we still control our future. Forgetting that fact is sure to doom us all.

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Humans didn’t exist the last time there was this much CO2 in the air

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If nuclear war doesn’t get us, runaway climate change will.

New research from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association could help pinpoint snow levels in mountain ranges across the Western United States eight months in advance. That’s more certainty of the future than we’re getting from most government agencies these days, so we’ll take it!

“Snowpack” refers to layers of mountain snow that build up during the winter, harden into large masses of frozen water, and then melt in the spring. That melted snow trickles down to feed rivers and streams, bolster municipal water supplies, and supply farmers with a majority of the water they need to grow crops. Eighty percent of snowmelt runoff is used for agriculture.

A lack of snowpack, furthermore, is a big cause of wildfires and drought. Declining snowpack levels in Western mountain ranges in recent years contributed to 2017’s unprecedented drought and wildfire season.

Now, scientists at NOAA think they can help farmers and water managers in the West by predicting where water resources are most likely to accumulate and how much snowmelt can be expected.

This summer, researchers will already be working on snowpack predictions for March 2019 across the western U.S. — with the exception of the southern Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, where random storms make predictions difficult.

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If nuclear war doesn’t get us, runaway climate change will.

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5 Foods with Huge Carbon Footprints

When you bite into a hamburger or enjoy a pile of roast asparagus, do you think about the impact it has on the environment? Well, maybe you should.

See, the food that we eat has an incredible impact on climate change. In fact, agriculture is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. What foods we choose to buy, howwe choose to purchase them and how often we consume them matter to global warming.

And not all foods have an equal impact.

Livestock and their byproductsaccount forat least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or51percentof all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. And agriculture is responsible for80-90percentof all United States water consumption. That’s crazy!

Here are the top five offenders.

5 Foods with Huge Carbon Footprints

In 2011, CleanMetrics Corp., a Portland, Oregon-based environmental firm, published a report called “The Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change & Health.” Based on that report, these foods are the most ‘environmentally impactful’ based on their greenhouse gas emissions. (Be sure to check out their methodology in the report itself.)

Each of these foods was studied from a variety of angles: emissions produced before a product leaves the farm (i.e. use of fertilizer and pesticides, irrigation, impact of animal feed) and emissions produced after the product leaves the farm (i.e. food processing, transport, retail, cooking and ultimately waste disposal).

Here are the results, in kilograms of CO2:

1. Lamb – Produces 39.2 kg CO2 during its lifetime.

2. Beef – Produces 27 kg CO2 during its lifetime.

3. Cheese – Produces 13.5 kg CO2 during its lifetime.

4. Pork – Produces 12.1 kg CO2 during its lifetime.

5. Farmed Salmon – Produces 11.9 kg CO2 during its lifetime.

And it’s not just animal products that are the problem.Potatoes produce the most emissions of all protein-rich plants,followed by asparagus, avocados, bananas and eggplant. Most of these require air freight to different parts of the world, because they only grow in warm climates.

What can you do about it?

Every single day, a person who eats a vegan diet saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forested land, 20 pounds CO2 equivalent and one animals life. That’s seriously convincing!

Here’s what I want you to hear most:food is power.You have an incredible amount of influence in the palm of your hand. What will you do with it?

Reducing (or eliminating) your meat intake hasinnumerable benefits. Youll contribute significantly to the causes of conservation and lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and youll look and feel better in the process.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Learn about the impacts of the agriculture industry. Get to know the facts and equip yourself with knowledge.
  2. Don’t feel pressure to change your entire diet in one day. Take it bit by bit. Start by eliminating red meat, then chicken.
  3. Slowly integrate plant-based meals into your weekly routine. Once you have some recipes you know you can count on, phase out the rest.

Alreadyeating a plant-based diet? Make it a point to shop in season and shop local whenever possible, if not always!

Think you can do it? I know you can!

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.


5 Foods with Huge Carbon Footprints

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California has an ambitious plan to tackle climate change. Could it work?

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California has an ambitious plan to tackle climate change. Could it work?

By and on Sep 16, 2016Share

California took a giant step to fight climate change last week, passing ambitious legislation to slash its greenhouse gas emissions. Hailed as world-leading, historic, and other excited adjectives, it sets a goal of cutting emissions below 1990 levels by 2030.

If you know about this triple-dog-dare legislation that Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law, you’ve probably heard that it’s not only going to continue California’s tradition of feeling smug about how green it is compared to other states, it’s going to usher in a glorious new era of renewable energy innovation. Maybe you also heard that it’s further proof that Californians are crazy, because the state is just too big, hot, and suburban to meet such a formidable challenge.

The thing is, both of these statements may be true. The state had already passed a slightly less ambitious carbon-cutting plan in 2006, targeting 1990 levels by 2020. And California hasn’t hit that goal yet.

Is the state’s climate policy working? Are the new goals realistic? Can it survive political attacks? Is this whole thing equitable? So many important questions! We have answers. Here’s a short primer to help you understand the state’s carbon-cutting plans.

California’s efforts haven’t lowered the state’s emissions any faster than overall U.S. emissions.

Brown effectively doubled down on the state’s climate targets. That raises the question: Is the previous plan working?

“We’re always hearing from California that we are leaders in carbon-dioxide emissions and that we’ve  been leading the U.S. as a whole in policy making,” says James Sweeney, director of the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University. “But as a whole, our greenhouse gas emissions have been lowering at about the same rate as the U.S.”

Sweeney made the following graph to show what he’s talking about. It’s good for comparing rates of change, and bad for comparing absolute numbers. At first glance, it looks like California is — absurdly — emitting more than the U.S. as a whole. The point here is that, since 2000, the emissions of both have risen and fallen at about the same rate.

James Sweeney

California’s relative averageness is a problem for champions of its climate policy. Are the state’s rules having any effect?

They are, but here’s the thing: Other states have managed deep cuts in emissions by switching from coal to natural gas plants. California was already pretty green to start. It had low-carbon hydroelectricity, cleaner industry, and mild weather, so most of the low-hanging fruit was already picked.

It didn’t help California when drought sapped its hydropower capacity, or when one of the state’s last two nuclear power plants shut down in 2012. “A bunch of dirty power plants were turned on to replace that,” said Greg Dalton, founder of the California climate symposium Climate One.

California Air Resources Board

Dalton also points out that the climate plan, though a decade old, took a while to overcome early obstacles. In the beginning it was slowed by lawsuits, and regulators had to produce reams of documents to figure out how to count carbon. The state only recently phased in its regulations for gasoline, and it’s just starting to look at agriculture.

So the state could pick up momentum and make bigger reductions. Still, California has now said it will drive down emissions much faster than the rest of the United States, and it’s never done that before.

Are California’s goals realistic?

California had already committed to bringing its emissions down to 1990 levels by 2020. It’s looking like the state will hit that target, said Alvar Escriva-Bou, a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California. But the new law sets a much more ambitious goal. Can it get there?

It’s possible in theory, according to a model created by Jeffrey Greenblatt of Berkeley Lab. As you can see in this graph from that model, California could dip under its 2030 emission target if it follows the green path:


But at the moment, it seems California is following the blue path. To get to that “S3” green curve, the state would need to keep its last remaining nuclear power plant running until 2045 (it’s scheduled to shut down in 2025), build 3 gigawatts of batteries and power storage (way more than currently planned), replace 30 percent of gasoline with low-carbon biofuel (still unclear if that will be viable), and do a bunch of other equally tough stuff. If California makes this happen, the state will look very different 15 years from now.

California’s climate plan is popular

Some 70 percent of Californians support the state’s climate regulations. And the rules are not only popular, they are durable. At the depths of the last recession, voters handily defeated a measure that would have suspended regulations until California’s unemployment numbers improved.

The laws don’t appear to have hindered the economy. When California was phasing in transportation fuel rules that increased gas prices about 10 cents a gallon, critics predicted chaos breaking loose at gas stations. “But no one really noticed,” Dalton said.

The policy has survived multiple legal attacks. There’s currently another lawsuit pending against it, and the legislature will need to pass more supporting laws, but if past is prologue California is likely to push past these challenges.

The new law attempts to address concern on the left about the climate plan

Some Democrats and social justice advocates point out that the climate policy could hurt poor people and minorities because it has raised the price of electricity and fuel while allowing pollution to continue in black and Latino neighborhoods.

California’s policy relies on a cap-and-trade system that requires  businesses to clean up their dirty facilities, or keep polluting and buy climate credits to spur emissions reductions elsewhere. That’s the economically efficient way, but it doesn’t help the people who live downwind of a polluting plant and inhale lungfuls of particulate matter often released with carbon. Brentin Mock at City Lab highlights the body of research, including the graph below, that suggests plants are more likely to keep polluting if they are surrounded by non-white people.

Cushing et al.

To address this environmental-justice problem, the legislature has introduced a new provision that directs regulators to crack down on specific polluters. Until now, regulators had just laid out the rules and then stepped back to let the market sort out a response. This new law would allow the government to step in and say, “This facility in this particular neighborhood has to install better filters.”

Of course, concern is not limited to the left. Politicians on both sides of the aisle understand that if regulations become too onerous they would push industry out of the state. Environmentalists share this concern: The policy won’t be a success if it just shifts greenhouse gas production out of state.

Some countries have lowered their emissions by moving manufacturing abroad — the industry and the pollution winds up in poorer countries. That’s a pretty terrible way to reduce carbon because it hurts the economy, dumps pollution on people with fewer resources (though they also get some jobs), and does nothing to slow climate change.

So California is trying to push industries, but not so hard that industries pack up their factories and move them to China. There’s a vigorous ongoing debate over how much the regulations are affecting the economy and the environment (a version of this debate is planned for Sept. 20).

So far California’s manufacturing sector has remained fairly steady as the climate policies have phased in. And the example of Sweden, shows that you can successfully slash emissions while industry grows.

All in all, California’s new climate law is cause for both alarm and celebration. The reality is that California, and the rest of the world, need to clear a bar this high. It’s just what needs to be done. It’s only “ambitious” because the goal is so far out of reach.

A goal this ambitious shows just how far away American cities actually are from cutting carbon emissions to a level that will protect them in the long run. The good news is, now that California is trying to do this impossible-seeming thing, it just might figure it out.

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California has an ambitious plan to tackle climate change. Could it work?

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Now we can watch the oceans acidify in real time

Now we can watch the oceans acidify in real time

By on 18 Feb 2015commentsShare

We have a new way to measure ocean acidification … from space! Just as it did for the rotary phone and the which-way-is-my-weathervane-pointing meteorology, satellite technology will give a big boost to the tech available to monitor ocean chemistry, according to new research. Scientists previously relied on a patchy network of buoys, ships, and lab tests to monitor acidification. By combining satellite measurements of salinity and other ocean variables, scientists can now paint a near-instantaneous picture of the ocean’s acid baseline at any one time.

And, bonus points: It turns out that five years of changing ocean chemistry is pretty mesmerizing:

Here’s more from Climate Central:

The new monitoring techniques can help monitor hot spots such as the Bay of Bengal, the Arctic Ocean, and the Caribbean, three places where ocean acidification could have major economic impacts but where little research has been done.

New monitoring efforts may come in particularly useful in the coming months, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there is a risk of major coral bleaching in the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans through May, an event that may rival severe bleaching that occurred in 1998 and 2010. Some island nations in the tropical Pacific including Kiribati, Nauru and the Solomon Islands are already seeing ocean conditions that can cause bleaching.

Ocean Acidification, Now Watchable in Real Time

, Climate Central.



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Now we can watch the oceans acidify in real time

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In Case You Forgot, Forests Are Awesome…

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In Case You Forgot, Forests Are Awesome…

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5 Major Public Transit Systems (Infographic)

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5 Major Public Transit Systems (Infographic)

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