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Watch How Carbon Emissions Have Evolved Over 150 Years

This interactive visualization, originally posted by the World Resources Institute, is the most shocking CO2 comparison I’ve come across.  I’ve known that the United States has been a leader in carbon emissions for some time, but watching our country lead the pack for the last 150 years is not only frightening, but completely discouraging.

Those threatening carbon bubbles shooting into the atmosphere like Nerf balls are enough to grab anyone’s attention (even Wyoming Governor Matt Mead).  Climate change is a serious threat to our environment, and it’s getting worse.  If you’re doubtful after viewing this, well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit.

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  • http://jpwhitehome.wordpress.com JP White

    There is a lot of press regarding global warming and what is causing it. However I see very little discussion around what the ideal temperature is for our globe. Maybe a few degrees extra would be on balance a good thing, or maybe not.

    Rather than try and arrest change by implementing all manner of climate policies, how about first determining the optimum global temperature, an acceptable rate of change and set policies around that?

    With a growing global population which is not predicted to stop growing until 2075, a longer growing season maybe life saving and avert an unintentional holocaust.

    • http://www.yourenergyblog.com/ Jessica Kennedy

      JP – there is a scientific consensus and worldwide acknowledgement that global warming should be limited to a 2 degree celsius average temperature rise (measured against pre-industrial levels).
      The world is not doing a great job at achieving that mark – but that is still the goal.
      Scientists have warned that warming beyond that level may be a “tipping point” at which the climate may not be able to stabilize.
      There is plenty of information on the topic – the International Energy Administration is a great place to start: http://www.iea.org/publications/scenariosandprojections/

      • http://jpwhitehome.wordpress.com JP White

        Thanks for the link. The IEA do discuss 2C, 4C and 6C warming targets with a preference for 2C. I couldn’t find any discussion or paper as to why they picked that number. It came over as an arbitrary target. Once set the site is dedicated to what needs to happen to meet the target.

        It seems the logic is that since change is happening we must stop it, The focus is on the negative consequences of warming, there have to be benefits to a warmer climate. I was hoping for a discussion of what global temperature constitutes a good balance between the pros and cons of warmer vs colder and what is considered ideal.

        • http://www.yourenergyblog.com/ Jessica Kennedy

          Ok i see what you mean. The reason the IEA & other scientific organizations are so dedicated to the 2C target is that will keep overall climate change to a minimum. By that they mean the effects of a warmer climate such as stronger storms, higher sea levels, changing weather patterns, etc.
          There really is no benefit to a warming climate because of the way humans have established themselves on the planet. Populations tend to be dense near coastlines, and as sea levels rise these areas are flooding more and more. It’s happening already around the world, and it could actually mean populations need to move (one place getting attention now is a little town in Alaska called Shishmaref:) http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/detect/human-shishmaref.shtml

          The reason rising temperatures are so dangerous is that human populations are adapted to today’s climate. The places we farm food could become deserts with warmer temperatures and altered weather patterns (California’s drought could be an example). Animal and plant species could go extinct due to disappearing habitat. Rainforests, for example, are at risk, and they provide global benefits by taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. The oceans are becoming more acidic as well, and this is causing serious problems particularly for coral reefs and the sea life that depend on them. This could wreak havoc on fish populations exploited by humans too.

          It’s also possible that warming atmospheric temperatures could bring on another ice age for the Northern Hemisphere. Melting arctic ice is releasing fresh water into the ocean, and that changes the salt content. The ocean currents shift as a result, and that causes the jet stream, which is the main driver of our weather systems, to change course. If the jet stream dips too far south, arctic air moves over the continents and we get very, very cold.

          A warmer climate could possibly make some land more habitable in arctic and anarctic in environments, but the costs outweigh the benefits. The ideal situation is to keep our carbon emissions, and therefore global warming, as low as possible so that we can continue to live in the world we have adapted to.
          What are your thoughts?

          • http://jpwhitehome.wordpress.com JP White

            I understand the implication of rising sea levels and the need to relocate some coastal settlements. Since the sea level rise is slow there is little danger to human life, there would however be costly impacts in loss of property and rebuilding inland.

            I don’t accept that there are no benefits to warming. With all things there are pros and cons. The world population is due to rise until 2075 and by quite a bit before it peaks. How are we to feed the extra 2 billion? Would a warmer climate with longer growing seasons assist in feeding the world? I don’t know and there isn’t much discussion about how climate may help or hinder this challenge. One could argue with the ice caps melted there will be more available moisture leading to less chance of the deserts than we have today. Heat doesn’t always result in desert, there are plenty of forests in the tropics.

            Personally I put human suffering (or rather the avoidance of it) before property damage and inconvenience. We seem to be trying to avoid property damage. Is that the right call or motivation for climate policy?

            It does come over to me as if the scientific community wants to arrest change as much as possible, maybe through fear of what may happen. On the other hand we may miss an opportunity to make things better out of fear of a negative outcome. It’s easy to dream up doomsday scenarios and the example you gave of the fear that warming may cause an ice age reveals to me the hysteria in the minds of climatologists. Ice ages have coincided with lower global temperatures, not higher.

            At the end of the day I would like to be sure that we have made a valid choice and have a clear target for what is best for us. Resistance to change for the sake of it is akin to the actions of King Canute. I’d like to see more reasoning behind our goals before assuming a course of action.

          • http://jpwhitehome.wordpress.com JP White

            Well I did some digging and found a few white papers on the subject of where the 2% number came from.

            One paper which is highly critical of the target concludes that the target is both unrealistic to achieve and not based on science. It also criticizes the lack of adjustments for adaptation.

            http://goo.gl/U1d3oo

            Another article which is favorable towards the target does reveal that the target was arrived at mostly by accident and scientists view it as politically motivated while politicians view it as scientific fact. They also detail that cost of moving cities is equivalent to the cost of meeting the target by reducing emissions.

            http://goo.gl/Lca0wU

            I conclude therefore that the target is arbitrary. I feel it more important for us to focus on the rate of climate change rather than any absolute number. I believe we can adapt to many temperatures, our ability to adapt sufficiently quickly is more the area for our concern.

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