7 November 2009

The Breathing Earth

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Many people are surprised when they first see a graph of the carbon dioxide levels measured at Mauna Loa in Hawaii. The first question asked is why is it going up and down each year?

Screen shot 2009-11-07 at 20.32.45The answer is that you are looking the Earth breathing!

There is much more land in the Northern Hemisphere than the Southern, and when spring arrives in the North, the growing plants suck CO2 out of the air and the ambient level in the air drops a little. When these plants die and  decay in the autumn, the level rises again.

To track the real increase in CO2, from humans,(The anthropogenic increase) you have to take a running average.

The rate of increase is variable each year, but it’s also increasing. from 1959-1964 the level was rising at a mean of  .816 ppm per year. (My calculation from NOAA data). From 2004-2008 the mean yearly increase was 1.93 ppm per year. This is the real problem. The rate of increase itself is increasing.

How does this break down by country? China is now number one in the amount of CO2 emitted per year, but the USA is responsible for a much larger portion of the current 389 ppm level than they are.

There is a fascinating website that brings these abstract numbers to life. It’s called the BREATHING EARTH. It’s worth looking at.

Mouse the image to see the Breathing Earth.

Mouse the image to see the Breathing Earth.

It truly is a global problem.

It’s also becoming more and more obvious that plans to reduce the rate of rise are

1. Not likely to happen at a significant level.

2. It is going to take a massive global change in the way we produce energy. A global change that needs to happen in a generation. Even if it hurts the economy and even if it costs a lot.

There is a big argument over the true costs of changing how we make our energy, but it seems to me that the 100 ton gorilla in the room is being ignored.

We will HAVE to do it, even if the side that claims it will be extremely expensive is right.

Hopefully Joe Romm at Climate Progress is right and we can do it with almost no increase in the cost of energy. It seems to me that in the long run, it doesn’t really matter. We’d better start and start soon.

The Science is overwhelming.

Enjoy your weekend!