CO2 Emissions Must be Cut Now

It’s (Past) Time to Cut CO2 Emissions

Greetings:  I’m updating this post from three years ago as a reminder that we have a deadly national emergency slipping up on us that will kill far more people than COVID-19. If you click the CO2 link in the sidebar you can see that we haven’t yet begun responding by cutting emissions. 

Yesterday at my house we received 2.25″ of rain (with hail) in less than an hour. In arid regions, that’s a lot. The gutters clogged with hail, spilled over, and contributed to ponding in the yard that came within 1/4 inch of flowing over the patio door sills. I have a flood wall planned, but eventual flooding will probably flow over any wall I can build.

We can expect increasing storm size and intensity because of the amount of CO2 we have already released into the atmosphere. If we could limit emissions and subsequent temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the storms would continue to grow, but away from the coasts, little flood walls and rooftop solar panels would probably let most of us survive. However, limiting the storms by limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius is impossible now. We might still limit the increase to 2 degrees, but we have to act fast.

The graph below shows the best scientific estimates of the cumulative effect of delays. If emissions begin to fall now, we can stay below 2 degrees of rise if we reach zero by 2040. If emissions do not begin falling until 2025, we must reach zero by 2033 to stay below 2 degrees. Eight years? Having had a strong taste of the coming catastrophe by then, we might try. But the effort itself would be so costly, we probably wouldn’t make it. Dropping to zero in 21 years if we begin now will be incredibly difficult. It will require a global switch to wartime economies dedicated to building renewable energy and making emission cuts. Emissions are still rising as we approach 2020, and reaching zero in 21 years seems unlikely.

All we can count on for sure is that nature will force human emissions to begin falling in about 20 years due to massive loss of life as heatwaves and wildfires increase, and as farms, water delivery, power delivery, and transportation fail. That’s when positive feedbacks, including the ice-free arctic, melting permafrost, soil erosion, and other sources of CO2 will begin growing without our contribution. At that point, our species could begin spiraling down toward extinction.

Christiana Figueres and colleagues published the graph below last year. I blogged about it last December. You can find a link to the original article there.

To keep all this positive, glass half full and so on, I will close by saying that the world’s scientists could be wrong about climate and we will all find a ten pound gold nugget in the alley and win the lottery next week.

11 thoughts on “CO2 Emissions Must be Cut Now

  1. What political mechanism exists to compel the global fossil fuel culture and industry, which covers and controls nearly all of humanity, holding nearly all the most dangerous and far-reaching levers of social power, to voluntarily give up any of its practices, profits, or future plans?
    Nothing in the human record suggests the slightest collective ability to fashion a global self-governing structure for this degree of ubiquitous corruption.

    Of course, you seem to know these dilemmas of fact, and you can’t be faulted for wanting something good to happen out of this mess.

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  2. I appreciate your concern for our environment but I have an idea that may shake up the world of science. Carbon dioxide has been used as a proxy in many scientific studies because its amount in the atmosphere is somewhat constant over short periods of geological time unlike water vapor. Water vapor in the atmosphere moves around with precipitation and clouds but there is always an abundance of water vapor in the atmosphere somewhere over the planet. Also the average amount of water vapor determined by the average relative humidity at 2% is at least 40 times greater the Carbon dioxide. The surface of Planet earth ( which is 71% water) is ~197 million square miles. For every square yard there is 55 pounds of water or 25 kilograms. That amounts to 37.5 million billion gallons of water x 8.33 BTU/F degrees= 3.12 x10^12 BTUs/1Fdegree raise. Converted to metric: 510 x10^6 kilometer^2 x4kJ=2040 X10^6kJ Water Vapor in the atmosphere every 10 days somewhere on planet Earth. Comparing Carbon dioxide Heat capacity (CO2 always ~400ppm) 1.42×10^17 kg H2O/ 3.21×10^15kg CO2= 4.44×10 or 444 more kilograms of water than CO2. Take specific heat of H2O (4kJ/kg K) and CO2 (0.66 kJ/kg K) = 6.1 H2O/ 1 CO2. Water vapor generates 7.26 x10^17 kJ of Heat every day compared to CO2 2.1kJ x10^15. Atmospheric Water vapor generates 346 times more heat than CO2, that is not even accounting for the immense amount of liquid water in the Ocean! CO2 is a wonderful indicator of climate change but is not the Cause. The Prime cause of climate change is what Civilization itself does to Heat bodies of water, streams into rivers into the Ocean. If We ignore Water Vapor as the cause, we do at our peril. To truly curb climate change, Civilization needs to be completely transformed. The surface of the continents needs to be returned to its wild state. Civilization by its conditions positioned itself by bodies of water. Water is then heated because Humans demand heat everywhere they go. Water is heated in streams, sewers, nuclear plant discharges, fossils fuel emissions, factories, cities etc etc. Also Turbidity of water is greatly increased and discharged in the same matter. all this goes into Coastal zones, overturning the ecological balance and creating Anoxic zones along all Continental shelves. Warm water goes into the Gulf Stream causing Cyclonic storms to develop and melting Icebergs. I could go on but few people in Civilization is going to go underground to save themselves from certain extinction.

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  3. In sort I would agree with Climate Activist concerning curbing Carbon dioxide emissions from Fossil fuel plants. But I believe We as a species need to completely change our way of life. We are the dominant species at the top of the pyramid. If the Pyramid falls so will Humans fall and perhaps go into extinction. For a species to continue into another Geologic Era, this species needs to have a healthy population that is diverse. If the community of Flora and Fauna is not diverse it is very unlikely that Homo sapiens will be diverse. A lack of diversity will lead to genetic drift and extinction. Global powers will not concede territory to wildlife in any meaningful way. War is the driving force of humanity. It will end with an Asteroid impact. There is a possibility to survive only if many go underground. The only animal survivors of the late Cretaceous extinction were those that could go underground, caves or under water. There is a way to support a Civilization that allows the Wilderness and Wildlife to thrive. We have the technology but do we have the Will?

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  4. Why do I get such a bad feeling about this? Is this the appropriate question? “Can we survive?” My basis for the question: Were greenhouse gas emissions terminated and the wild state achieved tomorrow, warming would continue until it was balanced by outgoing radiation. How high would global average temp need to be to force enough heat through the polluted atmosphere to reach equilibrium? How long would it take for the heat we’ve concentrated nearshore to be more evenly distributed across the oceans? How high would global average temp go before this happened? How high before planetwide equilibrium could be reached.

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  5. Its not just about radiation being absorbed from the atmosphere. That is really a small amount of heat compared to what is absorbed by water vapor and more so by waters in streams. Heat absorbed into streams goes into the Ocean and causes Anoxic Zones.

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