The atmosphere has been clogged with much more carbon dioxide than was expected, and the concentration has reached a level that scientists didn't expect to see for a decade, according to stories by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Reuters, quoting Tim Flannery, the author of "The Weather Makers" and an accomplished Australian scientist.
Flannery got a peek at the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, set for release in November ahead of the world's latest climate discussions in Bali a month later.
The number may not mean much to non-scientists who haven't followed global warming closely, but the 455 parts per million of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere represents what is believed to be a critical threshold. At that point, the world is pretty well locked in to a 2 degree Celsius rise in average temperatures -- enough to cause significant sea-level rise, and a cascade of other ill effects.
However, other climate scientists have said Flannery is mis-reading or mis-representing the data, and that the atmosphere is still near the 380 ppm mark. These scientists -- not climate science skeptics, but themselves respected long-time researchers -- say upcoming U.N. report is not expected to reveal any new data about the concentration of greenhouse gases, or the overall effect relative to cooling forces.
Scientists have been saying we should act to curb emissions before we hit 450 ppm, which scientists hadn't expected to see for another decade, according to Flannery. He said the 455 ppm level was reached in 2005, and he accelerating accumulation of greenhouse gases is largely attributed to rapid economic growth in China, India and other developing nations. (Though, remember, the last 150 years' worth of emissions came primarily from Europe, the United States, Russia and Australia.)
Where does this leave us? Flannery says it leaves us with even more reason to act and act now. It's hard, hearing this news though, to add "before it's too late."
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