The latest measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may not be surprising, but neither are they uplifting.
The concentration of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2007, as global greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase. In the last 25 years, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased 37%, fueling the global warming that is melting the Arctic, dulling northern winters, allowing tropical diseases to spread poleward, threatening countless species and ecosystems and spawning violent and dangerous weather events, like droughts, floods and strong storms.
The United Nations convenes a climate conference in Poznan, Poland next week. Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, is leading the U.S. Senate delegation, and acting more-or-less as a surrogate for President-elect Barack Obama, who has pledged to be far more aggressive, to put it mildly, than lame-duck President George W. Bush on the issue.
But the economic crisis could impede efforts, many have warned, given that technological innovation and higher energy prices are two keys to achieving progress on global warming. Both rely on strong economies and functioning financial systems - neither of which are present in abundance around the world today.
But Obama has also pledged to make renewable energy investments -- and perhaps energy efficiency investments -- part of his economic recovery plan.
What comes out of the meeting in Poland -- the latest step toward the finish line in 2009 in Copenhagen, when the world is to agree to a successor climate treaty to the Kyoto Protocol -- remains to be seen. But the latest U.N. data underscores the importance of making progress on this mother of all environmental issues -- indeed, mother of all human issues.
If there's a bright lining in the WMO report on carbon dioxide, it's this: The concentration of chlorofluorocarbons, the chemicals that deplete the ozone layer, continue to decrease since the world took action to phase out their use beginning in the 1980s. In other words, it is possible to tackle environmental problems that are complex and global in scale.
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