Yesterday, we brought you 7 Depressing Environmental Stories and we have to lead this post off with yet another:
The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today is high enough to change the climate "disastrously," according to 10 prominent scientists, led by NASA climate scientist James Hansen, who published their analysis in the Open Atmospheric Science Journal.
You'll be hearing a lot about the number 350 in the coming weeks, as advocates promote it as the "safe" concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as measured in parts per million (or ppm). That's the concentration, as it was before the industrial revolution. Today, the concentration is 385 ppm, and rising about 2 ppm each year. And, though United Nations scientists had cautioned that 450 ppm would be the danger threshold, the new analysis suggests we have much less cushion.
Why? Mainly because climate-driven feedback loops are reinforcing one another. For instance, as polar ice melts, more dark open water absorbs heat that light-colored ice would have reflected, leading to more melting, more heat absorption, more melting, etc. These feedback loops, while predicted in the past, seem to be happening faster than scientists had expected.
Still, if the world can phase out the use of coal by 2030, limit the use of unconventional oil sources like tar sands, switch to natural fertilizers and plant new forests, the worst consequences of global warming can still be avoided.
"Humanity today, collectively, must face the uncomfortable fact that industrial civilization itself has become the principal driver of global climate," says the paper. "The greatest danger is continued ignorance and denial, which would make tragic consequences unavoidable."
Now, for the good news. We're not ignoring the problem. Here are five good pieces of evidence, all from today's headlines:
California, as part of its effort to curtail global warming, could allow companies to pay for projects that preserve Brazilian and Indonesian rain forests, according to Bloomberg. The agreement was described as "pioneering" and goes a long way toward tackling the "other" cause of carbon emissions (other than burning fossil fuels) - destroying forests. Indonesia and Brazil are among the world's top carbon polluters (No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, behind China and the United States) largely because their forests are disappearing so quickly. This agreement could help stop the 20% of global carbon emissions that come from deforestation.
Indonesia, meanwhile, plans to plant 100 million trees in 2009, according to Reuters. Indonesia has already lost 70% of its original forests, and loses enough forest every year to cover Connecticut and Rhode Island (and then some), but it still retains a forest about the size of Texas and Oklahoma combined.
Britain became the first nation in the world to set binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions that match U.N. targets. The law requires the government to slash emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, according to Agence-France Presse. Under the law, Britain will have to meet new carbon-reduction targets every five years.
For years, the norm in environmental litigation has been something like this:
Well, there's a new chapter. In Kansas, where the Democratic Gov. (and one-time purported vice presidential possibility for Obama) Kathleen Sebelius stopped the construction of a coal plant because of the greenhouse gas emissions it would pump into the atmosphere, Sunflower Electric is taking her and her environmental agency to court. The company's complaint? That its civil rights were violated by the governor's decision.
A new report lays out a framework for U.S. states to dramatically cut energy use -- 20% by 2025. The proposed investments in energy efficiency would save $500 billion over 20 years, cut the need for new energy sources by 50% and reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically.
So who produced this report? Some radical left-wing conspiracy of economy-killing tree huggers? Nope. Try Bush Administration. The Department of Energy and The Environmental Protection Agency released the report, National Action Plan Vision for 2025: A Framework for Change.
"Change" ... Now where have we heard that word recently ...?
In a speech delivered via video to a bipartisan climate summit in California, Obama pledged to take strong action to combat global warming. Here's what he had to say:
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