Climate Letter #1054

CO2 emissions from human activity are growing again, following a “unique hiatus” that lasted two years.  This study, which has all the numbers and plenty of charts, projects a gain of 2.0% in 2017 over 2016.  The outlook for 2018 is not too hopeful, primarily because the trend of economic growth is unusually strong all across the globe.  The conclusion:  “At current annual rates of ~41 Gt CO2 for fossil fuels, industrial and land-use emissions combined, time is running out on our ability to keep global average temperature increases below 2 °C and, even more immediately, anything close to 1.5 °C.  Nothing short of deep and rapid decarbonization will keep the Earth from surpassing the 1.5 °C average temperature threshold in as little as a decade, and 2 °C a few decades after that.”  (In my view the highly-evident addiction to economic growth, even when it is not needed for survival, is the primary impediment to decarbonization.)
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China’s addiction to economic growth has reached a point of no return, and may soon be taking a hit (CNN Money).  Several decades of extraordinarily rapid and reckless growth have created problems far beyond that of excessive carbon emissions and much more immediate.  The people are very concerned and want changes.  The changes are in fact starting to happen, at the expense of economic growth.  “Analysts generally agree that China’s economy is strong enough to handle more disruption — for now.  But should growth dip too sharply, the government may ease the pressure on big polluters.”
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In Peru, melting glaciers that have brought prosperity are now being depleted.  In this mountainous region there will fairly soon be no other meaningful source of water and the good times will end.  The full story of this tragic situation has been covered by the New York Times, including a set of magnificent photographs.
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Climate science:  This story will interest anyone who wonders why ice age cycles switched from about every 40,000 years to every 100,000, starting 800,000 years ago.  It was because of a sharp drop in the CO2 level toward the bottom of each cycle, and researchers have now found reasons for the drop, as explained.  Of course there won’t be a “next time” to see if the phenomenon repeats itself again.
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Also for climate historians, going quite a bit further back.  Researchers have uncovered the story of how the Earth was able to climb out of a snowball situation more than one-half billion years ago, allowing the explosion of life in multicellular forms that headed our way.  On this occasion the CO2 level got a much-needed boost from an unusual source.  (Today, something comparable is rescuing the planet, so to speak, from those persistent ice age cycles described in the previous story.)
Carl
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