The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
'Single Most Important Stat on the Planet': Alarm as Atmospheric CO2 Soars to 'Legit Scary' Record High
By Jake Johnson
In another alarming signal that the international community is failing to take the kind of ambitious action necessary to avert global climate catastrophe, NOAA released new data Tuesday showing that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels — which environmentalist Bill McKibben described as the "single most important stat on the planet" — reached a "record high" in the month of May.
April was the first month in recorded history with an average concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide topping 410 parts per million (ppm).
This dubious new milestone was recorded at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii by the Keeling Curve, a program of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The United Nations (UN) Environment program has released its eighth annual Emissions Gap Report, which ominously found that greenhouse gas emissions are set to overshoot the Paris climate deal by about 30 percent.
The goal of the Paris agreement is to keep global temperature rise this century to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with each nation making individual efforts to mitigate global warming. But according to the new review, released ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, national pledges made so far cover only a third of the cuts needed by 2030 to avoid worst impacts of climate change.
Concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) increased at "record-breaking" speed last year, according to the World Meteorological Organization's (WMO) annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin released Monday.
According to the report, concentrations of CO2 reached 403.3 parts per million in 2016, up from 400.00 parts per million the year prior. This acceleration was due to a strong El Niño event—which triggered droughts and reduced the capacity of forests, vegetation and the oceans to absorb CO2—as well as human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels.
Tuticorin power plant in India will convert carbon emissions to soda ash.Roger Harrabin / The Guardian
The process was developed by London-based Carbon Clean Solutions Limited (CCSL). A pilot project, completed in May 2016, demonstrated the advantages of the process. Soda ash, also known as sodium carbonate (Na2CO3), is used in glass manufacturing, fiberglass insulation, sweeteners and household products. Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3), is one of those products.
"This project is a game-changer," said Aniruddha Sharma, chief executive officer at Carbon Clean Solutions. "This is a project that doesn't rely on government funding or subsidies—it just makes great business sense."
CCSL said that it can capture CO2 at $30 per metric ton, far lower than the $60 to $90 per ton typical in the global power sector. It said that the project will capture more than 60,000 metric tons (about 66,000 U.S. tons) of carbon each year.
Carbon Clean Solutions is not the first company to attempt to commercialize a process to convert CO2 emissions into commercially marketable products.
In 2012, a U.S. startup named Skyonic raised $9 million from investors to build a plant to convert carbon emissions from a cement plant in San Antonio, Texas. The investors included ConocoPhilips, BP and PVS Chemicals. The facility opened in October 2014 at the Capitol Aggregates plant and became operational in January 2016. Outputs include baking soda, bleach and hydrochloric acid.
Skyonic has said that, at full capacity, the plant will be able to capture 75,000 tons annually of CO2. The company claims that its process uses 30 percent less energy than more common carbon capture technologies. The plant was financed with the aid of a $28 million award under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
California-based Blue Planet produces concrete and other building materials from sequestered CO2. The company says its concrete can be carbon neutral or carbon negative. Climate activist and actor Leonardo DiCaprio is a member of the firms' government affairs advisory board.
In Germany, ThyssenKrup Steel Europe began a pilot project in December 2015 to produce ammonium bicarbonate (NH4HCO3) from carbon emissions. This compound is used in the manufacturing of ceramics and in the plastic and rubber industries among others. Initial results, the company said, have been promising.
In a twist on the idea of creating baking soda from carbon emissions, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California has created microcapsules and an absorbent sponge that use baking soda itself to capture carbon. They believe this process could be about 40 percent cheaper than current carbon capture methods.
TACFL has been producing soda ash at the Tuticorin plant since 1981. The chemical is generally made from trona ore. Major deposits of the ore are found in California, Wyoming and Utah in the U.S. as well as Botswana, Egypt, Turkey, China and parts of Africa.
Carbon Clean Solutions' patented technology scrubs CO2 emissions and feeds them to a chemicals plant where they are used to manufacture common products such as baking soda.Source: Carbon Clean Solutions Limited
In the Chennai coal plant, flue gases are diverted to an absorber that removes CO2 using technology patented by CCSL. The CO2 is then fed to the TACFL chemical plant.
Ramachadran Gopalan, owner of the Tuticorin plant, told BBC Radio, "I am a businessman. I never thought about saving the planet. I needed a reliable stream of CO2, and this was the best way of getting it."
Gopalan said the plant now produces zero carbon emissions. He is looking to install a second coal boiler to produce additional CO2 that can be used to synthesize fertilizer.
By Alex Kirby
Humanity has now entered a new climate reality era, with carbon dioxide concentrations expected to remain above the level of 400 parts per million throughout 2016 and for many generations to come, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said.
The WMO—the United Nations system's leading agency on weather, climate and water—said the globally averaged concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached "the symbolic and significant milestone of 400 parts per million" for the first time in 2015 and surged again to new records in 2016 on the back of the very powerful El Niño event.
CO2 levels reached the 400 ppm barrier for certain months during 2015 and in certain places, but they have never done so on a global average basis for the entire year. The WMO says in its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin that the growth spurt in CO2 was fueled by El Niño, which started in 2015 and had a strong impact well into this year.
This, it says, triggered droughts in tropical regions and reduced the capacity of "sinks" like forests, vegetation and the oceans to absorb CO2. These sinks currently absorb about half of CO2 emissions, but there is a risk that they could become saturated, increasing the proportion of carbon dioxide which stays in the atmosphere.
Between 1990 and 2015, the bulletin says, there was a 37 percent increase in radiative forcing—the warming effect on the climate—because of long-lived greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide from industrial, agricultural and domestic activities.
"The year 2015 ushered in a new era of optimism and climate action with the Paris climate change agreement. But it will also make history as marking a new era of climate change reality with record high greenhouse gas concentrations," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. "The El Niño event has disappeared. Climate change has not."
"The real elephant in the room is carbon dioxide, which remains in the atmosphere for thousands of years and in the oceans for even longer. Without tackling CO2 emissions, we cannot tackle climate change and keep temperature increases to below 2 C above the pre-industrial era," added Taalas.
"It is therefore of the utmost importance that the Paris agreement does indeed enter into force well ahead of schedule on Nov. 4 and that we fast-track its implementation," said Taalas.
The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin provides a scientific base for decision-making and the WMO has released it ahead of the UN climate change negotiations to be held in the Moroccan city of Marrakech from Nov. 7-18. They will be seeking to translate the agreement into an effective way of coping with the new climate reality era the WMO has identified.
The bulletin says the pre-industrial level of about 278 ppm of CO2 represented a balance between the atmosphere, the oceans and the biosphere. Human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, have altered the natural balance and in 2015 globally averaged levels were 144 percent of pre-industrial levels. The increase of CO2 from 2014 to 2015 was larger than the previous year and the average over the previous 10 years.
The bulletin says the last El Niño, as well as reducing the capacity of vegetation to absorb CO2, led to an increase in CO2 emissions from forest fires. According to the Global Fire Emissions Database, CO2 emissions in equatorial Asia—where there were serious forest fires in Indonesia in August-September 2015—were more than twice as high as the 1997-2015 average.
Drought also has a big impact on CO2 absorption by vegetation and scientists saw similar effects during the 1997-98 El Niño.
Methane is the second most important long-lived greenhouse gas and contributes about 17 percent of radiative forcing. About 40 percent of methane is emitted into the atmosphere by natural sources like wetlands and termites, with the rest coming from human activities like cattle breeding, rice growing, fossil fuel exploitation, landfills and biomass burning.
Atmospheric methane reached a new high of about 1,845 parts per billion in 2015 and is now 256 percent of its pre-industrial level. Nitrous oxide's atmospheric concentration in 2015 was about 328 parts per billion, 121 percent of pre-industrial levels.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
By Sophie Yeo
How do you reduce CO2 emissions? The Global CO2 Initiative is pushing a unique approach: turn them into useful products, then sell them.
Based in San Francisco, the company has the ambitious aim to capture 10 percent of global CO2 emissions through carbon capture and usage. While this method is still in its infancy, the initiative aims to commercialize new ideas quickly by granting up to $100 million a year for 10 years to researchers developing viable new products. Its global advisory board includes Steven Chu, the former U.S. Secretary of Energy, and Jeremy Oppenheim, program chair of the New Climate Economy project.
Carbon Brief spoke to Dr. Issam Dairanieh, the company's CEO, about his idea to tackle climate change through CO2 reuse. He explained what carbon capture and usage is, and how it could play a role in future efforts to reduce emissions:
"The idea here is go with what we call 'carbon negative technologies.' So think of trees on steroids. That's really what it is. So it is acceleration absorption of CO2 converted into products. Nature does it, does it very well, but does it slowly, and our solution says let's see what nature does, and do that extremely fast. So, instead of years, we want to do that in minutes. And the idea here is really all about developing and commercializing technologies that can absorb CO2 and convert it into useful products."
He spoke about the products that can be made using CO2 and their potential reduce emissions:
"The first product that we are going to invest in is making cement. So think about cement and concrete and how much is produced. It is probably the material that has the highest amount of any material that man makes, basically. Just this product contributes over 7 percent of the global emissions of CO2. We have identified a company that produces cement and concrete at a carbon footprint 70 percent less than what's currently done. So imagine what we can do with this. If you can replace everything we're doing right now with this new type of cement material, you will reduce global emissions by 5 percent, which is significant. What we have set out to do is, we said we want to reduce carbon emissions by 10 percent a year. That's really our objective. And we think that just by adopting one technology we will be able to reduce it by half of our target."
He talked about how best to capture CO2 emissions to be used in products:
"Where we're going to start is where it's very easy to do so. So, if you go to power plants, CO2 is mixed with other things. The concentration can be anywhere between 3 percent and 12 percent, maybe 13 percent, but that's about it. However, if you go to different places, in a refinery where hydrogen is generated using something called methane reforming, when you do that, you generate pure CO2 that's just emitted. We think there is 100, 200 million tons of that that we can go to. The second area is if you look at how biofuels are made, when you ferment basically biomass and you end up with ethanol that's used in biofuels. As a byproduct, you get a stream which is 100 percent CO2, so you don't have to concentrate, you don't have to purify—it's there."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief.
Many hail the Paris agreement—set to cross the threshold this week to come into effect—as a panacea for global climate change. Yet tragically, this perspective neglects to take into account the scientific reality of our climate system, which tells a much different story.
Our latest research, Young People's Burden: Requirement of Negative CO2 Emissions, appeared Monday as a "Discussion" paper in Earth System Dynamics Discussion, and outlines how—if national governments neglect to take aggressive climate action today—today's young people will inherit a climate system so altered it will require prohibitively expensive—and possibly infeasible—extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere.
Global temperatures are already at the level of the Eemian period (130,000 to 115,000 years ago), when sea level was 6-9 meters higher than today. Considering the additional warming "in the pipeline," due to delayed response of the climate system and the impossibility of instant replacement of fossil fuels, additional temperature rise is inevitable.
Continued high fossil fuel emissions place a burden on young people to undertake "negative CO2 emissions," which would require massive technological CO extraction with minimal estimated costs of $104-$570 trillion this century, with large risks and uncertain feasibility.
Continued high fossil fuel emissions unarguably sentences young people to either a massive, possibly implausible cleanup or growing deleterious climate impacts or both, scenarios that should provide incentive and obligation for governments to alter energy policies without further delay.
The paper provides the underlying scientific backing for the Our Children's Trust lawsuit against the U.S. government, which argues that climate change jeopardizes the next generation's inalienable rights under the U.S. Constitution to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The paper offers an opportunity to examine the current state of the planet with respect to climate change. Four key takeaways include:
1. The Paris Climate Accord is a precatory agreement, wishful thinking that mainly reaffirms, 23 years later, the 1992 Rio Framework Convention on Climate Change. The developing world need for abundant, affordable, reliable energy is largely ignored, even though it is a basic requirement to eliminate global poverty and war. Instead the developed world pretends to offer reparations, a vaporous $100B/year, while allowing climate impacts to grow.
2. As long as fossil fuels are allowed to be held up as the cheapest reliable energy, they will continue to be the world's largest energy source and the likelihood of disastrous consequences for young people will grow to near certainty.
3. Technically, it is still possible to solve the climate problem, but there are two essential requirements: (1) a simple across-the-board rising carbon fee collected from fossil fuel companies at the source, and (2) government support for RD&D (research, development and demonstration) of clean energy technologies, including advanced generation, safe nuclear power.
4. Courts are crucial to solution of the climate problem. The climate "problem" was and is an opportunity for transformation to a clean energy future. However, the heavy hand of the fossil fuel industry works mostly in legal ways such as the "I'm an Energy Voter" campaign in the U.S. Failure of executive and legislative branches to deal with climate change makes it essential for courts, less subject to pressure and bribery from special financial interests, to step in and protect young people, as they did minorities in the case of civil rights.
For a deeper dive, click here.
Life evolved to live within limits. It's a delicate balance. Humans need oxygen, but too much can kill us. Plants need nitrogen, but excess nitrogen harms them and pollutes rivers, lakes and oceans. Ecosystems are complex. Our health and survival depend on intricate interactions that ensure we get the right amounts of clean air, water, food from productive soils and energy from the sun.
Water flowing to the ocean from the Greenland ice sheet.macaroni2552 / Imgur
Climate change deniers either willfully ignore or fail to understand this complexity—as shown in their simplistic argument that carbon dioxide (CO2) is a beneficial gas that helps plants grow and is therefore good for humans.
Industry propagandist Tom Harris of the misnamed International Climate Science Coalition writes, "Grade school students know CO2 is not pollution; it is aerial fertilizer." He adds, "Increasing CO2 levels pose no direct hazard to human health."
The unscientific Heartland Institute-ICSC study he references claims, against all evidence, "Carbon dioxide has not caused weather to become more extreme, polar ice and sea ice to melt or sea level rise to accelerate."
It's a facile argument, designed to downplay the seriousness of global warming and its connection to CO2 emissions and to promote continued fossil fuel use. Deniers like Harris and Patrick Moore in Canada extoll the virtues of burning coal, oil and gas.
It's deliberate deception, rather than an outright lie, as most plants do require CO2 to grow. But overwhelming scientific evidence shows that, along with other greenhouse gases, CO2 causes ocean acidification and fuels climate change, putting humans and other life at risk.
Even its benefit to plants is more complicated than deniers let on. As the website Skeptical Science states, "Such claims fail to take into account that increasing the availability of one substance that plants need requires other supply changes for benefits to accrue. It also fails to take into account that a warmer earth will see an increase in deserts and other arid lands, reducing the area available for crops."
A Stanford University study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, illustrates the claim's lack of scientific validity. After observing plants grown in California over 16 years, under altered CO2, nitrogen, temperature and water levels, researchers concluded that only higher nitrogen levels increased plant growth, while higher temperatures hindered the plants.
A study in Nature Climate Change concluded that a 1 degree C temperature increase will cause wheat yields to decrease by about five percent, and a French study found higher temperatures negatively affected corn crops.
Another study, published in Science, examined the complexity of CO2 uptake by plants. It found only those associated with particular types of fungi in their roots can take advantage of increased CO2, because the fungi regulate nitrogen plants obtain from soils. Plants such as coniferous trees that associate with ectomycorrhizal fungi can derive benefits from higher carbon dioxide levels, but plants associated with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, such as grassland vegetation, can't.
The Imperial College London researchers cautioned that even plants that can take advantage of higher CO2 levels could be harmed by other climate change impacts, such as increased temperature and ozone concentration. Climate change–related droughts and flooding also hinder plant growth.
Burning fossil fuels, creating emissions through industrial agriculture and destroying "carbon sinks" like wetlands and forests that sequester carbon are already affecting the planet in many ways detrimental to the health and survival of humans and other life.
No matter what inconsistent, contradictory and easily debunked nonsense deniers spread, there's no denying climate change is real, humans are contributing substantially to it and it will be catastrophic for all life if we do little or nothing to address it immediately.
Recently, 375 U.S. National Academy of Sciences members, including 30 Nobel laureates, published an open letter stating:
"We are certain beyond a reasonable doubt … that the problem of human-caused climate change is real, serious, and immediate, and that this problem poses significant risks: to our ability to thrive and build a better future, to national security, to human health and food production, and to the interconnected web of living systems."
The evidence is clear and overwhelming: Rapid increases in CO2 emissions are not beneficial. It's past time we started conserving energy and shifting to cleaner sources.
Carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere stayed above 400 parts per million (ppm) during September—a time when CO2 levels typically hit the yearly low—raising fears that the planet has reached a point of no return.
"Concentrations will probably hover around 401 ppm over the next month as we sit near the annual low point. Brief excursions towards lower values are still possible but it already seems safe to conclude that we won't be seeing a monthly value below 400 ppm this year—or ever again for the indefinite future," Ralph Keeling, director of the CO2 program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, wrote in a blog post.
The increase in CO2 levels runs parallel to a marked increase in global temperatures.
For a deeper dive:
For years, this is known as a smoky, hazy time of year in Sumatra, Indonesia. And each year it’s getting worse. It’s the dry season, and hundreds of thousands of hectares of Indonesian peatland fires will burn for months. Those fires are a direct result of decades of forest and peatland destruction.
Peat is partially decayed, dead vegetation, which has accumulated over thousands of years. It is typically saturated with water and therefore virtually impossible to set alight. But when peatlands are cleared and drained to make way for plantations, like they are for palm oil and pulp and paper, carbon-rich peat becomes tinder dry—and vulnerable to fires.
If you haven’t heard of peatlands or don’t really know why we should all be joining forces to protect them, here are some facts that will help you see why:
Last year, Greenpeace was one of the first NGOs to call out palm oil companies for their role in peatland fires. The Haze Wave sent pollution levels in Singapore skyrocketing, sparking frenzied buying of facemasks and a flurry of meetings between regional governments.
This year it could get worse. Weather patterns are colluding to make this year’s drought particularly strong. More peat and forest have been cleared than ever before. It’s giant tinderbox.
Now is the time for action.
In the last 12 months, Greenpeace supporters have pushed companies like Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and forest-resource giants like Asia Pulp & Paper to end their role in forest destruction. There’s momentum. Which is why this year we need to come together and demand that outgoing Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono firms up his green legacy.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE