Up, down or in? Where does our carbon go?

15-carbonOver my tenure as part of the Green Options network, I’ve brought you – more often than not – the gloomy side of global warming. Of course, I would say that there is no good side, but I’m trying to be a bit lenient here. As Green Options undergoes some changes, I’ll be writing primarily here at Planet Save.

And that works well right now, considering that Inez Fung, a professor of atmospheric sciences and co-director of the University of California, Berkeley, Institute of the Environment, has provided a link that has hitherto been ignored.

I’ve brought you stories on increased carbon emissions, our oceans not absorbing enough, rising levels, etc. The problem is, that there is a link between all of these that is scary, and we’ve just sort of missed it.

Until recently, our lovely Earth has had two major carbon sinks. First of all, being made up of 70% water was a definite bonus. It would absorb the carbon, draw it down, and lock it away from the atmosphere. But as the waters have warmed, and there has been a lack of mixing between the upper warmer layer and the lower colder layer, the oceans ability to absorb carbon decreases.

The second problem that many may not be aware of is photosynthesis. And by “be aware of”, I mean, probably forgot from your primary school days. We all know that forests are massive carbon sinks, and with being trimmed back like a bad mullet and suffering from increasing drought across the planet, the amount that is absorbed through photosynthesis is also diminishing.

“The rate of climate change has been a surprise for many of us,” Fung said. “It’s an urgent problem.”

Damn right it is, but what’s worse, is that we’re letting our planet fall into a circular loop of destruction, like a drug addict needing an intervention.

Let us start with the global warming that we’ve caused. And, writing here for Planet Save, I don’t have to pull any punches. I’ve seen the evidence, and I’ve seen the “contradictory evidence,” there is no doubt in my mind that humans have caused the exacerbated global warming we are currently facing.

Global warming causes a disturbance in the oceans, and increases droughts. La Nina and El Nino both play their parts in both of these, and are worsening their impacts. Subsequently, the oceans and trees across the planet are affected, thus lessening their ability to decrease carbon emissions. We thus arrive back at the other end of the snake’s tail, and find that all of this increases the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

And round and round it goes, until either someone steps in and takes the proverbial syringe away, or until they wind up lying in the gutter.

Fung spoke Monday at the Science Center in a talk sponsored by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study as part of its “Lectures in the Sciences” series. The talk, “The Changing Carbon Cycle: How Fast Will Atmospheric CO2 Increase?” was introduced by Radcliffe Interim Dean Barbara Grosz and by Abbott Lawrence Rotch Professor of Atmospheric and Environmental Science Steven Wofsy, who said Fung is a “pioneer” in her field.

In her lecture, Fung describes how the industrial nations of the Northern Hemisphere dominate the global warming landscape. And when you know who the top polluters are, it all fits in. Two of the biggest, China and America, obviously sit within that top half; along with Russia, Germany and Britain. Together, these countries make up for 96% of the carbon dioxide emissions.

And with Brazil and Indonesia filling out the other two “top spots” among the leading four world polluters sitting in the Southern Hemisphere, along with Australia, it’s not hard to guess where the other 4% goes.

Anyone out there want to debate carbon emission levels? I’m up for it, and so is Inez Fung! Atmospheric carbon dioxide measurements have seen an increase over the past 47 years from 315 parts per million to 380 parts per million. On top of that, scientists believe that pre-industrial, the parts per million sat at only 280.

Fung has also had access to data that shows that the rate of increase has been faster than expected. In the 1990’s, carbon dioxide emissions were rising at 1.1% annually, bad enough, until you compare that to the 3% annually between 2000 and 2004.

“The question is whether the warming will accelerate the warming,” Fung said.

We know that there are technologies that can bring us back to a safe level. We know that it isn’t going to happen overnight. But we know that it just has to happen.

Harvard Gazette – If not in atmosphere, where does carbon go? via PhysOrg

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