Posts Tagged With: CO2 tonnes

Food For Thought: Global warming is a natural phenomenon – look at the ice ages. Where is the evidence that human impact plays a part?


  Global warming is a natural phenomenon – look at the ice ages. Where is the evidence that human impact plays a part?  


” Global temperatures have varied in step with carbon concentrations in the atmosphere, and these concentrations have suddenly shot up way above anything experienced over the past half million years. Human activity is the only explanation for this sudden surge.

Climate scientists talk about temperature, greenhouse gas concentrations and emissions. To understand what they are saying you must be prepared to study figures, think bout probability and allow for scientific complexity being reduced to media simplicities.

First: temperature. There is broad consensus that global temperatures should not be allowed to rise more than 2 C above pre-industrial levels, although Professor Rajendra Pauchauri, head of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with its 2500 climate scientists, now says that 1.5 C would be more appropriate. Land-based temperatures have already risen 0.8 C, and current levels of emissions in the atmosphere commit us to a rise of 1.3 C due to the time lag between cause and effect. The biggest danger is runaway global warming. For example, if the area of arctic ice reduces there is more dark water to absorb heat from the Sun. This, in turn, causes more ice to melt – exposing more dark water – causing more melt – more dark water – more melt. This is a chain reaction that could cause temperature to rise without any further help from us.

Second: greenhouse gas concentrations. The Stern Review (2006) stated that greenhouse gas concentrations at the time it was written were at 430ppm CO2e (parts per million of carbon dioxide equivalent). A figure of 382ppm is sometimes mentioned but this does not include methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Before the industrial revolution the figure was 280ppm. According to the Stern Review, “stabilisation at 450ppmCO2e is almost out of reach, given that we are likely to reach this level in ten years”. It therefore set a target for stabilising at 550ppmCO2e.

Third: Emissions. Despite the Kyoto Protocol (adopted in 1997), emissions have been rising at an ever-increasing rate. In 2006 James Hansen, who heads the US NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said: “A global tipping point will be reached in ten years if levels of greenhouse gases are not reduced. Global warming at this point becomes unstoppable.” The prestigious Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, in a 2006 report ‘Living Within a Carbon budget’, said that a 90 percent cut in UK greenhouse gas emissions, including those from shipping and airlines, is needed by 2050, adding that emissions must reduce by “an unprecedented nine per cent a year from 2010 for up to 20 years”. With this sort of reduction oil refineries would no longer be viable, so we would be moving to a carbon-free economy.

What about sea levels? Greenland is the size of France and Spain combined and mostly covered with ice two kilometres (km) deep. Melt-water is dropping down crevasses and lubricating the base so that glaciers are sliding into the sea faster than anticipated. It was predicted that Greenland would lose 80km3 of ice in 2006. NASA’s Grace satellite showed that it actually oat 287km3 that year.If greenhouse gas emissions are not stabilised within a decade, sea levels could rise several metres before the end of this century.”

Alastair Sawday (2008: 11-12) What About China?

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Food For Thought: What is the point of doing anything, when China opens a new power station every week?


 What is the point of doing anything, when China opens a new power station every week?  


“The defining challenge of our age”, is how Ban Ki-moon, the united Nations General Secretary, describes climate change. It will affect all our lives, whether we take an interest or not. The biggest need is for society’s climate of opinion to change.

China is making a huge effort to raise the living standards of its people. With limited oil reserves, it is turning to coal for its energy. Clean coal technologies, where the carbon is sealed underground, are expensive, but China says it will pursue this option if wealthy western nations take the lead. So far none has done so. This attitude shows the importance of leading by example: China won’t do it unless our governments do it, and our governments won’t do it because “it will make our industry uncompetitive”. We, the electorate, must show by example that we consider the fight against global warming to be more important than commerce. Each of us is at the beginning of a chain that could influence first our own reluctant governments and then global agreements.

Three-quarters of global warming is due to the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) when fossil fuels – coal, gas and oil – are burned. On average each person in the world is responsible for 4.6 tonnes a year. In Britain each person is responsible for 12 tonnes. A Chinese is below average at 4.2 tonnes (actually less, because many of the goods they make are exported so emissions should be counted as the responsibility of the country of destination) and an Indian is well below average at only 1.4 tonnes. An American is responsible for a whopping 20.2 tonnes (26 tonnes if you take into account the goods made abroad and imported). It would be reasonable for China to claim that its emissions per person should be allowed to rise in order to lift its struggling population out of poverty – particularly since the west has benefited historically from huge emissions over many years and is responsible for 80 per cent of the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

A change in attitude is just beginning. In the USA, due to pressure from the public, over 30 states and 600 cities have adopted policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions. WE are all in this together. China is taking global warming seriously. It is phasing out incandescent light bulbs, it is building the world’s most carbon-neutral city with more to follow, it has banned plastic bags in major cities, it is putting immense research into photovoltaic (PV) cells (see page 48) and other renewable technologies that convert the Sun’s energy into electricity, and it is turning out thousands of graduates with expertise in these fields. Its State Council is struggling to restrain provinces and municipalities from pursuing development regardless of the effects. China’s efforts to combat global warming put western governments to shame. C S Kiang, who advises the Chinese government says, “Humanity made a mistake 200 years ago and now east and west does not matter – everyone is involved. China’s problems are the problems of the world. If we do not solve them together the world is going to be in a bad shape.”

Human society, with its politics, world conferences, competition, economic imperatives and broken promises, could be seen as a super-tanker speeding towards the rocks and unable to stop.

But then think of those flocks of starlings you see in the evening sky:  suddenly, without warming, they change direction. Our own society may suddenly change direction when strange events, or even the media, move us to a tipping point where we become alarmed that we are at the mercy of the most finely balanced and infinitely fragile of all components of this plenty – the atmosphere.  

Alastair Sawday (2008: 9-10) What About China?

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