The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that 2012 was the worst year for CO2 pollution since 1998, and second worst year since scientists started measuring this greenhouse gas in 1959.
In 2012 carbon dioxide levels increased by 2.67 parts per million-- second only to the spike in 1998. By comparison, global carbon levels averaged a yearly rise of just under 2 parts per million from 2000 to 2010. In the 1960’s CO2 increased by less than 1 part per million.
Pieter Tans, who heads the team at NOAA that measures greenhouse gas, told AP that carbon dioxide levels jumped by 2.67 parts per million since 2011 to total just under 395 parts per million. He said the major factor is ever-rising fossil fuel burning: "It's just a testament to human influence being dominant."
Tans pointed out that coal-burning power plants, especially in the developing world, are the main reason emissions keep going up – even as they have declined in the U.S. and other places, in part through conservation and cleaner energy.
Scientists say that the ancestors of present day birds, mammals, and even mankind crawled out of the sea onto land millions of years ago. We may be heading back to the oceans from whence we came. When we melt the ice cap, the seas will rise.
There is a limited amount of carbon the world can dump into the atmosphere if we are to have a reasonable chance of keeping increased global temperatures under the 2 degree Celsius limit scientists agree is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change. The 2012 rise makes it that much more unlikely that global warming can be limited to 2 degrees.
At our current trends we’re set to reach the limit of carbon pollution in 16 years, rendering our chances of staying under 2 degrees of warming alarmingly thin.
Slowing climate change will require keeping the overwhelming majority of the fossil fuels in the ground, according to nearly all climate experts. The few who disagree are for the most part on the payroll of oil, gas, and coal companies, or “think tanks” funded by the fossil fuel industry.
The consequence of inaction is not only a destructive rise in sea levels, but water supplies for hundreds of millions of people will be threatened; global crop harvests will decline; bleached coral reefs around the world will increase ocean acidification threatening marine ecosystems, and a host of other crises will result.
So what are we doing about it? Essentially one step forward, two back.
Last year the United States increased oil and gas production to the highest level in 20 years. Coal companies are investing millions to build export terminals to ship coal to the very power plants around the globe that NOAA said are responsible for the spike in carbon. Congress is doing everything it can to suppress investment in non-carbon renewable energy. And, American consumers buy more and more cheap goods from companies in China and other countries where factories are fueled by coal spewing from stacks unfettered by even rudimentary scrubbers.
Solutions to climate change are neither easy nor painless. The boom in fracking is putting thousands to work and helping local economies across the country. Natural gas burns cleaner than coal so many experts believe it is a good transitional power source until non-carbon renewable energy can be developed.
Natural gas has been partially credited for a reduction in U.S carbon emissions although some say that the carbon footprint of fracking overall is comparable to coal. What fracking is doing, however, is causing coal companies to export their coal to developing countries, so this amounts to a carbon shift at best.
What needs to happen is that the United States needs to take some leadership in the world to stop using fossil fuels as a power source. We need to double down on renewable energy here, but we also need to take the lead in helping developing countries fuel their new economies with solar and wind energy, not coal.
Clearly, however, Congress is not about to let any of that happen. So if something meaningful is going to be done about climate change, there has to be a house cleaning of climate change deniers and oil addicts in Congress.
Meanwhile, we better brush up on our swimming techniques.