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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Double Trouble

Drought conditions on June 6, 2021

George Harvey

Out of perhaps a million headlines, there is one I found the most frightening. And yes, I mean “a million.” It is not hyperbole.

Every day, I search the news for articles on energy and climate change, and I put links to the important articles I find up in a post on my blog, geoharvey.com. I have done this every day since June 2, 2012, and as of July 12, 2021, I have posted links to 44,053 articles. I could reasonably argue I may have had to look at over a million headlines to find those articles.

Many of the stories I see make me hopeful. We are making a lot of useful progress. Of course, some of the stories I see are not at all hopeful. In June, I came across one that frightened me the most of any I have seen.

CNN carried the story with the title, “The amount of heat the Earth traps has doubled in just 15 years, study shows (www.bit.ly/double-ability-to-trap).” A few other news sources carried the story, but I have not seen many. Clearly, most of the media think other things are more interesting.

This story tells us, based on a report from NASA and NOAA, that the Earth is cooking under an atmosphere that is out of balance, and the imbalance is getting measurably worse very quickly. Over the course of just fifteen years, the atmosphere’s ability to trap and retain heat has doubled. One thing that that fact makes clear to me is that achieving net zero by 2050 will not do, if we want to survive tolerably well. In fact, even going to net zero immediately would not do, by itself, to stop climate change. We have to go beyond that.

I will use an analogy to explain. Suppose you want a soft-boiled egg. It is to cook for three minutes, so you can get the luscious yolk you crave. In a way, the heat of the boiling water is like the carbon emissions that trap heat. Pay attention here: Carbon emissions are not like the fire under the pot. They are like the heat of the water in the pot. And the Earth is like the yolk. When you turn off the heat, the boiling stops, but the residual heat is still there and the egg just keeps cooking. To get an egg the way you like it, you have to be proactive and take it out of the boiling water, not simply turn the fire under the pot off and leave the egg in it. If you aren’t proactive, your egg will be hard-boiled.

Carbon emissions don’t heat the Earth. They make the atmosphere more able to trap heat, which heats the Earth. Once emissions are in the atmosphere, they will keep on heating the Earth for a long, long time, perhaps centuries. And now, what we learn is that the atmosphere is twice as able to trap heat as it was only fifteen years ago. Furthermore, since the carbon dioxide and methane content of the atmosphere is still going up, the ability to trap heat is still increasing quickly.

Now, look at the Western United States. The U.S. Drought Monitor at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, publishes drought data every week on Thursday. In its last report, nearly 60% of the West was in extreme drought, and nearly 28% was in a drought described as worse than extreme.

In California, 94.75% of the state is in severe drought or worse, and 85.44% of the state is in extreme drought, and 33.32% was in drought that is worse than extreme. There is practically no snow pack to melt, the reservoirs are so low that some are becoming unable to produce any electricity. The irrigation system is providing no water to farmers in many places. There is no rain in the forecast, as the West sits under a static heat dome. And please remember, we are talking about the state that recently produced 57% of the vegetables eaten in the United States, according to the USDA (www.bit.ly/Vegs-2017).

As bad as things are right now, they will almost certainly get worse, unless we can act to stop them.

Stopping the use of fossil fuels is an important step, but it will not suffice because we have allowed things to go much too far already. That is why I think that net zero by 2022 would not be enough.

Unfortunately, not only have we not started getting close to net zero, we haven’t even started reducing our emissions. Because we have delayed so long, we will have to start going into a strongly net-negative scheme of pollution and emissions, drawing down carbon dioxide. And we have to do that NOW. We are already suffering for the delays of the past. And that suffering will get worse, too

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