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Robert Rapier

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Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions Set New Record

In April of this year, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii recorded an average concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide above 410 parts per million (ppm). This was the highest monthly average in recorded history, and in fact according to ice core records it is the highest value in at least 800,000 years.

To be clear, I accept the scientific consensus on the impact of a rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. It is a known greenhouse gas, and the mechanism by which greenhouse gases increase the earth’s temperature is known. While there are uncertainties in the models — and these uncertainties are often used to dispute the underlying science — a constant buildup of greenhouse gases will raise the earth’s temperature.

Part of what is unknown about the effect of greenhouse gases on climate is the impact of feedback loops. These can be both positive and negative.

A warming earth can release methane from permafrost. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, and that creates a positive feedback loop.

There are also moderating influences like the oceans, which can absorb a certain amount of carbon dioxide. This means that the temperature increase could be less than what might be expected based simply on the amount of carbon dioxide that was released.

Related: The Biggest Risk For Natural Gas Markets

The impact of these feedback loops and moderating influences is one reason climate models can be inaccurate.

But even those who don’t accept the science behind climate change should be concerned about this rise, because it continues unabated. At what point might it become a concern? 500 ppm? 1,000? If you look at the rate of steady increases, this curve should concern everyone on the planet because the increase is slowly accelerating over time:

(Click to enlarge)

Full Mauna Loa CO2 record

The worrisome part is that the trend isn’t expected to change anytime soon. Carbon dioxide that is emitted today takes time to accumulate in the atmosphere, and then it remains in the atmosphere for thousands of years.

In any case, there are no signs that what we are emitting is slowing down.

Related: Saudi Arabia Won’t Bring 2 Million Bpd Online

The 2018 BP Statistical Review of World Energy that was released last month showed a new all-time high for global carbon dioxide emissions in 2017, which were 426 million metric tons higher than in 2016. This was 1.6 percent higher than carbon dioxide emissions in 2016, and was higher than the 10-year average growth rate of 1.3 percent.

Since the Kyoto Protocol — the international treaty that commits state parties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — went into effect in 2005, global carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 19 percent.

The countries responsible for the increase in carbon dioxide concentrations have shifted in recent decades. Developed countries are moving away from coal, and toward cleaner natural gas and renewables. Developing countries — even those that are embracing renewable energy — emit the most carbon dioxide, and their emissions are growing at the fastest rates in the world.

I will delve deeper into regional and country-level contributions and trends in the next article.

By Robert Rapier

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  • Harry on July 07 2018 said:
    This is nothing but Bovine Fecal Effluvia masquerading as Science. BTW...CO2 is beneficial to plants and trees that produce our oxygen. It isn’t a lethal gas and it’s relation to anything related to atmospherics is unclear.
  • Think freely on July 07 2018 said:
    There is no consensus on climate change no matter how many times it is said. 99.96% of our atmosphere is not co2. Our climate has been stable for the last 20 years with no real increase in average temperature.
    How is that you think co2 is just going stay in the atmosphere for thousands of years and accumulate? It has been and fluctuations happen, there has been much higher levels during ice ages than present. Certain vegetation have gone extinct due to low levels of co2 and the vegetation that survives today has evolved to the lower level of co2.
    We should spend more of our time and money to solve real environmental issues, we came a long way from how dirty we were in the fifties, but we still need to clean up further.
  • Kevin on July 08 2018 said:
    Ok, just know that run away warming CANT happen perpetually simply based on the dynamics of the planet...its never happened before and it wont happen again-it will turn some way into a cooling trend...because it always has. Its part of orbital forcing. Yes theres climate change. Its alwYs changing. I read an article that said first life millions of years ago started warming the planet-yet there have been how many ice ages?????? No worries here...your misreprezentation of actual science is garbage. Try checking out Ben Davidson and Randall Carlson. This planet has been frozen for most of its existance. And it will turn back when the laws of nature and the universe are ready.
  • Engineer dude on July 09 2018 said:
    Could this measurement be affected by the current volcanic eruptions? I would like to see more regional measurements up wind from Hawaii
  • NickSJ on July 09 2018 said:
    According to the best proxy evidence, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere over the past 600 million years has been over 1,000 parts per million over 90% of the time. On a geologic time scale, the current level of CO2 is abnormally low, and is near the lower limit for plant survival. At this point there is only one CO2 molecule per 2,500 molecules of atmosphere. There is 600 times as much oxygen as CO2.

    Atmospheric temperatures have steadily gone down over the past 10,000 years since the beginning of the current inter-glacial period. The recent increase from the Little Ice Age is an upward bump from a low point in a downward trend. Atmospheric warming sensitivity to CO2 appears to be very low, since the rate of warming has not increased at all as CO2 levels have risen.

    Inter-glacial periods are only about 10,00 years compared to glacial periods of 100,000 years.
    The current inter-glacial period has already been as long as past inter-glacial periods, so we are in much more danger from the onset of a major cooling period than from the already low warm period temperatures.
  • David Jones on September 23 2018 said:
    Literally all the comments on this article are misinformed. Here are some key CO2 basics:

    - CO2 is an asphyxiating gas, it reduces brain function even in very low concentrations.

    - Pilots have shown signs of lower capabilities even with 1550ppm (0.155% concentration).

    - A concentration of 0.5% CO2 is considered dangerous by official standards but effects on human capabilities are already detectable >0.2% concentration. A concentration of >1% is generally toxic to life and approaches fumigation levels. A concentration of 10% is deadly within a relatively short time of exposure.

    - Since indoor CO2 concentrations are considerably above outdoor concentrations, even a 1000ppm could require some form of CO2 filtering for optimum human efficiency around the world. It is also unknown what detrimental effects an increased CO2 level might have over the course of a lifetime. (Since we are not talking about a sudden effect here but a progressively intense asphyxiation, there may already be some mental capacities dampening that is just too fine to detect over a short time of a few years. It's worth considering that we are constantly exposed to atmospheric concentrations with no place to hide)

    Since CO2 is an asphyxiating gas which clearly reduces mental capacities in humans even with low concentrations of >0.2%, it is not certain that a technological society such as ours can develop and flourish in >1000ppm concentrations, never mind that the majority of current species will likely die off due to such rapid concentration increases and their many side effects as well as from the concentration itself. (This may be one reason why there are no known species with developed technological capacities during the earlier life phases on Earth, lower concentrations of CO2 might well be necessary for such capacities to develop.)

    Our species does not seem to have ever experienced such atmospheric concentrations during it's ~300000 year history, CO2 levels have fluctuated in a range of 200-300ppm for about 400000-800000 years. We are already at a concentration level (410ppm) never before experienced by homo sapiens.

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