Temperatures Set to Skyrocket

This figure was prepared by Robert A. Rohde for the Global Warming Art project, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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Here’s the strongest evidence yet that the rise in atmospheric CO2 is outstripping the ability of natural sinks to absorb it. The authors of this study predict the present course will lead to a staggering rise of 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees F) in coming decades. Even conservative scientists agree that any rise above 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F) risks catastrophic climate change.

Highlights from the paper just out in Nature Geoscience:

  • In the past 50 years, roughly 43 percent of global CO2 emissions have stayed airborne in the atmosphere. The rest were absorbed by Earth’s carbon sinks on land and in the oceans.
  • However the atmospheric fraction of total CO2 emissions has not held steady but increased over time from about 40 percent to about 45 percent.

The trend is likely the result of a decrease in CO2 uptake by carbon sinks on land and in oceans as the world warms. Which means the forests and waters are maxxing out. Here’s why:

  • Emissions are still rising.
  • Before 2002, global emissions grew by some 1 percent a year, since then by some 3 percent a year.
  • The growth is mostly due to China’s metastatic output.

However the authors’ point out that what’s really happened is the developed world has exported its emissions to the developing world. America, Europe, Australia and the like are using the manufacturing power of China to produce goods each would have made themselves 20 years ago.

The real troublemakers? Consumers. Not producers.

We need leaders. Bill McKibben rightly chastizes Barack Obama in a MoJo’s Copenhagen Here We Come special report:

The announcement yesterday from the APEC meeting in Singapore that next month’s Copenhagen climate talks will be nothing more than a glorified talking session makes it clear that [Barack Obama] has, at least for now, punted on the hard questions around climate. The world won’t be able to get started on solving our climate problem, and the obstacle is—as it has been for the last two decades—the United States.

You can’t fool the science any of the time, Mr. President. Gotta make this the number 1 priority, like, yesterday.


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It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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