Last week, the U.S. Department of Energy released new calculations that indicate 2010 saw the largest increase in average global carbon dioxide emissions on record. Surprised? Probably not, but you should be.
Despite a decade of growing emissions, the world witnessed a 1.3% decrease in emissions 2009. Growth of carbon dioxide emissions has been closely associated with the growth of countries’ gross domestic products; given the world financial crisis starting in 2008, GDP and global carbon emissions fell.
The recently released calculations buck last year’s downward trend in a big way. Despite ever-fluctuating and often dismal economic reports, emissions increased nearly 6% from 2009 to 2010. “From an emissions standpoint,” explained Tom Boden, Team Leader of the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, “the global financial crisis seems to be over.”
Climate scientists characterized this as “a big jump” with one scientist aptly describing it as a “monster” increase. Boden points to China as a primary source of the increased world-wide carbon dioxide emissions; serving a growing population and manufacturing sector with energy caused a 10% increase in emissions from 2009 to 2010 and accounted for China’s 25% share of the 2010 global emissions.
While this constitutes the largest emissions increase for a single country, China is not alone. After curbing carbon dioxide emissions in 2009 by 7.5%, United State’s carbon dioxide emissionsgrew by nearly 4% between 2009 and 2010 in reaching their 17% slice of the emissions pie.
Putting it in perspective, without all of the numbers and pie graphs: the 2007 report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (aka the climate change experts) used a range of carbon dioxide pollution scenarios to predict global climate changes.
The emissions calculations released last week far exceed the IPCC’s “worst case” emissions scenarios.
John Reilly, co-director of MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change notes that as climate scientists continue to refine scenarios and models, the future is beginning to look less like the IPCC’s worst case scenario and more like something even more extreme. I don’t mean to sound like an alarmist, but this is serious stuff.
So why didn’t you hear about the staggering 33.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere last year? Why wasn’t this “monster” increase broadcast on a national news network, picked up by your local media outlet, or trending on your social media platform of choice? Of course, Herman Cain’s uncontrollable hands and Kim Kardashin’s unhitched marriage certainly helped the 24-hour media in their quest for insignificance.
We – as a nation – do not fully understand the issue nor do we care.
We don’t understand. While 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening and it is caused primarily by human activities (specifically greenhouse gas emissions), the complex scientific argument is well understood by few. Indeed, it is easy to get caught up in numbers and the science behind their significance. Multiply this confusion by multiple scenarios and the debates surrounding each one, and you are bound to have a headache. Even when we do understand the scientific basis of anthropogenic climate change, we believe it will have a greater impact on people in developing nations, future generations, and other species.
Bottom line: we don’t understand that climate change is happening now in our own backyards.
We don’t care. Indeed, there are the 3% of people, who side with the skeptical climate change scientists in their firm opposition to the 97% of scientists who have confirmed that our climate is changing, and human are the cause. These 3% are engaged in the conversation; however, there are many more not engaged with either side and, frankly, just don’t care about the issue. We don’t have time to care.
This is due in large part to the fact that caring does not align with our personal values. For most, greater emphasis is placed on convenience, efficiency, and affordability than reducing greenhouse gas emissions – despite the fact that these values are more compatible than conflicting in many cases.
Finally, we do not care because we do not believe that our personal actions will make a significant impact. Even for the optimistic crowd, we realize that our personal choices make little difference if the other 6,999,999,999 people in the world aren’t also reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.
So, where do we go from here?
I’m still in the process of figuring that out myself and look forward to sharing my findings with you here on The Cool Ship. Stay tuned for news on current environmental issues and skills on how to become the next Captain Planet. In the meantime, buff up on your understanding of climate change, calculate your carbon footprint, and take action to reduce your carbon dioxide emissions.