Carbon emissions reach highest level on record

Why care about carbon emissions in the atmosphere?

Carbon dioxide is the most important of the greenhouse gasses.  The trace elements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere trap some of the sun’s heat that is reflected by the earth. An increase in carbon dioxide means an increase in the amount of heat that is trapped.  No real scientist disputes this.  This stems from the basic properties of carbon dioxide, and of light and heat, which have been known for more than a century.

Is the earth getting significantly warmer?  That question has been settled.  Not only are measured temperatures of the atmosphere and ocean setting records, but glaciers are melting, the Arctic ice cap is shrinking, the Arctic tundra is softening and extreme weather is becoming more common.

How much is the warming now going on a greenhouse effect, and how much is it something else?  All the other things that affect global climate – major volcanic eruptions, the El Nino effect and so on – are things that come and go.  Only one factor, the concentration of greenhouse gasses, is constantly increasing.  Common sense says that if one causal factor is constantly growing, while the others rise and fall, the one that is growing will outweigh all the rest.

How much should we heed predictions of the bad things that will happen?  There is a range of possible error in any prediction.  Things might not be so bad; on the other hand, things might be worse.  This is not something to gamble on.  We don’t have a spare planet in reserve if we mess this one up.

The video above is a lecture by Prof. Malcolm Hughes of the University of Arizona, the first of seven lectures on climate change, which lays out the evidence that climate change is caused by human activity.  You can find the rest of the lectures on YouTube.

Click on Global Climate Change: The Evidence for a good, easily understandable  summary of the evidence from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Click on State of the Climate: Global Analysis for a report from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

Click on Arctic Sea Ice News for a report from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Click on Real Climate for links to more information.

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