It is now May 2018 and our atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels as of April 2018 are 410.31 ppm. This compares to CO2 levels from the pre-industrialization period (1700 AD) of 278 ppm. This rise inCO2 has predominantly occurred since 1950 (310 ppm). In 1950 CO2 was 11.5% above the historic baseline average and today atmospheric CO2 is now 47.5% above it. Over the last 68 years the average rise in atmospheric CO2 has been 1.94 ppm/yr. In the last 10 years, the growth rate in atmospheric CO2 is accelerating and is closer to 2.3 ppm/yr. Atmospheric CO2 levels are the highest they have ever been in 800,000 years.
Similarly, global temperatures have risen to 0.9˚C above the 1951-1980 mean. Of the 136 years of recorded global temperatures,17 of the 18 warmest have come in the 21st century (with the other one coming in 1998). Through studies of tree rings, corals, and ice core samples we have also been able to see that in the last 1000 years we are approximately 1.3 ̊C above the global average. Keep in mind that ice ages occurred with a mere change of 4-7 ̊C in atmospheric temperatures. Also, atmospheric surface temperatures are rising at a rate ten times as quickly as temperature rise that occurred during recovery from ice ages in the distant past.
In the meantime, we are seeing no sign of real mitigation of the foundational problem: the output of CO2. Here are the facts:
- Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. Today we deliver 37gigatonnes of CO2-equivalents from fossil fuels and industrial production annually into the atmosphere which is up from 22 gigatonnes in 1990 and a mere 9 gigatonnes in 1960. In 2017 CO2emissions rose 2% from 2016. This is occurring even after the meetings in Kyoto, Copenhagen, Paris, etc. We are emitting more CO2 in three months today than we put out in the entire year of 1960.
- In spite of the efforts of the negotiators of the Kyoto Protocol and then more recently the Paris Accords, the world has done little to make a real decrease in this output. While the climate conferences are making inroads, they are doing little to change public opinion, which is most critical.
- We continue to elect politicians, the most obvious being President Trump, who renounce efforts to save humanity from itself. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt, appointed by President Trump, is an embarrassment as the head of an agency that is supposed to protect us from harmful pollutants but instead is promoting the interests of the polluters. These politicians are, sadly, working for corporations, essentially, and not for all of humanity.
- Our efforts are bordering on fruitless, especially when we realize the damage is already potentially done. A runaway greenhouse effect in which CO2increases are further generated by the dynamic changes of the Earth itself (a positive feedback effect) rather than by humans has become a realistic possibility. While a runaway greenhouse effect, similar to what happened on Venus, according to experts, requires CO2 levels near 30,000 ppm (nearly impossible on Earth), it does not mean that a positive feedback effect will not occur leading us to an inhospitable climate. Most experts have maintained that a doubling of CO2 (near 500 ppm) is a dangerous territory. Nearly all geoscientists are unanimous (see the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) that reaching that level could be fraught with many unknowns. Many policy experts as a result are now saying it is too late to cure the CO2problem and that we can only mitigate it. This signifies the most problematic situation we now face: we are now pushing for more additive solutions (e.g. geoengineering solutions) and have given up on subtractive ones (e.g. eliminating CO2production from coal-fired power plants).
Why can’t we do anything other than create what I call pseudosolutions (solutions that make us feel good and appease vested interests but that are not dealing with reality)? The solutions that are occurring today placate interests instead of dealing with the real problem: unmitigated growth in human populations consuming exponentially rising resources and producing exponentially rising wastes. These problems are also exponentially rising and not a mere inconvenience. In order to do this would require entire industries to forego profits without solid technological changes that are proven. To add to this problem is the exponentially increasing interconnectedness which makes resolving complex solutions to humanity’s problems even more difficult.
As I pointed out in my book The Supercivilization: Survival in the Era of Human Versus Human, the real problem is our culture. Our problems are sociological and not knowledge-based, in nature. We know how to solve the problem, but we choose not to. Until our culture fundamentally changes from a culture of addition to a culture of subtraction, little in the way of solutions will stem this rising tide of consumption. An example of a pseudosolution is switching from gasoline to natural gas as an energy source. Using a fuel that emits 50% of the CO2 per unit of energy is simply treading water. As populations grow and use more energy, the use of energy will continue to grow unless we make significant changes in our energy infrastructure quickly. The only way to do this, as I have pointed out, is universal, unanimous cooperation. This will require drastic changes in the way we fundamentally interact as a species and of course is the reason why I have proposed The Mission Statement for Humanity. Unfortunately, we have become so brainwashed by profitable corporations who want to maintain the status quo, our future will be doomed. While no scientist will boldly predict the possibility of a positively feeding back greenhouse effect without definitive proof (when CO2 levels climb so high that the Earth’s atmosphere continues heating without any further human input), we all must look at this as a potentially dangerous,cataclysmic scenario in the next few decades that is possible. We haven’t yet and it is unlikely we will ever do so until it is too late.