Thursday, November 10, 2011

Greenhouse Gases Continues to Climb

NOAA's updated Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI), which measures the direct climate influence of many greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, shows a continued steady upward trend that began with the Industrial Revolution of the 1880s.

NOAA's Annual Greenhouse Gas Index is a gauge of the climate warming influence of greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere by human activities. The heating effect of additional greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has increased by 29 percent since 1990. (NOAA)

Started in 2004, the AGGI jumped 6 percent in 2010 reaching 1.29 — a figure far worse than what climate scientists predicted four years ago. Half of the increase is attributable to China and the United States. That means that by the end of 2010 the combined heating effect of long-lived greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere by human activities has increased by 29 percent since 1990, the "index" year used as a baseline for comparison.

"The increasing amounts of long-lived greenhouse gases in our atmosphere indicate that climate change is an issue society will be dealing with for a long time," said Jim Butler, director of the Global Monitoring Division of NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo. "Climate warming has the potential to affect most aspects of society, including water supplies, agriculture, ecosystems and economies. NOAA will continue to monitor these gases into the future to further understand the impacts on our planet."

The AGGI is analogous to the dial on an electric blanket -- that dial does not tell you exactly how hot you will get, nor does the AGGI predict a specific temperature. Yet just as turning the dial up increases the heat of an electric blanket, a rise in the AGGI means greater greenhouse warming.

NOAA scientists created the AGGI recognizing that carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas affecting the balance of heat in the atmosphere. Many other long-lived gases also contribute to warming, although not currently as much as carbon dioxide.

The AGGI includes methane and nitrous oxide, for example, greenhouse gases that are emitted by human activities and also have natural sources and sinks. It also includes several chemicals known to deplete Earth's protective ozone layer, which are also active as greenhouse gases. The 2010 AGGI reflects several changes in the concentration of these gases, including:

  • A continued steady increase in carbon dioxide: Global carbon dioxide levels rose to an average of 389 parts per million in 2010, compared with 386 ppm in 2009, and 354 in the index or comparison year of 1990. Before the Industrial Revolution of the 1880s, carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was about 280 ppm. Carbon dioxide levels swing up and down in natural seasonal cycles, but human activities -- primarily the burning of coal, oil, and gas for transportation and power -- have driven a consistent upward trend in concentration.
  • A continued recent increase in methane: Methane levels rose in 2010 for the fourth consecutive year after remaining nearly constant for the preceding 10 years. Pound for pound, methane is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but there's less of it in the atmosphere.
  • A continued steady increase in nitrous oxide: Best known as laughing gas in dentistry, nitrous oxide is also a greenhouse gas emitted from natural sources and as a byproduct of agricultural fertilization, livestock manure, sewage treatment and some industrial processes.
  • A continued recent drop in two chlorofluorocarbons, CFC11 and CFC12: Levels of these two compounds -- which are ozone-depleting chemicals in addition to greenhouse gases -- have been dropping at about one percent per year since the late 1990s, because of an international agreement,to stop using those gases.

95 percent of active climate researchers agree that humans are contributing to global warming, yet free market fundamentalists continue to deny our responsibility. Last month, former global warming skeptic Dr. Richard Muller released a comprehensive report, partially funded by fervent deniers, that confirmed previous findings that global warming is real.

Far from being based in skepticism, denials of anthropogenic global warming are rooted in sycophancy to the energy industry. Exxon-Mobil alone donated over 1 million dollars to Republican candidates in 2010.

Relying on reports from energy companies, Republicans like Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) argue that the EPA’s regulations will kill jobs. Yes, it would kill jobs. That’s the point. It would kill jobs at coal plants, but open new ones at natural gas plants. Manufacturers of pollution-control devices would thrive. Construction investments would create 1.5 million jobs, according to a UMass Amherst study.

The United States must remain committed to promoting clean energy if we are to leave a prosperous nation to our grandchildren. Naysayers will point to Solyndra as an example of government failure, yet Solyndra represents only 1.3 percent of an otherwise prosperous portfolio of clean energy companies that received loans.

More money needs to be spent on research and development. While the industry average overall amounts to 3.5 percent of revenues spent on research, the energy industry spends only 0.1 percent, according to the American Energy Innovation Council. Further, the government spends only about $3 billion on energy research while defense research receives a staggering $77 billion. Neither the market nor the government is sufficiently spending money to innovate and create green technologies.

Scientists at NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory prepare the AGGI each year from atmospheric data collected through an international cooperative air sampling network of more than 100 sites around the world. The Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI) is available online at:

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