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Go Back: Home > Earth Island Journal > Issues > Summer 2011 > Temperature Gauge

Temperature Gauge

Notes from a Warming World

The Last Shall Be First

graphic of a earth-globe with a thermometer rising from it

Although they are among the smallest emitters of greenhouse gases, some of the world’s poorest countries are taking the lead in cutting their CO2 footprints.

At the close of the disappointing international climate talks in Copenhagen in December 2009, the richer industrialized nations agreed to set self-declared targets for emissions reductions. Then, at the next round of climate talks, in Cancun in 2010, poorer countries agreed to join the wealthier nations and provide nonbinding pledges to reduce their emissions.

The UN published the pledges this spring, and the list is a stark reminder of the injustice of global climate change: Although they have done the least to spur global warming, poorer countries are in the vanguard of efforts to halt it.

Pledges from the some of the biggest emitters were vague and brief. China said it would cut its “carbon intensity” – emissions per unit of economic production – by 40 to 45 percent by 2020. India promised to cut its emission intensity by 20 to 25 percent in the same period.

In comparison, commitments from some of the poorer countries were highly detailed and specific. Ethiopia listed 75 clean energy projects, including building a new rail line that would run on renewable energy. Mongolia said it would erect solar panels in the Gobi desert. Ivory Coast listed a plan for more hydropower and improved forest protection. At least three nations – Costa Rica, Maldives, and Bhutan – said they were on track to be carbon neutral.

And what about the United States, the largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases? It pledged to reduce emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. But in the discussion following the presentation of pledges, the US fought a proposal (supported by most countries) that emission plans should be comparable under common accounting standards to ensure integrity – a dishonest move that won the Americans a “Fossil Fool Award” from the climate justice campaigners at TckTckTck.

Cloud Cover

The irony of all those climate negotiators jetting around the world – and spewing carbon dioxide – in their ineffectual attempts to reduce emissions has been widely noted by now. Turns out that the biggest impact of global airline traffic might not be the CO2 output, but instead the condensation from high altitude flights.

Contrails – those white lines of vapor left by jets crisscrossing the sky – contribute to the formation of cirrus clouds as the lines break up. And those high altitude clouds end up trapping heat, a lot of heat. According to study published by the journal Nature Climate Change: “Aircraft condensation trails and the clouds that form from them may be causing more warming today than all the aircraft-emitted carbon dioxide that has accumulated in the atmosphere since the start of aviation.”

green tinted photo of aircraft contrailsCourtesy Kent Wien

Bad news, for sure. But that conclusion also holds a consolation. While CO2 lingers for decades, the warming effect of contrails dissipates immediately if flights are grounded, as happened after the September 11 attacks and last year’s volcano eruption in Iceland. Also, engineers could develop jet engines that vent water in the form of large ice crystals instead of vapor.

“You can get rid of contrails very quickly,” says study author Ulrike Burkhardt. “You can’t get rid of CO2 quickly.”

Silver Lining

One way to ground air traffic would be to simply crash the economy into the ground. Perhaps not the best idea in terms of economic or social policy – but it would do wonders for greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s one takeaway from a recent report showing that the 2009 global recession sharply reduced the emissions from industrialized nations. According to data submitted to the UN, emissions in Australia, Italy, Spain, France, the United States, and Russia all dropped during the downturn. US emissions went down by 6.6 percent, while emissions in Russia fell 3.2 percent. The US decrease, the Environmental Protection Agency says, was due to “a decrease in economic output resulting in a decrease in energy consumption across all sectors.”

But every silver living has its own grey cloud. In an accounting sleight of hand, the Obama administration plans to use the decline to help meet its emissions reduction commitments to the UN. Talk about hot air.

   

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Comments

Here is 100% proof that the “thousands” of consensus climate change scientists grossly, if not criminally exaggerated climate change:
1- 100% silence from the disaster promising climate scientists when Obama didn’t even mention the crisis ONCE, in his state of the union speech in Feb/2011, the year climate change celebrated it’s 25th year of warnings, 
2-100% silence from the thousands of consensus and crisis warning scientists when all American IPCC research funding was pulled.
3-110% lack of concern from scientists who, for predicting a comet hit of a global emergency, SHOULD have been crying all over CNN and all media and marching in the streets to regain concern for their cries of “catastrophic” climate crisis.
4-120% lack of anger from you climate change believers, directed to the scientists who obviously road a gravy train of greed and condemned your kids to a certain death by CO2.

And here is proof climate change was kept alive by a liberal ideological agenda:
“Why would the left allow The World Bank, the UN, corporations and carbon STOCK MARKETS to determine how climate mitigation is managed in a fair way to the people of the planet?” Think of climate change being to liberalism what the Iraq Wars were to the Bush family name.

By Al Gore on Fri, June 03, 2011 at 2:31 am

I like the believer conspiracy accusation. The one about all of us former believers and “death by climate change deniers” somehow magically under the spell of or paid by big oil and instructed on how to think and say the evil stuff we do. Of course that makes any opposing view of DEATH BY CO2 evil and that of a planet hater.
Well gee then, stop telling my kids the planet will die unless they start turning out the GD lights more often, walk to school and use less water showering? Who is the fear mongering and lying neocon here?

Evidence is not proof but it’s good enough for scientists to say it’s real, considering “real” means the effects “will” be from negligible to unstoppable warming, or nothing to death. How is this science when every scientist has their own personal definition and prediction of climate change’s effects? Why? I’ll tell you why. Because “real” is anywhere from negligible to out of control heating. Chemistry is an exact science but we have yet to hear the scientists to apologize for polluting the planet with their pesticides and cancer causing chemicals in the first place. I should trust them?
All of climate research is on effects, not causes and that’s why you always here a scientist point to effects (evidence, symptoms) as proof and will never call this “cause and effect” equation simple correlation. In the end any scientist can say anything they want and not be “socially” responsible for it as it is the culture of their science and academic world. That’s why all private research is denier and all public believer. It’s not a lie. And you expect me to bow to these nameless saints of science and condemn my kids to CO2 death? Nope. I won’t do this anymore. I’m a former believer.
Ask yourself:
Thousands of consensus scientists also produced cruise missiles, cancer causing chemical cocktails, land mine technology, nuclear weapons, germ warfare, cluster bombs, strip mining technology, Y2K, Y2Kyoto, deep sea drilling technology and now climate control. Why trust their word and not doubt them as exaggerators, all of them.
-How is it that there were always countless thousands of consensus scientists out numbering protestors?
-If the crisis were real, the thousands of scientists would have been marching in the streets after their warnings of crisis were ignored, correct?
Do you trust the World Bank, Corporations and politicians to manage climate mitigation solely for your benefit and to run carbon taxing fairly?
Would you as a believer allow citizens to vote on climate mitigation, as in “taxes” yes or no? Or just leave it to the capitalist system you hate so much?
Wouldn’t a real planet lover be happy to admit the climate science of CO2 doom was a criminal exaggeration and your kids will have grand kids now?
You climate change believers owe it to all of us to take some responsibility for yelling fire in the theatre for what is if real as you claim, a comet hit of a world emergency. So ask yourself this, what have you got to lose by being wrong and what “does” have to happen to prove us deniers and former climate change believers are correct?

By Meme Mine on Thu, June 02, 2011 at 2:56 am

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