2016 is likely to be the first year in the past five million years that CO2 in the atmosphere will routinely and regularly exceed 400 parts per million (ppm). That record was broken in 2015, the first time in human history the level of CO2 has exceeded 400 ppm.
This record-setting performance can be credited in part to a strong El Niño condition in 2015. The El Niño worsened drought in some tropical regions. The stressed vegetation was less able to absorb CO2. This says a lot about the delicate balance of the natural carbon cycle.
Does this mean that the increase in CO2 was a natural phenomenon? Does it mean that we should ignore it, that we cannot do anything about it? No. Some of the responsibility for the drought can be laid at the feet of anthropogenic global warming. How much anthropogenic global warming contributes to modern extremes of weather, including the El Niño/La Niña cycle, is still being studied.
On the other hand we have a very good understanding of how CO2—a greenhouse gas (GHG)—contributes to global warming and subsequent climate change. We have a good understanding of the contribution of anthropogenic (human-caused) activities such as burning fossil fuels contribute to higher levels of CO2.
Both CO2 and average global temperatures are likely to be higher in 2016 than in the past century or more. We understand that “correlation does not always mean causation,” however in this case, direct causation can be drawn from CO2 and the “greehouse effect,” and from the burning of fossil fuels and the increase in CO2. All this will be discussed in future posts.
Do not forget that Trump labeled climate change a "con job," a "hoax" and "bull ---t." Do not forget that Trump said he would support “clean coal,” when there is no such thing as clean coal: coal produces between 200 and 250 pounds of CO2 per million Btu, more than any other fossil fuel*. Do not forget that the official position of the Republican Party Platform rejects both the Kyoto Protocol and the more recent Paris Agreement to control carbon emissions. And do not underestimate the harm that could be caused by a “climate change denier” and a “shill for the energy industry” as the head of the EPA.
And remember, it’s all about the children.
[References will be provided in future blog entries.]
*Petroleum coke, a byproduct of oil refining, produces about 225 pounds of CO2 per million Btu, However, the amount of “pet coke” burned is very small compared to the amount of coal burned.
Registered Curmudgeon, scientist, skeptic, humanist, and writer.