Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Carbon dioxide levels already too high

Latest study carried out by a group of 10 scientists from the United States, the United Kingdom and France showed that if we want to prevent climate disaster we have to even reduce existing levels of carbon dioxide (CO2). According to this study that was published in "Open Atmospheric Science Journal" optimum CO2 levels should be less than 350 ppm in order to maintain similarity to conditions that were present when civilization start developing.

This study is different from all other recent studies that were suggesting danger levels of 450 ppm or even higher. Atmospheric CO2 is currently somewhere about 385 parts per million (ppm) and is increasing by about 2 ppm each year mainly because of fossil fuels burning. If we are to believe this study than we have already reached danger levels, in fact we passed them significantly. This study was based on latest data involving Earth's climate history and ongoing observations of change, especially in the polar regions. Scientists involved in this study agree that we have already reached CO2 levels that compromise the stability of the polar ice sheets, and things will only become worse if current levels of CO2 emissions continue.

The largest source of CO2 in atmosphere is coal, with countries like China, US, Australia doing most of the damage. Coal is relatively cheap fuel, has very large reserves, so it is very likely that we won't see major cut in coal use in years to come, especially given the constant rise in energy demand. Different clean coal technologies are still in the phase of development so there is very small chance that we will see improvements in CO2 emissions in upcoming years.

However authors did point out what can we do to lower atmospheric CO2, namely reforestation of degraded land and improved agricultural practices that retain soil carbon could lower atmospheric CO2 by as much as 50 ppm, which would really be a significant decrease. Of course only massive turn to renewable energy sector on global scale would really make the difference. But such turn in global energy policy still looks like utopia.

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