Worsening Greenhouse Gas Picture

Over the past month, new information has provided even more reason to get serious about greenhouse gases. Peat which has been absorbing  atmospheric carbon is drying out, and even more alarming, some scientists believe the carbon situation has already gone too far.

The Earth’s peat bogs have been sequestering billions of tons of carbon. They have soaked up some of the global-warming-inducing gases and delayed the process. However, a recent report out of Harvard explains that the bogs will lose their ability to act as buffers as they dry out due to warming. As warming continues, it will cause the dying bogs to dump more greenhouse gases back into the air and further exacerbate the climate change.

This fits the larger pattern. More and more, scientific research is finding that the true harm of our greenhouse gas emissions is partially hidden by ecological buffers. Buffers such as bogs and oceans have been buying us time, unfortunately when their ability to do this runs out the ultimate crash will be even more painful.

Further adding to the concerns, a  study published in November in the Open Atmospheric Science Journal and reported on Science Daily suggests that CO2 is more harmful than previously thought. As a result, the study authors emphasize that a mere levelling off of atmospheric carbon is not enough but that we must actually reduce the presence to below the current level:

“This work and other recent publications suggest that we have reached CO2 levels that compromise the stability of the polar ice sheets.”

The study authors specifically target coal as a vital part of the plan to reduce carbon emissions due to the prevalence of its use in power plants and its tendency to produce large amounts of carbon emissions. This is explained in the Science Daily article about the study:

According to the study, coal is the largest source of atmospheric CO2 and the one that would be most practical to eliminate. Oil resources already may be about half depleted, depending upon the magnitude of undiscovered reserves, and it is still not practical to capture CO2 emerging from vehicle tailpipes, the way it can be with coal-burning facilities, note the scientists. Coal, on the other hand, has larger reserves, and the authors conclude that “the only realistic way to sharply curtail CO2 emissions is phase out coal use except where CO2 is captured and sequestered.”

Certainly, this and all the other ominous news should be read as adding to the call to action regarding man-made global warming. The problem is real, serious, and immediate. However, as the authors of the Open Atmospheric Science Journal study point out, there is a lot that can be done because humans are the ones producing these emissions:

“the greatest danger is continued ignorance and denial, which could make tragic consequences unavoidable.”

If we change our own habits, we will reap the benefits, so there is reason to be hopeful and get serious about sustainability.

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