It’s carbon, stupid

I spent most of last week updating our climate change material and was settling down to share with you my profound thoughts. Then I read this in a report published the other day by the Institute for Public Policy Research:

Many participants expressed a weariness and fatigue about the subject of climate change. Many of the workshops became notably less animated following the introduction of climate change as a topic for discussion. Some found the issue very boring.

I’d better take the hint and change the subject…just a little. Instead of climate change, it’s carbon, stupid! And I promise not the mention the CC phrase again.

There are some great charts in the World Bank’s World Development Report 2010. I’m not surprised that the cover reproduces the chart showing the concentration of carbon dioxide over the last 800,000 years, with its massive vertical spike on the far right.

They missed a trick in omitting to show when homo sapiens arrived on the scene, three-quarters of the way along the graph, about 200,000 years ago. But otherwise for me this picture says it all.

Most of us have some understanding of the carbon cycle, the languid passage of the element between its various sinks – atmosphere, land and oceans – and its fleeting but immensely sensitive interaction with plants, animals and ourselves. This cycle is the invisible vein of life on earth, its circulation accustomed only to the most infinitesimal nudges over the short geological time span shown here.

You mess with this cycle at your peril, especially when the scientists don’t fully understand the behaviour of each of the sinks. Pumping up the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide to 30% above its customary level within a tiny period is messing big time. Don’t even think about the projections beyond 2010.

Some console themselves that plants will grow more strongly in a richer soup of carbon dioxide. If only it was that simple. My prediction is that by 2025 we will discover a kickback from the disturbed carbon cycle to match the gravity of global warming.

It won’t be boring.

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this article was first published by OneWorld UK

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