The Island of Doubt

What does a climatologist have to do to attract some attention? Sure, there are plenty of good journalists and a handful of thoughtful editors and news directors out there, but sometimes it seems that even sensational climate stories get buried. For example, this past week we learn that global greenhouse gas emissions are growing faster than the worst-case scenarios used by the IPCC. Then we’re treated to a study comparing changes in national emission levels. Both stories make for gripping copy, the kind of stuff that should set the blogosphere alight. And yet, here I am, desperately trying to draw more attention to both.

First, the global picture. “Global and regional drivers of accelerating CO2 emissions” (doi:10.1073/pnas.0700609104, see here for copyright) is a study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that found

The emissions growth rate since 2000 was greater than for the most fossil-fuel intensive of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emissions scenarios developed in the late 1990s.

This is very bad news. It did get picked up my various media outlets, but then, just as with the IPCC reports earlier this year, sank without a trace. No follow up.

There was even this very nice graph, to illustrate the problem. It’s Fig. 1 from the paper.

The black lines are real-world observations. Not computer models. Colored line represent various technological and political response scenarios, with the top-most curves being the most worrisome — the ones that take us into “dangerous” climate change effects that we will have a great deal of trouble undoing.

The national emissions rate study, meanwhile, was put together by the World Wide Fund for Nature. The most prominent coverage I found was in the Globe and Mail, which not too surprisingly highlighted Canada’s contribution to climate change. On the web at least, the information was presented in the form of a list, however, and in this format it loses a fair bit of punch. So I took the liberty of generating a graph, in hopes that might make the situation a bit more dramatic:


There. Did that help? Remember, we need to reduce our GHG emissions by 50-70 % below 1990 levels. How fast depends on the model, but we’ve probably got only 20-40 years to do it.

The lack of coverage such stories receive suggest that the authors of the PNAS paper are perhaps too generous in their assessment of the political situation, when they write:

Although the needs for both understanding and governance have been emerging for decades (as demonstrated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 and the Kyoto Protocol in 1997), it is now becoming widely perceived that climate change is an urgent challenge requiring globally concerted action, that a broad portfolio of mitigation measures is required, and that mitigation is not only feasible but highly desirable on economic as well as social and ecological grounds.

If only.


  1. #1 matthew
    June 6, 2007

    good on you for trying to spread the word about this news

  2. #2 Baratos
    June 6, 2007

    Why did Russia see such a big negative change?

  3. #3 James Hrynyshyn
    June 6, 2007

    Russia’s economy shrunk.

  4. #4 bigTom
    June 6, 2007

    The bar graphs which represented fractional contributions to: acculumated CO2, current emmision rate, and emmision growth are pretty informative. It illustrates that more than half of current emmisions growth is from China, and doing something about that will be critical.

  5. #5 Dr Coles
    June 6, 2007

    CO2 Has Nothing To Do With Climate Change. Period.

  6. #6 matthew
    June 6, 2007

    Uh oh James, the infamously anonymous “Dr.” F. Coles just left a big ‘ol flaming bag of crap on your site… He never stays anywhere long, he just likes to plug his quaint little propaganda site everywhere he can.

  7. #7 Skeptic8
    June 6, 2007

    Thanks for the re-structure.
    I note the “CO2 equivalent” GHG emissions. I am lead to believe that CH4 is several times the GHG of CO2.
    Will the Russian bar change dramatically when the permafrost bacteria get back in the business of putting out “ancient” CH4 and CO2? Will computer projections be adjusted for waste dumps? A ‘managed’ dump is finally capped and the CH4 generated by anaerobic bacterial activity is harvested to power generators. This adds “recent” carbon CO2 to the atmosphere. Unmanaged dumps add “recent” CH4.
    Putting math to guesstimates must be a beast!
    Keep on the trail!

  8. #8 Dunc
    June 7, 2007

    Are those stabilisation lines in the first graph ppm CO2, or ppm CO2 equivalent?

  9. #9 Gary Williams
    June 8, 2007

    Perhaps it would be prudent to mention that the warming effect of CO2 decreases inversly on a logarithmic scale to the increas in atmospheric content.
    Just an inconvienient truth. Sorry.

  10. #10 Skeptic8
    June 9, 2007

    Gary Williams,
    Pray enlighten we amateurs as to the mechanism involved and mebbe drop us a bit of a link so that we can become enlightened.

  11. #11 QrazyQat
    June 9, 2007

    Seems to me that even if Gary Williams’ statement is true, the fact that CO2 has skyrocketed is still a problem. His statement is similiar to what you have with a car: you got a car, you push down on the gas pedal and it goes, as you push down further on the pedal it accelerates less quickly due to aerodynamics — absolutely correct — but then his implication is that therefore pushing on the gas pedal actually doesn’t make the car go faster — absolutely incorrect.