Doomsday in 2012? Please, I don’t even have time for that. (Check out Ian O’Neill’s work for a nail-in-the-coffin of those myths.) But there is a big milestone that we will reach right around 2012.
Prior to the industrial revolution, the Earth’s atmosphere was really ideal for supporting the wide diversity of life on the planet. Breaking it up into its physical, molecular contents, the atmosphere, weighing in at just over 5,100 trillion tonnes (5.1 x 1018 kilograms), was made up of the following elements (by mass, not volume):
- Nitrogen gas (N2): 3,890 trillion tonnes (around 75.5%),
- Oxygen gas (O2): 1,190 trillion tonnes (around 23.1%),
- Argon gas (monatomic): 66 trillion tonnes (around 1.3%), and
- Carbon Dioxide (CO2): 2.18 trillion tonnes (about 0.04%),
plus a variable amount of water vapor. But the amount of these gases in the atmosphere didn’t really change very much over the past few thousand years, while human civilization developed, grew, and thrived.
And then, right around the year 1800, something new happened.
The industrial revolution! It brought great things with it, things that helped give us the world we have today. And it brought along with it one small, unforeseen consequence: every atom of carbon that we burned combined with oxygen in the atmosphere, artificially producing
carbon dioxide in copious quantities for the first time.
This wasn’t really a big deal at the beginning, because the amount of carbon dioxide we were producing was tiny compared to the amount that was already there. But over the past 200 years, our energy needs have gone up, and the way we’ve met them is — nearly universally — through the burning of carbon.
By 1870, the world was artificially producing a billion tonnes of CO2 per year.
By 1920, it was 5 billion a year.
By 1960, we’d hit 10 billion a year.
By the late 1980s, we were up past 20 billion tonnes each and every year.
And, at present, we’re nearly up to 30 billion tonnes of CO2 emitted annually.
Out of this nearly 30 billion tonnes per year, the United States is responsible for about 6 billion tonnes of it. And over 98% of the CO2 that we emit comes from the production of energy in one form or another.
If you add this all up (and I did a few months ago), you find that humanity is on pace to have added 1.5 trillion extra tonnes of Carbon Dioxide by 2012! How’s that for a milestone?
If — as a world — we don’t cut our Carbon Dioxide production significantly, by 2030 we will have added as much Carbon Dioxide to the atmosphere as there was Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere when we started! The world isn’t going to end in 2012; it isn’t even going to end in 2030. But if we don’t do something to stop making this mess that we’re continuing to make, it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
So, you’ve got the facts now. What do you think we should do about it? And how can we make it happen?