First, the bad news, which you may have seen elsewhere.
CO2 emissions grew at an unprecented year-over-year rate of 6% last year. This was not, to put it mildly, what the Kyoto negotiators had in mind.
Most of the reports I saw, like this one in the Washington Post, quote geologist Greg Marland as well as the CDIAC PI responsible for the report, Tom Boden.
It is a “monster” increase that is unheard of, said Gregg Marland, a professor of geology at Appalachian State University, who has helped calculate Department of Energy figures in the past.
Extra pollution in China and the U.S. account for more than half the increase in emissions last year, Marland said.
“It’s a big jump,” said Tom Boden, director of the Energy Department’s Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center at Oak Ridge National Lab. “From an emissions standpoint, the global financial crisis seems to be over.”
Chris Field of Stanford University, head of one of the IPCC’s working groups, said the panel’s emissions scenarios are intended to be more accurate in the long term and are less so in earlier years. He said the question now among scientists is whether the future is the panel’s worst case scenario “or something more extreme.”
“Really dismaying,” Granger Morgan, head of the engineering and public policy department at Carnegie Mellon University, said of the new figures. “We are building up a horrible legacy for our children and grandchildren.”
So that’s the bad news.
The bad news about the bad news is that the news reporting is bad. This is material that deserves an occasional chart or graph. And here is one for context, that accompanied the CDIAC report. It took a modest amount of digging to come up with it.
Why is the press unwilling to put the actual facts into a form that actually contributes to understanding?
Note, too, the extent to which the story has changed in the past few years. Suddenly, the problem is not just about America; it is about China as well. Indeed, most of the past estimates did not have the amazing sustained growth of Chinese emissions included.
Note also that Chinese emissions are dirty, so that, as long as they are growing rapidly, they will mask the greenhouse forcing, which will cut in rapidly when Chinese growth stops. Meanwhile, the global mean temperature will not grow as fast as you might expect, but regional disruptions will nevertheless continue to accelerate. I saw one talk once that suggested that increased aerosol releases in China would lead to increased propensity for drought in the American west.
What the world looks like in fifty years and afterward depends sensitively on what happens now, and what is happening now is worse than the worst case scenarios we plotted out a few years back.Another picture the press would do well to impress upon the public is this one, which I found on an O’Reilly site of all places, in an article by Ramez Naam.
Of course, the lower picture shows only a small subset of the possible emissions trajectories, but it does indicate how what happens essentially forever depends sensitively on what happens now.
Do most Americans understand this? Most Chinese?
Update: Here’s a graph showing the total figure, compared with IPCC scenarios, from Independent Media Centre Australia: