- 1 History of Carbon Dioxide as a Greenhouse Gas
- 2 Background to the Crisis
- 3 The Origin of the 12 Year Timeline
- 4 The Keeling Curve
- 5 Temperature Curves
- 6 Non CO2 Greenhouse Gasses (GHG)
- 7 Nature's Feedback Loops (aka Tipping Points)
- 8 Impacts On Life As We Know It
- 9 Impacts on Mental Health
- 10 Impacts on Human Rights Issues
History of Carbon Dioxide as a Greenhouse Gas
- 1800, 1831 - Alexander von Humboldt - identified the anthropogenic sources of global warming.
- 1856 - Eunice Foote
- - The female scientist who identified the greenhouse-gas effect never got the credit - Quartz - Akshat Rathi - May 14 2014
- - This Lady Scientist Defined the Greenhouse Effect But Didn’t Get the Credit, Because Sexism - Smisthsonian - Leila McNeill - December 2016
- 1859 - John Tyndall - confirmed the greenhouse effect of atmospheric CO2
- 1896 - Svante Arrhenius - estimated the effect of rising CO2 levels on increasing global temperatures.
Background to the Crisis
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. The IPCC was created to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change, its implications and potential future risks, as well as to put forward adaptation and mitigation options.
The IPCC's '1.5 Degree Report' paints a dire picture that suggests we must fundamentally change the nature of society in the next 10 yrs 3 mo (Sept 2020) See the following publications:
- “Devastating UN Report: CO2 Emissions Must Go to Zero By 2050 to Avoid Worst Effects of Climate Change”
- “IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC” released in October 2018
- “IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL)” released in August 2019
- “IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate” (pdf) released in September 2019
- "Index of all IPCC reports"
We nearly did something 30 years ago, see:
but were thwarted in the 80’s by the API and the fossil fuel industry that paid a few climate denier/skeptics to write editorials to raise doubt and undermine support for any policies which would affect their bottom line, when in fact it had been pretty much settled science at the time. See:
- “Losing Earth: A Recent History” - Nathan Rich – Macmillan – April 2019.
- “An Exxon-Owned Firm Figured Out How to Curb CO2 in 1991” - Bloomberg – Dec 2019
But the media has been complacent too, see;
- “The Media Are Complacent While the World Burns” - The Nation, Apr 2019, Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope
Job One for Humanity has lots of general information at:
To learn more, read the not-for-late-night reading:
- “The Uninhabitable Earth” – David Wallace-Wells – Penguin Random House – Feb 2019
perhaps summarized in;
- “Facing Extinction” - Catherine Ingram website.
and an update:
- “Climate Change Is Accelerating: ‘Things Are Getting Worse” - New York Times - Dec 2019
- “The End of Ice” – Dahr Jamail – The New Press – Jan 2019
Jamail uses the term ‘climate disruption’ a lot when he describes one man’s intimate experience with nature and the visible impact of climate change on glacial retreat, deforestation, coral reefs bleaching, etc.
or any of these:
- "Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?” – Bill McKibben – Henry Holt & Co – Apr 2019
- “Storming The Wall: Climate Change, Migration and Homeland Security” – Todd Miller – Sept 2017
- “This Civilisation Is Finished: Conversations on the End of Empire - And What Lies Beyond” – Rupert Read, Samuel Alexander - Simplicity Institute – May 2019
- “On Fire: - The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal” – Naomi Klein - Simon & Schuster – Sept. 2019
- "Grass Roots Rising" - Chelsea Green Publishing - Ronnie Cummins - Feb. 2020
Then there is the report from Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) that predicts that a million species are currently (May 2019) threatened with extinction at:
One story on what Exxon knew in 1982 but didn’t share;
- “Exxon Predicted 2019’s Ominous CO2 Milestone in 1982” - Gizmodo - May 2019
The Origin of the 12 Year Timeline
The 12 years in which we have to act started in October 2018. See:
- "What Does '12 Years to Act on Climate Change'" (Now 11 Years) Really Mean? - Inside Climate News - Aug 27, 2019
- "The number began drawing attention in 2018, when the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report describing what it would take to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, a goal of the Paris climate agreement. The report explained that countries would have to cut their anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, such as from power plants and vehicles, to net zero by around 2050. To reach that goal, it said, CO2 emissions would have to start dropping "well before 2030" and be on a path to fall by about 45 percent by around 2030 (12 years away at that time)."
The Keeling Curve
From Scripps Institution of Oceanography:
- “Scripps scientists measured a record level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: 415 parts per million, on Sunday, May 12, 2019. This daily record, the Keeling Curve, is considered the foundation of modern climate change research. Geochemist Charles David Keeling joined Scripps in 1956 and built a manometer and other equipment to isolate the carbon dioxide in air samples. In 1958, the average carbon dioxide concentration of the first measurement was 316.16 parts per million. In 2013, the CO2 concentration surpassed 400 ppm for the first time in human history.”
- NASA recent data covers the period from 1880 to 2020.
Global average temperatures (the past 2000 yrs) show that the Medieval Warm Period was not a planet-wide phenomenon, and that the Little Ice Age was not a distinct planet-wide time period but rather the end of a long temperature decline that preceded recent global warming.
Non CO2 Greenhouse Gasses (GHG)
Major Greenhouse Gasses - can arise from a wide variety of sources, both natural and artificial.
- Refrigerants - used as a heat transfer fluid in air conditioning systems, vehicular, residential and industrial.
- Methane Emissions - arise from fracking, oil production, permafrost melting, ocean methane hydrates, decomposition of wastes, agriculture.
- Nitrous Oxide, N2O - a pollutant from agriculture and industry which additionally scrubs Ozone from the atmosphere.
For more information:
Working on cutting the use of refrigerants has been identified as the No. 1 solution in Project Drawdown. Refrigerants can have a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 2000 to 3000; CO2 has a GWP of 1 by definition. More information is available under Drawdown Projects in New Mexico. Ironically, CO2 can also be used as a refrigerant.
- ‘We Essentially Cook Ourselves’ if We Don’t Fix Air Conditioning, Major UN Report Warns - Gizmodo - July 17, 2020
- "A new United Nations report shows why it’s crucial to clean up air conditioning. In fact, the authors found that switching over to energy-efficient and climate-friendly air conditioning units could save the world up to 460 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions (460 GTe) over the course of the next 40 years. For context, that’s roughly eight times the amount of greenhouse gases the entire world emitted in 2018."
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas—about 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the Earth, on a 100-year timescale, and more than 80 times more powerful over 20 years. While it naturally decays to carbon dioxide and water in the atmosphere, there is always more being added from both natural sources as well as post-industrial human based sources. Warming oceans and melting permafrosts increase natural emissions which may at some point contribute to even more global warming.
Today, about 60 percent of the methane in the atmosphere comes from sources scientists think of as human caused, while the rest comes from sources that existed before humans started influencing the carbon cycle in dramatic ways. See:
- "Methane, explained" - National Geographic - Alejandra Borunda -Jan 23, 2019
For more background information see:
- "What is methane and why does it matter" - Rocky Mountain Institute – January 8, 2020
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center develops 3D Modeling of methane emissions world-wide as reported:
- "New 3-D view of methane tracks sources" - Phys.org - Ellen Gray – Mar 23, 2020:
Natural Sources of Methane
Methane has always been produced by the decomposition of organic matter in wetlands and more recently in the thawing of permafrosts. Other sources include natural seepage from underground sources near and on top of oil and gas fields, volcanos, thawing methane hydrates.
Since the Industrial Revolution, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled, and about 20 percent of the warming the planet has experienced can be attributed to the gas.
Methane hydrate is an ice-like substance formed when CH4 (methane) and water combine at low temperature (up to ~25ºC) and moderate pressure (greater than 3-5 MPa, which corresponds to combined water and sediment depths of 300 to 500 m). Globally, an estimated 99% of gas hydrates occurs in the sediments of marine continental margins at saturations as high as 20% to 80% in some lithologies; the remaining 1% is mostly associated with sediments in and beneath areas of high-latitude, continuous permafrost. See:
- "Methane Hydrates and Contemporary Climate Change" - Nature: The Knowledge Project - Carolyn D. Ruppel - 2011
Enormous amounts of methane hydrate have been found beneath Arctic permafrost, beneath Antarctic ice, and in sedimentary deposits along continental margins worldwide.
Several other names are commonly used for methane hydrate. These include: methane clathrate, hydromethane, methane ice, fire ice, natural gas hydrate, and gas hydrate. Most methane hydrate deposits also contain small amounts of other hydrocarbon hydrates. These include propane hydrate and ethane hydrate. See:
- "Methane Hydrate: The world's largest natural gas resource is trapped beneath permafrost and ocean sediments" - Geology.com - Hobart M. King - undated
The biggest source of agricultural methane emissions is enteric fermentation, which is the digestive process by which microbes in the guts of ruminant livestock break down plant matter, enabling it to be absorbed into the animals’ bloodstream, and producing methane as a by-product. Almost 30% of total anthropogenic methane in 2012, or about two thirds of the agricultural total, is from this source. Significant amounts of methane are also emitted where rice is grown in flooded paddies (11% total anthropogenic methane in 2012), where the anaerobic conditions facilitate microbial methane-generation similarly to natural wetlands. A third major source of agricultural methane emissions arises from losses of organic matter in manures (from both ruminant and non-ruminant livestock) (3% total anthropogenic methane in 2012), and a small amount of methane is emitted from the burning of agricultural wastes (0.5%). See:
- "Agricultural methane and its role as a greenhouse gas" - Food Climate Research Network - June 11, 2019
Scientists have measured big increases in the amount of methane entering the atmosphere over the last decade. Cows or wetlands have been fingered as possible sources, but new research points to methane emissions from fossil fuel production — mainly from shale gas operations in the United States and Canada — as the culprit. See:
- "Fracking boom tied to methane spike in Earth’s atmosphere" - National Geographic - Stephen Leahy - August 15, 2019
- "Fracking False Promise: A Just Transition to a Sustainable Economy for New Mexico" - 350 New Mexico - Tom Solomon - April 23, 2020 (slide deck)
Natural gas is produced at oil or gas wells. In its raw state it contains many other components other than methane such as ethane, propane, butane and other volatile organic compounds (VOC). Raw natural gas composition varies from well to well and region to region. Possible composition ranges are:
|Name||Formula||% by Vol.|
The raw natural gas must be purified to meet the quality standards specified by the major pipeline transmission and distribution companies that deliver it to commercial and residential customers. Carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen and any mercury will be removed and the gas dried before being delivered to the pipeline companies. Then before being delivered to residential consumers the gas is odorized to give it its distinctive smell. The most common odorizer, tert-Butylthiol is an organosulfur compound.
New Mexico's Problem
New Mexico has some of the worst clouds of methane emissions from oil & gas activities. Efforts are underway to develop rules for the O&G industry. A list of peer-reviewed articles outlining the issue of methane emissions has been collected by the New Mexico Environment Department. See:
Nitrous oxide (N2O) has a 100 year Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 289 and it also depletes the ozone layer. Agricultural sources account for 74% of all sources. Nitrous Oxide constitutes about 6% (by weight) of GHG emissions in the US. See:
- "What Is Nitrous Oxide and Why Is It a Climate Threat?" - Inside Climate News - Sabrina Shankman - September 11, 2019
Water vapor itself, i.e. gaseous water, is also a weak green house gas. It really only becomes a problem with runaway global warming when the seas begin to evaporate, causing feedback and more global warming. This mechanism is believed to be behind Venus' high surface temperatures that melt lead. See:
Nature's Feedback Loops (aka Tipping Points)
As global temperatures rise, nature has its own contributions to make to greenhouse gas emissions. These feedback loops once triggered are almost if not impossible to reverse.
- Wildfires - wildfires are more likely as temperatures rise and vegetation dries, adding CO2 to the atmosphere and more temperature rise.
- Carbon deposits on Ice - carbon from wildfires settles on ice reducing its ability to reflect the sun's heat, raising temperatures.
- Melting Polar Ice Caps - exposed oceans are dark compared to ice, allowing more of the sun's energy to be absorbed raising temperatures.
- Ocean Methane Hydrates - warming oceans release methane from melting methane hydrates.
- Melting Permafrost - warming permafrost releases more methane and CO2 as vegetation decomposes.
- Ocean Currents - disturbed ocean currents bring warmer waters to melt polar ice caps.
- Wetlands & Coastal Erosion - as sea levels rise the natural carbon capture processes of mangroves, for example, are interrupted releasing more CO2.
For a description of three feedback loops involving the eco-systems of mangroves, peatlands and boreal forests see CNN's multi-media presentation:
Impacts On Life As We Know It
Elements of Chaos
(list taken after Elements of Chaos in the Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells)
- Heat Death (hyperthermia, heat stroke)
- Hunger (food shortages and falling crop yields)
- Drowning (rising seas and flooding)
- ‘Natural’ Disasters (tornados, hurricanes)
- Freshwater (glacial melting)
- Oceans (pH, food chain)
- Air Quality (fires)
- Economic Collapse
- Conflict (wars)
ProPublica, with The New York Times Magazine and funded by the Pulitzer Center, hired geographer Bryan Jones at Baruch College to build an extended version of a climate migration model that Jones had done with the World Bank for its 2018 report, “Groundswell.” The model aims to understand how climate change might lead to population shifts in Central America and Mexico, including how people may move across borders between these countries and to the United States. Published in July 23, 2020 the report notes:
- "For most of human history, people have lived within a surprisingly narrow range of temperatures, in the places where the climate supported abundant food production. As the planet warms, those regions are shifting. Entire nations will lose their ability to farm grains and vegetables. Faced with starvation, those who can leave will have little other choice. Human movement is hard to predict, and political battles surround any discussion of migration. This is becoming a barrier to saving lives."
Where Will Everyone Go? - ProPublica's presentation of the story.
The Great Climate Migration - New York Times Magazine's presentation of the story.
Read more about the Bryan Jones data project that underlies the reporting.
Impacts on Mental Health
- ‘Overwhelming and terrifying’: the rise of climate anxiety - The Guardian, Feb 10, 2020
Impacts on Human Rights Issues
The UN, Office of the High Commission on Human Rights recognizes the need to integrate human rights into climate crisis solutions, see:
- "Climate Change and Human Rights" - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in cooperation with the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University in the City of New York - December 2015
- " ...climate change will have a profound effect on the enjoyment of human rights for individuals and communities across the planet. This is not merely an abstract, future possibility. Climate change is already affecting temperatures, hydrologic conditions, ecosystem functioning, and agricultural productivity in many regions. Displacement is also an imminent prospect for some communities, such as those situated in the rapidly melting Arctic and low-lying coastal areas."
We have attempted to look at the broad spectrum of Human Rights issues (aka Social Justice) to evaluate how they may be impacted by the worst of the climate crisis under a "Business As Usual" scenario. While speculative, classification of impacts reflects the risk that global warming has immediate (primary) and subsequential consequences (secondary and tertiary). Primary impacts are a direct result of rising CO2 levels and rising temperatures. Secondary impacts come about as a result of climate changes and the effect on human society. Tertiary impacts tend to cover how we respond to the effects of global warming.
Where available, links under Human Rights Issues access example local initiatives and volunteer organizations.
|Human Rights Issue||Possible Impacts of the Climate Crisis||Impact Level|
|Abortion Rights||Access to women's right to abortion will tend to be overshadowed by social unrest triggered by global warming. Shortages of resources in general raises the risk of losing health care resources that supply safe abortion facilities.||Secondary|
|Clean Air and Water||Global warming affects water supplies via snow pack depletion and increasing in drought conditions. Co-emissions (e.g. particulates) with greenhouse gases further pollute the air.||Primary|
|Domestic abuse||Global warming will stress society in a number of ways, via food shortages, water shortages and exacerbated ‘natural’ disasters. Tempers are more likely to flare and domestic violence likely to increase. Employment levels will likely be impacted adding to societal stress.||Secondary|
|Drug trafficking||Funds to fight the effects of the climate crisis will redirect funds away from fighting drug trafficking.||Secondary|
|Education||Funds to fight the effects of the climate crisis will redirect funds away from improving education systems and institutions.||Secondary|
|Freedom of religion||Global warming will stress society in a number of ways with divisive and discriminatory practices putting blame on ethnic and religious groups exacerbating religious intolerance.||Tertiary|
|Gun Violence/Control||Global warming will stress society in a number of ways, tempers will flare and disputes will result more frequently with gun violence. Ultimately, as society begins to break down, gangs and militia will impose local governance with the power of the gun.||Tertiary|
|Human trafficking||Funds to fight the effects of the climate crisis will redirect funds away from fighting Human Trafficking.||Tertiary|
|Hunger/Famine||Food shortages and higher prices will expand the number of disadvantaged that go hungry. Large scale hunger (famine) will cause civil unrest and potentially civil wars.||Secondary|
|Immigration||As the climate warms, more places will become intolerably hot, under water or devastated by ‘natural’ disasters. International and domestic human migration away from these areas will put pressure on neighboring more livable areas and generate social unrest and potentially civil and international wars.||Primary|
|Income inequality||Those with resources will be better able to respond to the worst effects of the climate crisis, being more mobile they can escape areas most affected. However, gated communities in cooler climes for example may risk becoming targets of social unrest. Global warming will risk economic disruption so whether the injustices of income inequality are ameliorated or exacerbated is too hard to predict.||Tertiary|
|LGBTQ||LGBTQ inequalities will tend to be overshadowed by social unrest triggered by global warming. Shortages of resources in general raises the risk of more LGBTQ injustices.||Tertiary|
|Net Neutrality||Net Neutrality issues will be sidelined as nations impose more controls over the internet in order to manage increasing social unrest triggered by global warming||Tertiary|
|Poverty||The lack of resources among the poor will limit their ability to respond to global warming resulting in social unrest. More to the point as areas of the world become uninhabitable and suffers from drought conditions, more people will fall into poverty.||Secondary|
|Prison Reform||Prison populations could explode as global warming disenfranchises the poor and racial minorities, generating social unrest. Generally tho’, prisons will not be able to accommodate a rising ‘criminal’ class. Either laws will be relaxed or prison crowding will become critical.||Tertiary|
|Racial Discrimination, Racism||As sea levels rise and other areas become uninhabitable food and water supplies will be impacted with the burden falling disproportionately on communities of color and the disadvantaged. These communities having fewer resources will have fewer ways to respond. Shortages of resources in general raises the risk of more racial injustices.||Secondary|
|Universal Health Care||Health Care (including Women's Health) inequalities will increase as social unrest rises and puts pressure on the ability of health care institutions to deliver their service.||Tertiary|
|Voting||Voting suppression and inequalities will increase in authoritarian states as they respond to social unrest triggered by global warming. Alternatively, the same social unrest may swing in the opposite direction and dethrone authoritarians and restore voting rights. Current turmoil makes this too hard to predict.||Tertiary|
|Women's Health||See Universal Health Care||Tertiary|
Generally, the impact of global warming seems to be deep and wide making the problems with most other social justice issues more severe.