Carbon Dioxide Levels Rising Fast, Scientists Surprised, We Aren’t

September 26th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The AP covers the new reports of rapidly increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere:

The world pumped up its pollution of the chief man-made global warming gas last year, setting a course that could push beyond leading scientists’ projected worst-case scenario, international researchers said Thursday.

The new numbers, called “scary” by some, were a surprise because scientists thought an economic downturn would slow energy use. Instead, carbon dioxide output jumped 3 percent from 2006 to 2007.

That’s an amount that exceeds the most dire outlook for emissions from burning coal and oil and related activities as projected by a Nobel Prize-winning group of international scientists in 2007.

Readers of our recent paper in Nature (PDF) won’t be surprised at all by this report. I’m not sure which is more scary — rapidly rising carbon dioxide levels or the failed analysis of the IPCC that remains largely unacknowledged.

The rapidly increasing carbon dioxide levels are a surprise only because the IPCC failed to anticipate them. The “surprise” is thus due to a failed analysis. Effective policy is unlikely to result from failed policy analyses. This would seem obvious. Somewhat perversely, the failed analysis is often used to justify going more quickly in the wrong direction. But it seems that the poverty of the current approach is starting to be realized:

Gregg Marland, a senior staff scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said he was surprised at the results because he thought world emissions would drop because of the economic downturn. That didn’t happen.

“If we’re going to do something (about reducing emissions), it’s got to be different than what we’re doing,” he said.

3 Responses to “Carbon Dioxide Levels Rising Fast, Scientists Surprised, We Aren’t”

  1. Celebrity Paycut - Encouraging celebrities all over the world to save us from global warming by taking a paycut. Says:

    [...] By Breakthrough Senior Fellow Roger Pielke, jr., cross posted from Prometheus [...]

  2. 2
  3. PaddikJ Says:

    How does one pollute a global warming gas (or any gas, for that matter, unless maybe you’re referring to that mixture of gases commonly referred to as “the atmosphere”)?

    But, after getting past the AP’s mangled reportage, more substantive questions arise, such as what is meant, exactly, by CO2 stabilization? Are we to aim for some magical concentration that will provide a “stable” climate into the forseeable future? If so, it would be the first time in Earth’s history. And what if the planet doesn’t cooperate in this enterprise – do we have some technology waiting in the wings that will force it into submission? If so, maybe we should stabilize CO2 concentrations at pre-industrial levels and have the mild, stable climate that humanity enjoyed during the Little Ice Age. That would be pleasant.

    At least we’d then be able to test the climate-CO2 hypothesis.

  4. 3
  5. Hans Erren Says:

    There are several factors in this newsitem:
    Total Emissions are larger than worst case SRES scenarios, mostly because SRES has 1 GtC less CO2 from landuse change

    Observed CO2 is below worst case SRES.
    Observed satellite temperature and oceanic heat content is plateauing.

    Which implies that the effect of emissions on temperature is not as powerful as worst case models suggest. Pielke Sr. even confirmed that there is no heating in the pipeline either. So what can be expected? If the monetary crisis grows worldwide, there definetely will be a dip in emissions, as happened also before.