Greenhouse gases, carbon emissions and climate change – part of chapter 1 of research study

In his book, The Enemy of Nature, Kovel (2006: 1) points out that, compared to 1970, at the beginning of this century human “carbon emissions had increased from 3.9 million metric tons annually to an estimated 6.4 million – this despite the additional impetus to cut back caused by an awareness of global warming, which was not perceived to be a factor in 1970”. His statistics, as alarming as they are considering that they highlight the rapid increase in the level of carbon emissions in just 30 years, are outdated – they reflect the state of carbon emission affairs in 2002, when the first edition of The Enemy of Nature was published. To put things into a more contemporary perspective, consider that in April 2014 the IPCC published a press release1 stating that “greenhouse gases have risen to unprecedented levels despite a growing number of policies to reduce climate change. Emissions grew more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than in each of the three previous decades.”

The Living Planet Report2 highlights the fact that the “consequences of excess greenhouse gases that cannot be absorbed by vegetation are already being seen, with rising levels of atmospheric CO2 causing increased global temperatures, climate change and ocean acidification. These impacts in turn place additional stresses on biodiversity and ecosystems and the very resources on which people depend”. This is a mild statement from the Living Planet Report; other sources draw attention to the effects of climate change in ways that highlight further consequences, for example3: climate change “poses a grave threat to humanity and has already damaged crops, spread diseases and increased acidity in the oceans. It could lead to wars and mass migration”.

The 2014 National Climate Assessment4 is a report consisting of 30 chapters and brings together the work of several hundred experts in the field of climate change; For the sake of brevity, some of the summary points of the findings are listed here:

“Human-induced climate change is projected to continue, and it will accelerate significantly if global emissions of heat-trapping gases continue to increase; Impacts related to climate change are already evident in many sectors and are expected to become increasingly disruptive across the nation throughout this century and beyond; Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways, including through more extreme weather events and wildfire, decreased air quality, and diseases transmitted by insects, food, and water; Infrastructure is being damaged by sea level rise, heavy downpours, and extreme heat; damages are projected to increase with continued climate change; Water quality and water supply reliability are jeopardized by climate change in a variety of ways that affect ecosystems and livelihoods; Climate disruptions to agriculture have been increasing and are projected to become more severe over this century; Climate change poses particular threats to Indigenous Peoples’ health, well-being, and ways of life; Ecosystems and the benefits they provide to society are being affected by climate change. The capacity of ecosystems to buffer the impacts of extreme events like fires, floods, and severe storms is being overwhelmed; Ocean waters are becoming warmer and more acidic, broadly affecting ocean circulation, chemistry, ecosystems, and marine life; Planning for adaptation (to address and prepare for impacts) and mitigation (to reduce future climate change, for example by cutting emissions) is becoming more widespread, but current implementation efforts are insufficient to avoid increasingly negative social, environmental, and economic consequences.”