Carbon emissions and climate change threat outstrip predictions

CHICAGO — Despite widespread concern over global warming, humans are adding carbon to the atmosphere even faster than in the 1990s, researchers warned Saturday.

Carbon dioxide and other gases added to the air by industrial and other activities have been blamed for rising temperatures, increasing worries about possible major changes in weather and climate.

Carbon emissions have been growing at 3.5 percent per year since 2000, up sharply from the 0.9 percent per year in the 1990s, Christopher Field of the Carnegie Institution for Science said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"It is now outside the entire envelope of possibilities" considered in the 2007 report of the International Panel on Climate Change, he said. The IPCC and former Vice President Al Gore received the Nobel Prize for drawing attention to the dangers of climate change.

The largest factor in this increase is the widespread adoption of coal as an energy source, Field said, "and without aggressive attention societies will continue to focus on the energy sources that are cheapest, and that means coal."

Past projections for declines in the emissions of greenhouse gases were too optimistic, he added. No part of the world had a decline in emissions from 2000 to 2008.

Anny Cazenave of France's National Center for Space Studies said at the meeting that improved satellite measurements show sea levels are rising faster than had been expected.

Rising oceans can pose a threat to low-level areas such as South Florida as the ocean warms and expands and as water is added from melting ice sheets. And the rise is uneven, with the fastest rising areas at about 1 centimeter — 0.39 inch — per year in parts of the North Atlantic, western Pacific and the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica, she said.

Also, highly promoted efforts to curb carbon emissions through the use of biofuels may backfire, other researchers said. Demand for biologically based fuels has led to the growing of more corn in the United States, but that means fields were switched from soybeans to corn, said Michael Coe of the Woods Hole Research Center.

But there was no decline in the demand for soy, he said, meaning other countries, such as Brazil, increased their soy crops to make up for the deficit.

Brazil created more soy fields by destroying tropical forests, which tend to soak up carbon dioxide. Instead the forests were burned, releasing the gasses into the air. The increased emissions swamp any declines recorded by the United States, he said.

Carbon emissions and climate change threat outstrip predictions 02/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 14, 2009 8:27pm]

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