Friday, November 13, 2009

Too Much Carbon

A remnant of ancient hardwood forest burns in Tanzania's central highlands.

Published scientists agree that climate change is happening at a greater rate than expected. This is alarming, and the latest data provides even grimmer forecasts. The US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth System Research Laboratory believes that we may not see the effect of a drastic reduction in emissions for thousands of years. What that means in clear, strait-forward parlance is that there is seemingly nothing we can do stop runaway climate change. Critics of climate change policy have used this to scrap the idea of carbon trading am emissions reductions.

That would be a mistake, says Dr Susan Soloman, the author of the research. This is the woman who alerted the world to danger of the ozone hole in the ninteen eighties, which resulted in a global ban on CFCs. She feels it is entirely necessary to cut our emissions at once, as deeply as we can, because the long-term impact of our current global warming event is so serious that it will essentially affect the whole future of our species, and many that we share the planet with.

I will not get into the long-winded details of all the arguments for and against climate change or the reduction in greenhouse gases like carbon. The science is sound, and to me it is simply a foregone conclusion that humanity has increased carbon emissions and cut down our forests, eliminating the massive carbon sinks that regulated our carbon system. I have seen it in person.

If we look at the knock-on effects of carbon mitigating legislation, it means more forests, less pollution, happier people, development for the underdeveloped countries, cleaner cars, and an attempt to make those who have profited from pollution to make financial and social amends. As far as the downside of carbon mitigation, the nay-sayers point out that it costs money. That may or may not be true, depending on who you talk to.

The work I have done so far, in Tanzania and Mozambique has exposed some serious problems in getting Clean Development Mechanism (CDM- remember?) accreditation for carbon sequestration projects in Africa. But it must be pointed out that even the most jaded project developers, who have no hope of getting their carbon credits accredited, have agreed that Carbon Trading is a good thing, and that it should definitely be included in the next generation of the Kyoto Protocol.

Across the board, from well-financed securities traders to farmers who have been planting their own forests in Tanzania, everyone agrees that its a great idea, but the entry-level investments need to be lowered and the whole process needs to be streamlined so more people can enter the market. That is something the negotiators in Copenhagen should well take heed of. There is a groundswell of interest in becoming part of the carbon economy, now people just need the financial tools to get involved.

A farmer I know near Johannesburg generates power from a river system, and sells it back to the power grid in South Africa, which is running on coal. So by using his relatively clean energy to supply the nation, he is cutting down on coal emmisions. By the spirit of carbon trading, he has carbon to "sell". But he can't because as I mentioned in earlier entries, he is too small, the process of accrediation too labyrinthine.

So why is this imporant? Because we simply have to cut our emissions, according to the latest work, and any way we can do that better, faster and more directly, the better off our descendents will be. So how much is too much? or just enough?

There is global movement right now called This group has rallied around a paper produced by Dr. James Hansen of NASA (of Al Gore's hockey-stick fame). This paper says that at the moment we are sitting at about 370 Parts Per Million (ppm) of atmostpheric carbon dioxide. We need to reduce that to about 350 ppm as soon as possible to prevent runaway climate change.

So yes, we are further descending into acronym hell, which, if you are a good study and have been reading all the posts, would have you understand the following sentence completely.

NOAA and NASA all agree that the CDM at COP15 must be further developed to reduce our CO2 emissions to around 350 ppm.

If you didnt follow that, dont worry. I am not a very good study either. In laymens terms:

We have to stop throwing pollution into the air, and the very smart people in white coats who are not known for being alarmist are rasing the alarm that we are not doing it fast enough, and have to do much better.

The good news is that we can.

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