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Learn More - Global Climate Change

How do CO2 and other GHGs relate to climate change?

Unlike other pollutants we're used to hearing about, greenhouse gases (GHGs) are not harmful substances by themselves.  In fact, they are absolutely essential for allowing life to exist on this planet.  The thin atmospheric blanket of GHGs surrounding the Earth is responsible for trapping heat energy from the sun, creating the habitable environment that makes Earth so special. 

GHGs have gained notoriety in recent years because human-caused activities, such as fossil fuel combustion and widespread deforestation, have resulted in an excess of these gases in the atmosphere.  In short, more GHGs in the atmosphere leads to more trapped heat, with cascading effects that range from long-term global climate shifts to discrete events that affect particular locations and species.  For a thorough discussion of the fundamental science behind global climate change, we encourage you to visit the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading scientific body addressing the issue of global climate change.  The IPCC, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for their pioneering efforts, released their Fourth Assessment Report in 2007.  The Synthesis Report (download here) is easy to read and understand, and contains the following clear statements about humankind’s influence on the global climate:

“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level.”

“Observational evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases.”

“Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations.  It is likely that there has been significant anthropogenic warming over the past 50 years averaged over each continent (except Antarctica).”

“Adaptive capacity is intimately connected to social and economic development but is unevenly distributed across and within societies.”

“Many options for reducing global GHG emissions through international cooperation exist. There is high agreement and much evidence that notable achievements of the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol are the establishment of a global response to climate change, stimulation of an array of national policies, and the creation of an international carbon market and new institutional mechanisms that may provide the foundation for future mitigation efforts.”

We encourage you to read the Summary Report, as well as the IPCC Fourth Assessment full report: http://www.ipcc.ch/.

The current atmospheric concentration of CO2 is approximately 388 parts per million (ppm), according to NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/).   Expert opinion seems to be rallying around the idea that atmospheric CO2 must be maintained at 350 ppm (at most) to avoid dramatic changes in the global climate system. Download Dr. James Hansen's latest report.

What does the latest science tell us?
Can we still do something about the problem?

Of course! ClearSky Climate Solutions is only one of an entire wave of new enterprises all over the world dedicated to tackling the issue of global climate change. With so many diverse actors working on this problem, obviously a wide variety of solutions have been proposed.  Advocates of particular solutions might emphasize government responsibility and policy action, personal lifestyle choices, economic mechanisms, or technological fixes.  Differing opinions also exist within these particular camps, but in truth, we will only be able to meet the challenge of global warming if we recognize the importance of each of these areas, and tie them together in some workable fashion.

The global community has initiated strong action addressing global climate change.  The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was formed in 1992, and the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 as a binding agreement for participating nations to regulate GHG emissions.  These nations must commit to reducing emissions 5% below 1990 levels during the first reporting period, which runs from 2008-2012.  The Kyoto Protocol initiated 3 mechanisms for countries to meet this goal, including Emissions Trading, Joint Implementation, and the Clean Development Mechanism.  For more information about these mechanisms and the Kyoto Protocol, please visit http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/items/2830.php

Nations, corporations, NGOs, and other groups of all kinds have been increasingly attentive to the issue of global warming.  This attention has resulted in impressive advances toward re-organizing our systems of energy generation, food production, transport, and other sectors that contribute GHG emissions.  In a ground-breaking 2004 study, researchers Stephen Pacala and Robert Sokolow made headlines with their analysis showing it would be possible to completely halt (and reverse) the increase in CO2emissions through large-scale adoption of several technologies that are already in use (Science, 2004)  It seems their strategies in several areas are quickly becoming reality.  For example, worldwide wind energy generation capacity has grown exponentially since the mid-1980’s and recently surpassed 120,000 Megawatts.