(Preston, C. 2022. Fire on the A2 at Dartford Heath, UK, July 19th. Not Australia, California, Spain or Brazil, this – amazingly – is Britain as it experiences it hottest ever recorded temperatures of above 40 degrees Celsius).

Greenhouse Gas Pollution and Climate Change

Section
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation
Page
10.3

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is unequivocal in its identification of the tight and close relationship between anthropogenic emissions of CO2 and global warming; and from this spins forth a whole range of other climatic disruptions. Their graph in their latest summary for policymakers1 – SPM 10 above – demonstrates the relationship between accumulating CO2 and rising temperatures. Rapid growth, industrialisation, and the burning of fossil fuels, as outlined elsewhere in T10 (e.g. see Section 8, ‘Energy’) have rapidly increased the concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (e.g. methane – CH4, and nitrous oxide – N2O) in the atmosphere; the IPCC summarises the rise and concentrations thus:

(IPCC. 2021. Near-Linear Relationship Between Cumulative CO2 Emissions and Global Warming 1850-2019, and Projections 2020-2050).

In 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least 2 million years (high confidence), and concentrations of CH4 and N2O were higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years (very high confidence). Since 1750, increases in CO2 (have been) (47%) and CH4 (156%)”…and “N2O (23%).” ibid.

To put this into perspective, humans have been around for only roughly two million years, so this is unprecedented – certainly in human terms. This exceptional, recent rise in the emission of greenhouse gases is far beyond earth’s capacity to absorb this ‘waste’, so much so that it now comprises 60% or more of the global footprint of humankind:

(Global Footprint Network. 2019. Carbon proportion of global footprint 1961-2016).

The above graph from the Global Footprint Network (GFN) divides our global footprint into contributions by land types (uses), and ‘carbon’ (dark blue), and converts all impacts to an area measure expressed as ‘number of earths’. It demonstrates clearly how far beyond sustainable or assimilative levels are our current carbon emissions, so this inevitably leads to build-up in the atmosphere, oceans, soils and lakes of the world, with major consequences for climate and life. The Global Footprint Network sums up the situation as:

“The carbon Footprint is currently 60 percent of humanity’s overall Ecological Footprint and its most rapidly growing component. Humanity’s carbon Footprint has increased 11-fold since 1961.”2

It is hard to believe an increase of 11-fold since 1961, but as we have seen so often in T10, the scale and impact of modern, terribly recent, humanity, is gobsmacking, such is its size, and as unprecedented as it is – almost – beyond comprehension.

The major contributors or contributions to global carbon pollution can be presented in various ways, but perhaps the most useful is via countries, or economic sector, or activity. Looking to countries first, the GFN presents the situation as: ibid.

(Global Footprint Network. 2019. National Share of World’s Carbon Footprint).

 

The pie chart is an interesting mix of Developed and Developing Countries and impact is a consequence of high consumption, e.g. the USA; high population, e.g. China; or a mixture of both, e.g. the Russian Federation. The ‘big five’ are: China, USA, India, Russia, and Japan. A country’s economic structure, e.g. a strong manufacturing base, has an effect also.

Sorted another way, via economic sector, an earlier IPCC report (20143) presented contributions as stemming primarily from electricity production, agriculture and forestry, and industry.

 

 

A third way to track the source of emissions is to look at activity types; an example is provided below for Greece and Athens from the GFN4, and although it is of total footprint, we can roughly assume that as much of this footprint will comprise carbon emissions, then the broad categories will hold. Food, Transport, Goods, and Infrastructure are the big factors in Greece, and if ‘Housing’ is added, then it is a good summation of the world picture.

(Global Footprint Network. 2021. City and Regional Work – Global Footprint Network ).

 

The sources of greenhouse gas emissions and their quantity is clear, but their effects are extremely diffuse and not just confined to temperature increases. The IPCC’s latest report1 attempts to summarise these impacts in its Figure SPM 9 – as follows:

For our purposes, ‘Climate Impact Drivers’ can be interpreted as ‘Climate Change Effects’ and the IPCC lists 35 effects, ranging from extreme heat, to fire weather, to snow avalanches, to ocean acidity. The vertical axis refers to the number of regions in the world affected, with above the line – purple – being an increase, and below the line – brown – a decrease. The changes that affect the most regions are:

  • increased temperature
  • extreme heat
  • heavy precipitation/flood
  • increased fire weather
  • decreased cold spells and frost
  • sea level rise
  • increased coastal flooding
  • increased coastal erosion
  • increased marine heatwaves
  • increased ocean acidity
  • increased atmospheric CO2
  • increased snow /glacier/ice sheet melt

 

These will bend, and sometimes fracture, the framework of the natural world.

The impact of three of these broad changes – hot extremes, heavy precipitation, and agricultural and ecological drought – is presented for the regions of the world in the following map/diagramibid. where regions are represented as hexagons, e.g. ‘NZ’ at the bottom right is New Zealand. Data is lacking for a number of areas, but the picture, at least for heat, is clear: increase with high level of confidence in human cause. (Note: as I am typing this, Britain is experiencing its highest ever recorded temperatures: +40 degrees Celsius; this is something I find hard to imagine).

Drilling down to more specific ecosystem effects, the IPCC Working Group Report II5 demonstrates multiple impacts within three broad categories: ecosystem structure, species range, and phenology (timing of biological events, like breeding) and divides this further into ‘Terrestrial’, ‘Freshwater’, and ‘Ocean’, and then tracks these impacts across 14 regions and biomes, as well as globally and for biodiversity hotspots. As can be seen, the figure is mainly populated with dark blue circles, representing impact and impact due to climate change; it is largely ‘across the board’.

(IPCC. 2022. Impacts of climate change on global ecosystems, species, and phenology).

 

Every one of these climate impacts and regions deserves individual attention, but for now we will have to confine ourselves to one example, an example mentioned previously in T10: fire. We will explore this in 10.4.

(Preston, C. 2022. Fire on the A2 at Dartford Heath, UK, July 19th. Not Australia, California, Spain or Brazil, this – amazingly – is Britain as it experiences it hottest ever recorded temperatures of above 40 degrees Celsius).

 

1 IPCC. 2021. Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Masson-Delmotte, V., et. al. (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, USA.

2 Global Footprint Network. 2019. Carbon Footprint and Contributing Countries. < Climate Change & the Carbon Footprint – Global Footprint Network >

3 IPCC. 2014. Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Geneva, Switzerland.

4 Global Footprint Network. 2021. < City and Regional Work – Global Footprint Network >

5 IPCC. 2022. Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerabilities – Summary for Policy Makers; Working Group II Contributions to the Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC. WMO, UNEP, Geneva, Switzerland.

Explore Other Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

10.1 Introduction

Elizabeth Kolbert’s absorbing ‘Under a White Sky’1 (see 10.9) begins with a boat trip down the much-abused Chicago River in the USA. ‘Down’ doesn’t have much meaning here; just what is ‘upstream’, or ‘downstream’ on this poor river is a...

10.2 Pollution: Status and Context

“Industrialization, use of pesticides and nitrogen-based fertilizers, crop residues in agriculture, urbanization, forest fires, desert dust, and inadequate waste management have intensified environmental health risks and pollution, especially in l...

10.3 Greenhouse Gas Pollution and Climate Change

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is unequivocal in its identification of the tight and close relationship between anthropogenic emissions of CO2 and global warming; and from this spins forth a whole r...

10.4 Climate Change and Fire

In Section 7 and elsewhere in T10 I have talked about fire and its profound impact upon the natural world (e.g. see 7.6). The use of fire deliberately and directly to clear or alter habitat has been discussed, as well as its egregious use as a too...

10.5 Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation

Previously in T10 I have discussed solutions to the various problems thrown up in each section at the end of that section, but as climate change is being treated in Section 10 as a special case, with webpages 10.3 and 10.4 devoted to it, I thought...

10.6 Solid Waste: domestic

Moving from gaseous wastes/pollution, to solid wastes, I covered in webpage 6.7 the television program ‘War on Waste’ and commended it for covering this important, but ‘unsexy’, topic in an interesting and engaging way for the general public; it w...

10.7 Solid Waste: oceanic

This strange odyssey certainly has some of the rambling eccentricities of the more famous ‘Moby Dick’, but the similarities end there as this is a modern tale of plastics pollution in the ocean and one man’s quest to find the story behind thousand...

10.8 The Human Dimension

‘Waste’, ‘rubbish’, ‘trash’, are, sometimes literally, the ‘shitty’ side of the shiny consumption dream, the grubby end of the capitalist process that no one wants to recognise. Similarly, we don’t want to know the people who have to deal with our...

10.9 Waste Solutions: technological

In some ways technology is its own greatest enemy. Its very quickness, its shiny cleverness, its neat problem-solution dynamic is irresistible. It has solved, and at least can, ‘solve’, or contribute to, solutions to a whole range of world environ...

10.10 Solutions: other

Feeling a little flat about all things environment, the other week I was lucky enough to visit a nearby seaside town, Robe, and call in on Brad and Narelle at their little ‘factory’ out the back of town, called Transmutation. It has to be said tha...

Explore Other Sections

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
1/11

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship

This section is designed to foster appreciation and insight that will – hopefully – lead to novel ways to build a better relationship between human beings and Nature. This section is also atypical ...
2. Reduce Consumption
2. Reduce Consumption

2. Reduce Consumption

I hope Reneé Descartes would forgive us for saying that, at least for the modern world, he was wrong.  When, in 1637, he said: “I think, therefore I am”, he could not have anticipated that the majo...
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

In a supposedly secular age there has arisen a global religion and god like never before, a religion whose reach and power makes every other belief system before it seem pitiful and insignificant: ...
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

What we do in our day-to-day lives can have great impact. Section Four divides up these actions into three groups – Work (4.2 & 4.3), Volunteering (4.4), and Action, e.g. voting, protesting, et...
5. Reduce Population
5. Reduce Population

5. Reduce Population

Even on top of Mt. Everest, in one of the remotest, most difficult places on earth, there is a great traffic-jam of people jostling for position. And yet, ever more vociferously, we deny that overp...
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

The media is one of the three, great ‘poles’ of power in the world (alongside political and corporate power) and how they frame and present ‘the environment’ has a profound effect on how we respond...
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

New York is an exciting, mesmerising place. Human culture is extraordinary and often wonderful. Our powers of transformation of the natural world seem limitless. The trouble is, we don’t seem to be...
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

Our current energy largesse is an extraordinary ‘gift’, an unprecedented gift of the ages; millions of years to produce and from millions of years ago. Coal, oil and gas, forming...
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

Just as with the previous section – ‘Energy’ – which is, inescapably, all about fossil fuels so pre-eminent and extraordinary has been their dominance and transformation of the world in the last 20...
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

Section 10 will attempt to organise this enormous topic by addressing the context and status of pollution in 10.2, before focussing in on air pollution; particularly greenhouse gas pollution and cl...