May 28, 2013 Apia, Samoa -Recently the group of 2000 scientists from around the world that make up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made a startling announcement. They not only said that the level of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere increased to 400 parts per million but they also announced that they are virtually certain that people are the dominant factor that is causing the observed global warming.
For many of us, the scientists may just as well have said that dogs are cats, cats are rats, and it's currently bright and sunny on planet Mercury, but particularly for Pacific Islanders, the news is huge.
Islanders are already keenly suffering the effects of climate change through longer periods of drought, heavier rain when it comes, stronger and more frequent storms, flooding, higher than average temperatures, rising sea levels, increased coastal erosion, acidification of the ocean which causes coral reefs to die, and a plethora of other maladies. It's all happening, and it's happening right now.
This is climate change and scientists are now essentially saying, "As it turns out, we did it. It's our fault."Well, maybe not "us" specifically but our fellow man who at the turn of the 19th century started discovering ways to make life "easier" through mechanization and industrialization. They burned tons of coal at the start of the industrial period. Almost immediately the atmosphere began to suffer. Later it was the burning of petroleum products and many othe human activities that had not even been conceived at the start of the industrial revolution. They also began to affect the environment negatively and the planet is heating.
Besides carbon dioxide there are actually a whole bunch of gases that are emitted into the atmosphere from many sources. Some of those gases gang up and essentially form a heat shield that reflects heat back to the earth that would otherwise have bounced out of the atmosphere into space. The gases act like the roof of an enormous greenhouse. It's why they call them "greenhouse gases".
CO2-carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring gas. It's the stuff we breathe out and that trees breathe in, but it is also produced by the burning of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide doesn't have the biggest "global warming potential" of all of the greenhouse gases but there is a great deal of it in the atmosphere, much more than all of the other greenhouse gases combined by a large measure.
The IPCC scientists were saying in their announcement that the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere had reached the highest level it had ever reached. The reflective heat shield is as big as it's ever been; bigger than the scientists had expected it would be by now, and the earth will continue to heat as it has been doing now for over 200 years only at a much faster rate.
The scientists were also saying that they're virtually certain that it is us humans that have pushed things so far so fast.
That the IPCC scientists would say that humans are the cause of climate change is stunning really. Every word that is issued by the IPCC is a negotiated word. Some countries argue for language that is toned down and some countries argue for more severe language. That their statement made it out of the negotiation process and to the public indicates that they're pretty sure that we're causing the problem.
Just a few years ago, the Pacific Island region was pushing for a carbon dioxide ceiling of 350 parts per million. At that time the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere was below that level, but the increase in carbon dioxide levels has skyrocketed and the people of the earth are already suffering for it.
The Samoa Ministry of Environment reports an annual average temperature increase of .22 degrees Celsius in Samoa. Sunny K. Seuseu, Principal Scientific Officer of Samoa's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment told journalists that the people of Samoa have been seeing a longer dry season and a shorter wet season. He said the two seasons were once even at about six months per year of each.
Seuseu also said that they have noticed that there are more harvest periods per year for locally grown food due to the change in the climate. It's one of the few positives of climate change.
There is no longer an international legally binding agreement to limit the emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The Kyoto Protocol which served as a binding legal agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions has expired. The world's nations have not been able to hash out a new one but at least now there is a definitive statement from scientists that global warming is caused by humans. It's good news for Pacific Islanders.
Whether their statement will have an effect on international climate change negotiations remains to be seen.