I would like to address in this four-part blog series the subject of carbon dioxide (CO2) and its growing concentration in the atmosphere, beyond the politically-charged climate change debate. We ought to pay attention to the concentration of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere, not only in the context of global warming, but also because of its other less discussed effects, some of which are rather less controversial. I shall start by being blunt: in my opinion, thinking that we can reduce the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere over the coming decades by some global political agreement is wishful thinking – this ship has long sailed. We are headed towards a world with a higher concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, regardless of the outcome of the current global political debate. It is a reality that we have to deal with and discuss seriously, independently of whether we like this environmental outcome or not (I personally do not like it but still do not see a way that we can realistically avoid it).
In the below, I will start by explaining why the problem of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is important and can have multiple unintended consequences of which we need to be aware and for which we need to be rightly prepared. I will then explain why, in my view, the goal of reducing the concentration of carbon dioxide is looking more and more like a lost game. Following which, I will propose some ideas on how we should go about things if we recognise the fact that we are heading towards a more CO2-rich atmosphere for many generations to come. And finally, not being able to completely rid myself from some hopeful environmental optimism, I will show where I could be wrong in my view and what could be one of the possible scenarios by which the cloud of worries from the increase of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere could unexpectedly dissipate.
Whether greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide or methane) are a contributor, as in single most important contributor or in conjunction with others, to the increase in average temperatures on Earth’s surface and low atmosphere over the past recent decades will not be the subject of discussion in this blog. Whether the Sun’s activity, including the levels of solar magnetic winds, are the actual indirect contributor to global warming through their effects on Earth’s atmosphere (and, among others, cloud formations) will not be the subject of focus either. This blog is not about just climate change; what I would like to narrow the discussion to here is a more simple fact: the general increase in the concentration of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere, its evolution over the past centuries, and notably recent decades, and the contribution of human activity to this increase in CO2 concentration. In addition to its effects on climate change, an increase in CO2 presence in Earth’s atmosphere has several other consequences, including an increase in the level of acidity of oceans, lower nutritional content of plants grown in higher concentration CO2 environments, as well as changes in the general mix of vegetation caused by a higher presence of CO2 in the atmosphere. The importance when it comes to CO2 concentration is not in how many CO2 particles are actually in the atmosphere (which in absolute terms remains very low) but, rather, what is the long-term impact of relatively elevated levels of CO2 in the atmosphere on other phenomena on Earth we do consider important.
From looking at the numbers, observing the general technological, economic, and political trends in the world around, and contrasting all of this with what we generally see in terms of human behaviour, it seems to us that it is very unlikely that the general levels of CO2 in the atmosphere will be reduced or even stabilised in the foreseeable decades, despite all pretence to political talk about tackling global warming and all current efforts by environmental and climate science agencies. This is generally consistent with the current projections of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, which are expected to be in the 500-1,000 ppm (parts per million) range for the year 2100 – a wide range indeed. We are not stating this to attack the efforts or genuine intentions of any particular protagonist(s) in this matter; and we are not saying this in order to promote an apocalyptic or complacent attitude of the kind that says “since things are going to get bad and we can not fix them, why not make them worse for the sake of short-term benefits”. We are simply stating what seems to us to be the outcome with the highest likelihood by simply looking at facts and having a degree of realism about human behaviour.
[To be continued].