helen-louise (baratron) wrote,

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sudden rise in carbon dioxide levels

Yesterday on the front page of the Independent there was a worrying report detailing that Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2 ), the principal greenhouse gas, have made a sudden jump that cannot be explained by any corresponding jump in terrestrial emissions. In short, the Mauna Loa observatory, which is the place for greenhouse gas study, has found a peculiar rise in carbon dioxide levels that does not correspond to a rise in emissions, or to a known atmospheric or meterological phenomenon like El Nino. I read the report with a sense of impending doom.

Some of you know I used to be an atmospheric scientist. Went nuts before getting my PhD, but I did spend a long time reading about global warming. I went to no end of talks by eminent atmospheric scientists and meterologists, and I have some idea who to believe. As soon as someone as ... sensible... as the Mauna Loa team start suggesting this might be evidence of the climate change "feedback" mechanism, I start thinking Oh My God. Put it this way, the kind of people who run the IPCC are professional sceptics. If they are being as upfront as to make public declarations, we really should worry.

Richard wondered if it could be a statistical blip - a rare high value for no apparent reason except the normal distribution. But published atmospheric measurements are always heavily averaged. Measurements which are recorded daily, hourly or every few seconds get averaged into yearly, monthly or daily-average results. Also, running means are often used, whereby the reported value for day x might be an average of the values for six months either side of day x. A lot of care is taken to eliminate systematic errors (caused by malfunctioning monitoring equipment - or simply running up against the limit of that machine's accuracy) and baseline drift (where the 0 line gradually shifts over time). And just to make us absolutely certain this is unusual is the fact that most atmospheric variables don't follow a normal distribution, but instead a log-normal or fractal distribution with a high value of kurtosis, which means that more than 90% of the values lie to the left of the mean and just the odd "extreme event" is on the right (I could give you references, but I'm feeling decidedly weird about digging up my thesis for a LJ post). Extreme events are usually explicable by looking at emissions or weather conditions or some combination of the two - this is the first time I've heard of a completely inexplicable extreme event.

This isn't a terribly coherent report, and I'm sorry. It's the sort of issue that could make me nonfunctional with depression if I tried to think about it too much. That's why I'm not trying to do research anymore, and why I never tried to go into the scientific civil service - because I've read enough EU and UK government expert reports to see just how many years it takes for the actual government to even start listening to its own expert groups, let alone do something. I get through life by worrying about the things that are in my power to change, and trying not to worry about the things that aren't. I can write to my MP and MEP, try to avoid using fossil fuels, walk everywhere I can and take public transport where I can't, buy organic and fairtrade food, and recycle everything that I possibly can. But I can't single-handedly make the government make tough decisions that'll cost them a lot of votes. I wish I could :/

Meanwhile, Radio 4 reports that, mindful of the heavy fines the EU will impose if we don't send enough waste for recycling, some European regional authorities are collecting recycling from households - and then sending it to China for processing. Can we say entirely missing the point? I think so.

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