Greenhouse gases emissions and concentrations


How can we stop messing
with the climate? To start answering this question, it’s
useful to break the carbon climate problem into four components–
emissions, concentrations, climate change, and climate impacts. First, the emission of carbon dioxide
and other long-lived greenhouse gases that can alter the climate. Emissions are the human-caused flow
of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. They’re typically measured in tons of
carbon dioxide equivalent per year. Total global emissions
are about 40 billion tons per year, the weight of 40
cubic kilometers of water. In personal terms, that’s
about 5 and 1/2 tons per year per person on average. But we are not all equal contributors. Given how much I fly, I’m responsible
for about 30 tons per year, whereas a typical member of
the poorest billion humans is responsible for only
1/10 of a ton per year. Here is how global emissions have
been growing over the last century. What you see is accelerating
growth with a few pauses during times where the
global economy faltered. There is no evidence of a slowdown
over the decade since 1992, when the world first made formal
commitments to work together to cut emissions to protect our climate. Second, the concentrations of
greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This is the amount of carbon dioxide
gas in the atmosphere at any one time. We care about this,
because it’s the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere
that is what most directly causes climate change at any given time. Here is how global concentrations have
been growing over the last century. You see very steady growth
with a slow, even acceleration.

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