Category Archives: Climate Change

The planet is melting faster and faster. What are you doing to stop it?

So, the ozone hole has stopped shrinking.  That’s good to know.  But I’m cynical about how good the news is because the Montreal accord banning CFCs occurred in 1987 more than a quarter of a century ago and we’re spewing out more greenhouse gases than ever.  And the weather is still wacky.

A surge in atmospheric CO2 saw levels of greenhouse gases reach record levels in 2013, according to new figures.  Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere between 2012 and 2013 grew at their fastest rate since 1984.

This warning data is compounded by the finding that CO2 locked in soil (which is 4x the amount in plants)  is being released as the planet experiences warmer,  more volatile temperatures. This means that release of greenhouse gases is creating a feedback on itself, thereby compounding the problem.

Atmospheric CO2 is now at 142% of the levels in 1750, before the start of the industrial revolution.   We are running out of time.

Reducing CO2 will only occur if we reduce energy consumption and use more renewable sources.  We must live within the laws of nature or nature will just get rid of us.

And don’t expect government to act.  It is up to each of us to take a step in the right direction, every day.  That means me and you too.

BBC: Greenhouse gas levels rising at fastest rate since 1984  Warning – this article contains depressing news.

BBC: Warning over vulnerability of soil carbon to warming

Nature:  Temperature sensitivity of soil respiration rates enhanced by microbial community response

BBC: Ozone layer showing ‘signs of recovery’, UN says

World Meteorological Organization  and UN Environment Programme Report Press Release and Report

Toxins in your drinking water?

lake erie waterIt happens regularly now.  Tonnes of agricultural fertiliser and sprays running off the land in to the water system causing eutrophication.  Algae bloom and everything else dies.  And even massive municipal treatment plants can’t clean the water.    Farming practices and climate change cause the problem, which will not go away until we all choose to live more sustainably on the planet.

Bottoms up!

The Guardian: Farming practices and climate change at root of Toledo water pollution

NASA Earth Observatory: Algae Bloom on Lake Erie

For related articles and information, please visit OCA’s Farm Issues page, He alth Issues page and our Environment and Climate Resource Center page.

Climate change is happening “even” in the USA.

“Climate change is already affecting the American people in far-reaching ways.” So begins an extensive report issued by the U.S. Global Change Research Program on May 6, 2014.

Among the changes is an increase in temperature, as illustrated in this image.

Climate Changes in the United States

Color bar for Climate Changes in the United States

Acquired 1991 – 2012

And scientists also observed changes in precipitation.

Climate Changes in the United States

Color bar for Climate Changes in the United States
acquired 1991 – 2012

Weird weather is a symptom of worse to come.

The IPCC released the second report on climate change.  It is more very bad news, but even so might still be insufficient to stimulate action from leaders or followers.

Last September  a summary on the physical science of climate change showed that climate change is real, and humans are the “dominant cause”.  Now the IPCC reports that if behaviour doesn’t change –  i.e. less fossil fuel consumption and less net carbon release – the possibility of redressing climate volatility will diminish.

The scientists point out that some effects will become irreversible which must be bad.  One extrapolation is that crop yields, which are already stretched to feed the world, will decline.  If we don’t reduce consumption now, there will be nothing to consume in a few decades.

It is sad to be able to see the pain in the future, but realise that most people do not.  The US Secretary of State said:

“Unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy. Denial of the science is malpractice.  There are those who say we can’t afford to act. But waiting is truly unaffordable. The costs of inaction are catastrophic.”

But cynics respond cynically and everyone turns a blind eye.  It is depressing when leaders, especially rich, educated ones, obscure the truth and pretend that everything is ok.  Weird weather is in the headlines almost daily now, yet everyone goes about their business as if everything is OK.  Burying your head in the sand is not a solution.  Changing behaviour is.

BBC: World ‘needs Plan B’ on climate – IPCC report

BBC: Climate inaction catastrophic

BBC: Climate impacts report: Key findings

BBC: Climate change impacts and adaptation

BBC: IPCC climate report: humans ‘dominant cause’ of warming


Linking weird weather to rapid warming of the Arctic

Professor Jennifer Francis recently presented evidence showing that the loss of Arctic summer sea ice and the rapid warming of the Far North are altering the jet stream over North America, Europe, and Russia and these profound shifts increase the likelihood of more extreme weather.  The so-called jet stream has increasingly taken a longer, meandering path, which has resulted in weather remaining the same for more prolonged periods.

Minimum summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, 1979 to 2011

View gallery
Minimum summer sea ice Arctic 1979 2011

The Cryosphere Today/Polar Research Group, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Read her 2012 report here.

When glacial melting becomes irreversible.

When glacial melting becomes irreversible it’s not good, and it’s happening now.

Three teams  that have modelled behaviour of Antarctica’s mighty Pine Island Glacier (PIG)  tell the journal Nature Climate Change that, even if the region were to experience much colder conditions, its retreat would continue.

The glacier is a colossal feature, covering more than 160,000 sq km, it drains about 20% of all the ice flowing off the west of the White Continent.  And its melt is raising sea levels.  The teams write in their journal paper:

“The glacier’s associated mass loss increases substantially over the course of our simulations from the average value of 20 billion tonnes a year observed for the 1992-2011 period, up to and above 100 billion tonnes a year, equivalent to 3.5-10mm eustatic sea-level rise over the following 20 years.”  (By way of comparison, West Antarctica as a whole contributes about 0.3mm per year to sea level rise.)

The only way to reset nature to a balanced state is to reduce consumption of natural resources by humanity, which is not anticipated soon. In fact, it is not even an objective of any governments or the rich and powerful.

BBC: Pine Island Glacier’s retreat ‘irreversible’

BBC: Esa’s Cryosat mission detects continued West Antarctic ice loss

Biosphere destruction is being ignored but happening fast and time is running out.

In Dangerous Global Warming Closer Than You Think, Climate Scientists Say, Scientific American outlines two reports encouraging immediate and extensive action, before it’s too late.

The message of the reports is that climate volatility is already here, species extinction is close to a critical level, as are levels of toxic concentrates.  They are now talking in terms of only decades to repair the problems.

Sadly there remain climate deniers who resist the science, using the moderate language of scientific data interpretation to claim that inconclusiveness equates to fallacy.  These few climate deniers influence millions who support their claims, many doing so on religious grounds (which is doubly sad because no god would be pleased with the way the planet is polluted even by faithful climate deniers).

We are getting deeper in to a situation requiring radical change in behaviour, especially with respect to energy consumption and sources.  Everyone  has to change behaviour now.  Use less energy.  Eliminate combustion of fossil fuels.  Everyone.  Now.

PlosOne: Assessing ‘Dangerous Climate Change

National Academy of Sciences: Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises

Fossil fuel subsidies: over $ 500,000,000,000 a year.

That’s about $112 for each adult in the world.   It’s a lot of money for any industry.  It’s a huge commitment of resources for a sunset industry.  Subsidies must be eliminated.

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) report notes that “these subsidies outweigh the support provided to fast-start climate finance by a ratio of 7:1″.  That mismatch smacks of corruption, which shouldn’t surprise anyone but will, since we think of the big energy companies are at least legal, if not ethical.

It is sad that we continue to subsidise industrial development that promotes climate change and biosphere degradation when everyone, especially policy makers, knows that humanity needs and wants to clean up.

The ODI report recommends phasing out subsidies by 2025.  That is too late. Fossil Fuel Subsidies Average $112 per Adult

More climate change numbers are in, and they’re bad.

The World Meteorological Organization reports:

The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2012, continuing an upward and accelerating trend which is driving climate change and will shape the future of our planet for hundreds and thousands of years.

Between 1990 and 2012 there was a 32% increase in radiative forcing – the warming effect on our climate

Since the start of the industrial era in 1750, the global average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 41%, methane by 160% and nitrous oxide by 20%.

Those are some of the highlights.  The WMO press release is here and copied below.  Also have a look at the BBC news item: Concentrations of warming gases breaks record.

Greenhouse Gas Concentrations in Atmosphere Reach New Record

Geneva, 6 November 2013 – The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2012, continuing an upward and accelerating trend which is driving climate change and will shape the future of our planet for hundreds and thousands of years.

The World Meteorological Organization’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin shows that between 1990 and 2012 there was a 32% increase in radiative forcing – the warming effect on our climate – because of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping long-lived gases such as methane and nitrous oxide.

Carbon dioxide, mainly from fossil fuel-related emissions, accounted for 80% of this increase. The atmospheric increase of CO2 from 2011 to 2012 was higher than its average growth rate over the past ten years, according to the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.

Since the start of the industrial era in 1750, the global average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 41%, methane by 160% and nitrous oxide by 20%.
What is happening in the atmosphere is one part of a much wider picture. Only about half of the CO2 emitted by human activities remains in the atmosphere, with the rest being absorbed in the biosphere and in the oceans.

“The observations from WMO’s extensive Global Atmosphere Watch network highlight yet again how heat-trapping gases from human activities have upset the natural balance of our atmosphere and are a major contribution to climate change,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its recent 5th Assessment Report stressed that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years,” he said.

“As a result of this, our climate is changing, our weather is more extreme, ice sheets and glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising,” said Mr Jarraud.

“According to the IPCC, if we continue with ‘business as usual,’ global average temperatures may be 4.6 degrees higher by the end of the century than pre-industrial levels – and even higher in some parts of the world. This would have devastating consequences,” he said.

“Limiting climate change will require large and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. We need to act now, otherwise we will jeopardize the future of our children, grandchildren and many future generations,” said Mr Jarraud. “Time is not on our side,” he added.

The WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin reports on atmospheric concentrations – and not emissions – of greenhouse gases. Emissions represent what goes into the atmosphere. Concentrations represent what remains in the atmosphere after the complex system of interactions between the atmosphere, biosphere and the oceans.

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

Carbon dioxide is the single most important greenhouse gas emitted by human activities such as fossil fuel burning and deforestation. According to WMO’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, on the global scale, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere reached 393.1 parts per million in 2012, or 141% of the pre-industrial level of 278 parts per million.
The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere increased 2.2 parts per million from 2011 to 2012, which is above the average 2.02 parts per million per year for the past 10 years, showing an accelerating trend.

Monthly observed concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere exceeded the symbolic 400 parts per million threshhold at several Global Atmosphere Watch stations in the Arctic during 2012.  During 2013 hourly and daily concentrations passed this threshold in other parts of the world, including at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, the oldest continuous atmospheric measurement station in the world which is widely regarded as a benchmark site in the Global Atmosphere Watch. Concentrations of CO2 are subject to seasonal and regional fluctuations. At  the current rate of increase, the global annual average CO2  concentration is set to cross the 400 parts per million threshold in 2015 or 2016.

CO2 lingers in the atmosphere for hundreds if not thousands of years and so will determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Most aspects of climate change will persist for centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped immediately.

Methane (CH4)

Methane is the second most important long-lived greenhouse gas. Approximately 40% of methane is emitted into the atmosphere by natural sources (e.g., wetlands and termites), and about 60 % comes from human activities like cattle breeding, rice agriculture, fossil fuel exploitation, landfills and biomass burning.

Atmospheric methane reached a new high of about 1819 parts per billion (ppb) in 2012, or 260% of the pre-industrial level, due to increased emissions from anthropogenic sources. Since 2007, atmospheric methane has been increasing again after a temporary period of levelling-off.
In a special section on methane, the bulletin said that there has not yet been a measurable increase in Arctic methane due to melting of the permafrost and hydrates. It said that the increase in global average methane levels was rather associated with increased emissions in the tropical and mid-latitude Northern Hemisphere. Attribution of this increase to anthropogenic (human-influenced) or natural sources requires better coverage and more sophisticated observations in the atmosphere which are currently not available.

Nitrous oxide (N2O)

Nitrous oxide is emitted into the atmosphere from both natural (about 60%) and anthropogenic sources (approximately 40%), including oceans, soil, biomass burning, fertilizer use, and various industrial processes. Its atmospheric concentration in 2012 was about 325.1 parts per billion, which is 0.9 parts per billion above the previous year and 120% of the pre-industrial level.  Its impact on climate, over a 100-year period, is 298 times greater than equal emissions of carbon dioxide. It also plays an important role in the destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer which protects us from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun.

Other greenhouse gases

The total radiative forcing by all long-lived greenhouse gases in 2012 corresponds to equivalent CO2 concentration of 475.6 parts per million, compared to 473.0 parts per million in 2011. Other long-lived greenhouse gases include ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), as well as hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which are increasing at relatively rapid rates.

Notes for Editors

The WMO Global Atmosphere Watch Programme ( coordinates systematic observations and analysis of greenhouse gases and other trace species. Fifty countries contributed data for the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. Measurement data are reported by participating countries and archived and distributed by the World Data Centre for Greenhouse Gases (WDCGG) at the Japan Meteorological Agency.

Additional resources: Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change 5th Assessment Report
(The Physical Science Basis)
WMO: The Global Climate 2001-2010:
A Decade of Climate Extremes

Note to journalists:  For more information, please see, or, or contact: Clare Nullis at WMO on +41-79-709-1397 or


Biochar: The Original Soil Amendment to Mitigate Climate Change

Below is an article from CSR Wire summarising the use of charcoal as a soil improver.  It’s benefits have been known for centuries as it was a principal technique used by aboriginal American peoples.  Adding charcoal to soil helps it maintain its vitality and catalyses the decomposition of plant and animal matter and its transformation in to plant food.  (Don’t use treated or manufactured charcoal which contains petroleum derivatives and toxins.)

(Previous blog on biochar here: Black is the new green)

Biochar: The Original Soil Amendment to Mitigate Climate Change

By Stefan Jirka

The man heaves another shovelful of dirt out of the 2-meter deep pit. The sun blazes overhead, an eerie stillness blanketing the midday jungle. The two dozen people gathered around peer eagerly over the edge. Along the vertical face of the soil pit, pottery shards intermingled with blackened bits of charred material are clearly visible. The crowd murmurs a small gasp as the man passes up a handful of soil. Someone swats at a mosquito buzzing incessantly as a machete is unsheathed and used to separate a bit of pottery from the blackish clumps in the dirt.

Black Earth of The Amazon

This may sound like a scene from the latest Indiana Jones movie, but in fact, it was a recent excursion of researchers, environmentalists, and journalists to investigate the phenomenon known as terra preta do indio­­—Portuguese for “black earth of the Indian”—in the Brazilian Amazon.

Terra preta soils, found across vast areas of the Amazon Basin, are charcoal-enhanced soils associated with pottery shards, bones, and other signs of human habitation, and are thousands of years old. Compared to the acidic, nutrient-poor, red clay soils from which they’re derived, terra preta are dark (from the carbonized remains of plant and animal material) and, crucially, highly fertile. They can contain as much as 70% more organic carbon than theTerraPreta(DSCN2235)_PhotoCredit_StefanJirka surrounding soils.

Archaeologists have known about these anthropogenic soils for decades but only in recent years have soil scientists and others begun to dig deeper. In doing so they’ve opened exploration of a new field of research around the sustainability benefits of “biochar”—defined by the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) as a solid material obtained from the carbonization of biomass that may be added to soils with the intention to improve soil functions. IBI is the leading global non-profit organization supporting research and commercialization for sustainable biochar production and use.

The questions researchers are finding answers to include:

  • Can the process of enhancing soil fertility via the addition of biochar be re-created?
  • What are the specific properties and mechanisms that biochar confers to the native soil matrix?
  • Can biochar be used to significantly draw down atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations?

Biochar for Climate Change Mitigation

Biochar is obtained when biomass feedstocks such as wood- or crop-residues are heated in low- or no-oxygen conditions. In a thermochemical conversion process called pyrolysis, the cellulose, lignin, and other organic carbon compounds present in raw feedstock are physically and chemically changed to highly stable forms of carbon resistant to degradation. In biochar, organic carbon—typically consumed voraciously by soil microbes—is thereby locked away from rapid degradation. This explains in large part the persistence of charred materials—and fertility—in ancient terra preta soils.

Debbie Reed, IBI’s Policy Director explains:

The conversion of degradable carbon to carbon that is orders of magnitude more stable than its feedstock carbon is what makes biochar a particularly appealing climate change mitigation technology. The ability to turn waste biomass that will otherwise degrade into a stable, beneficial soil amendment with incredible co-benefits is compelling in its own right, but also why so many researchers and governments the world over are further investigating its potential to create large carbon sinks while helping to impart multiple benefits to the global soil resource.

Biochar is produced from biomass residues that would otherwise have released their carbon into the atmosphere via the carbon burning(3)_PhotoCredit_StefanJirkacycle. For example, residues such as straw or corn stalks are often burnt or left in fields to rot. Instead these residues are pyrolyzed into biochar and then placed in the soil where the stable carbon can remain for thousands of years or more. In this way, biochar is a “carbon negative” GHG mitigation strategy; it pulls carbon out of the biogeochemical carbon cycle and places it into long-term soil carbon pools.

It is important to note here that whereas dedicated “biochar crops” could be used to make biochar, IBI and other serious proponents of biochar strictly advocate the use of biomass residues deemed to be waste, i.e., residues from existing land management activities that have little or no economic value and that present waste management challenges. Numerous analyses have demonstrated that many gigatonnes of such residues are produced worldwide annually.

The American Carbon Registry’s Methodology for Biochar Projects 

Recognizing biochar’s potential as a climate change mitigation strategy, a team of organizations including The Climate Trust, The Prasino Group, IBI and Carbon Consulting came together to develop a methodology to quantify biochar’s GHG sequestration potential with the intent to both enhance the economics of biochar projects and further increase knowledge and understanding of the climate mitigation potential of biochar. The result is the recently drafted Methodology for Biochar Projects­, currently posted for public comment at the American Carbon Registry—a leading voluntary carbon offset registry that is a division of Winrock International.

The methodology quantifies two components of biochar’s carbon offsetting potential: 1) enhanced soil carbon sequestration via the addition of biochar to soil, and 2) avoided GHG emissions from decomposition or combustion of feedstock biomass.

In order to measure soil carbon sequestration, it was necessary to estimate the longevity (stability) of the stable carbon component of biochar. To this end, an expert panel of leading biochar researchers developed a Biochar Carbon Stability Test Method designed to quantify “BC+100”—defined as the stable carbon in biochar expected to remain 100 years after its addition to soil—using data from published laboratory and field experiments and a review of sophisticated analytical TerraPreta(2)_PhotoCredit_JulieMajor-BrunoGlasertechniques.

For the avoided emissions component of the methodology, the baseline scenario assumes biochar feedstocks will be burned or decompose, thereby releasing CO2 and/or CH4. The project scenario entails the pyrolytic conversion of that feedstock into biochar and subsequent addition to the soil, thereby avoiding combustion or decomposition.

One Wedge of the Climate Change Mitigation Pie

Revenues from participation in carbon markets can enhance biochar project development and hasten scale-up of technology and production. Biochar could then join other GHG reduction measures as an important wedge of the climate change mitigation pie.

Parties interested to review and submit feedback on the Methodology for Biochar Projects are invited to do so until November 8, 2013 here.

More information on biochar is available at the IBI website.