Four Climate Change Facts To Keep the Senate Up All Night

, , climate scientist | March 10, 2014, 10:51 am EDT
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Tonight more than two dozen Members of Congress from the Senate Climate Action Task Force will be holding the Senate floor to discuss global warming. A number of them are expected to participate throughout the night. Here are some startling climate facts that keep me up at night:

1. Young people are simply not living in the same climate their parents grew up in: The year 2013 was the 37th year in a row that global average temperature was above the 20th century average. Each of the last three decades has been warmer than the one before. Across the US, warm temperature records are being broken twice as often as cool temperature records.

NASA global average surface temperature

2. Over nine tenths of the excess heat from global warming is going into the ocean: The increase in the amount of heat stored in the ocean over the last 30 years is enormous – it is equivalent to the amount of energy from a bomb the size of the one dropped on Hiroshima being released every second for thirty years. A warmer ocean expands and results in sea level rise. This heat will eventually be released from storage over decades and centuries to further warm the atmosphere.

Source: Skeptical Science

Source: Skeptical Science

3. Ocean acidification is occurring, transforming marine ecosystems: Carbon dioxide emissions are not only leading to warmer oceans and other climate disruptions, but our oceans are absorbing a quarter of this excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, leading to a more acidic ocean (lower pH levels). Ocean acidification not only affects sea creatures, but everything else that depends on them in some way, from food and habitat to tourism and local fisheries.



4. The amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is unprecedented in human history: Last year, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400ppm (parts per million) for the first time since humans walked the planet. Over the last decade, this rate of change is faster than at any time in the recent geological record. This faster pace makes it more challenging for species and natural systems to adapt.

Tonight’s Senate action is a reminder to all of us why this is an extremely important conversation not only for the United States but for the world. Together, we urgently need to reduce our global carbon emissions.

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  • Philip Bogdonoff

    There is a growing group of folks around the world (scientists, farmers, foresters, activists, etc.) who are looking to the capacity of soil to sequester carbon. See, e.g., Biodiversity for a Liveable Planet ( and the Soil-Age discussion group (!forum/soil-age).

    — Philip Bogdonoff / Washington, DC

  • Most (8x more) CO2 in the air comes from decaying vegetation (biomass). Pyrolysis (heating without oxygen) of biomass keeps the carbon in the plants a solid and prevents the emission of CO2 into the air; the resulting carbon (biochar) can be placed in the ground to improve the soil’s productivity. We must pyrolyze a large amount of biomass to counter the excessive CO2 in the air.

    The top human-cause of CO2 in the air is coal-fired power stations. To REVERSE the CO2 in the air, we need to convert coal-fired power stations to biomass pyrolysis power stations. Biomass is an economic fuel source and some coal-fired power stations have already started co-burning it with coal to cut costs. Further, coal itself now costs more than natural gas and the coal industry needs an economical solution. That solution for the coal industry is pyrolysis of biomass. Please support pyrolysis of biomass as a scientific and practical solution to our power station fuel needs.

    • Ian Thompson

      Jerry, there is one major technical issue. The charcoal called biochar is produced in a reduced (low oxygen) environment, and power production in power plants requires complete combustion, which means the end product is exhaust and white ash, no more biochar left to sequester in to the ground, with most of the CO2 going up the stack.

    • Ian and Jerry,

      Thanks for your comments. Recent research by former UCS staff scientists Noel Gurwick and Pipa Elias finds that currently there are not enough data to draw conclusions about how biochar production and application affect the whole-system greenhouse gas budget. In their paper in PLoS ONE * published in September 2013, they state that “evaluating biochar’s suitability as a climate mitigation strategy requires comparing its effects with alternative uses of biomass and considering greenhouse gas budgets over both long and short time scales”. In addition, UCS released a report in 2012 titled “The Scientific Basis for Biochar” that may interest you. It is on the UCS website.

      *DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075932

  • Warning: UCS should not address climate change whilst leaving out geoengineering. Please see the attached web-site for more information. The world demands the truth.