Dr. Barbara G. Schneider, Mike Nelson and Dr. Pieter Tans
- Dr. Barbara G. Schneider is a molecular biologist in Nashville.
- Mike Nelson is a meteorologist and Fellow of the American Meteorological Society.
- Dr. Pieter Tans is a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Monitoring Laboratory.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is rising around the world and it’s because of us. Humans and other living beings have been exhaling CO2 for millions of years. So, what makes it a problem now? CO2 is very effective at trapping heat.
Without that warming effect of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, the Earth would be an ice-ball planet, about 60° Fahrenheit colder. The problem now is too much CO2 and too fast!
When we drive, fly, heat and cool our homes or plug something in, we usually cause a little fossil fuel to be burned for energy, releasing CO2.
Think of each molecule of CO2 as one feather in a down comforter. Each additional CO2 molecule makes that blanket thicker, trapping more heat.
In 1960, the world’s economies emitted about 10 billion tons of CO2 per year. Today it is about 36 billion tons per year. This CO2 will remain in the oceans and atmosphere for thousands of years, acidifying the oceans and warming the atmosphere.
The last eight years, 2014 to 2021, were the eight hottest years of recorded global temperatures. The heat-trapping effect of increased CO2 is a fact. It is not political, and it is not new science.
It is based on principles discovered in the 19th century and confirmed today. How do we know that the CO2 increase comes from us?
The CO2 that’s emitted from fossil fuels has a unique carbon isotopic signature, different from CO2 from volcanic or ocean emissions. The world’s continued and growing CO2 emissions are projected to add another 2 to 3 degrees fahrenheit to global temperatures by 2050.
We are messing with Earth’s thermostat at our own peril. The extra warming will cause more droughts, like what’s happening now in the American west; more flooding from downpours, like the 17 inches of rain that fell in 24 hours on Waverly, Tennessee, last August; and more forest fires, such as what roared through East Tennessee in March of this year.
What can we do to solve our climate issue?
The good news is that because humans created this climate emergency, humans have the power to change it. In fact, the shift to a carbon-free economy is already under way.
In 2020, almost 80% of new power generation installed used renewable energy. Tennessee is part of the transition, with the announcement of a new electric vehicle plant coming to West Tennessee.
Coal is being replaced by wind and solar — not just because this change benefits the environment, but because costs of renewable energy continue to decline dramatically. We need to mobilize our economy for this transition.
We have accomplished great projects before, like the Transcontinental Railroad, the Interstate Highway system and the modern internet. None of these bankrupted societies, instead it transformed and improved it.
The climate crisis is the great challenge of our generation. Let’s put our energies into accelerating this transformation, for the sake of ourselves, our children, our grandchildren and the beautiful state of Tennessee.
Dr. Barbara G. Schneider is a molecular biologist in Nashville. Mike Nelson is a meteorologist and Fellow of the American Meteorological Society. Dr. Pieter Tans is a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Monitoring Laboratory.
Visit https://tenintenco2.com for a free copy of The World’s Littlest Book on Climate: 10 Facts in 10 Minutes About CO2 by Nelson, Tans and Banks.