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editorial

Since last Earth Day


April 23, 2014

Earlier this week, the world marked its 44th Earth Day, a day to celebrate this beautiful planet, our only home in the entire universe. But amidst our celebrations, anyone who’s followed the news since last Earth Day knows we also need to sound an urgent note of warning for earth’s future.

CO2 level breaks modern record

On April 7, 2014, the concentration of climate-warming CO2 in the atmosphere hit a new global high of 402 parts per million (ppm) based on readings from a mountaintop monitoring station in Hawaii (www.weather.com/news/science/environment/carbon-dioxide-rises-highest-le...). Greenhouse gas (GHG) levels have not been this high in 800,000 years when the Arctic was free of ice and sea levels were 40 meters higher than today.

In 2013, we emitted more carbon (including in the U.S.) than in any previous year. (www.ipcc.ch/pdf/ar5/pr_wg3/20140413_pr_pc_wg3_en.pdf), up an estimated 2.1% over 2012 and a 61% increase since 1990. The rate at which emissions are being released grew more quickly in the last decade than in each of the three previous decades thanks to a growing energy demand and an increase in coal use.

Temperatures

NASA scientists say 2013 tied 2006 and 2009 for the seventh warmest year since the 1880s. Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000, with 2005 and 2010 ranking as the warmest years on record (the other warmest year in the top 10 was 1998.)

Averaged over all land and ocean surfaces, global temperatures have warmed roughly 1.53°F (0.85ºC) from 1880 to 2012. Scientists warn that beyond 3.6°F (2°C), the earth risks catastrophic warming that may become unstoppable.

Climate refugees

This month near Papua New Guinea, 40 large families with 2,000 people are abandoning their home on the Carteret Islands. They are the world’s first entire community to be displaced by climate change. High tides now wash away their crops, and salt water from rising sea levels has poisoned what remains. The islands will be completely submerged by 2015 (earthfirstjournal.org/newswire/2014/04/06/first-official-climate-change-refugees-evacuate-their-island-homes-for-good/).