NOAA’s Global Monitoring Division reports that global concentrations of the primary heat-trapping greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, jumped 2.28 ppm in 2008.


A study in Science from the Global Carbon Project (see “More on soaring carbon concentrations“) noted:

The present concentration is the highest during the last 650,000 years and probably during the last 20 million years.

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Worse, the rate of growth of CO2 concentrations this decade is 2.1 ppm a year — 40 percent higher than the rate from the 1990s. At the same time that CO2 emissions are soaring, CO2 sinks are saturating (see “The ocean is absorbing less carbon dioxide“).

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This post is based on preliminary data for 2008 from NOAA’s network of air sampling sites. Reuters has a story based on sampling off northern Norway, which wins the prize for the most confused climate article of the year, starting with the headline:

CO2 hits new peaks, no sign global crisis causing dip

OSLO (Reuters) – Atmospheric levels of the main greenhouse gas are hitting new highs, with no sign yet that the world economic downturn is curbing industrial emissions, a leading scientist said on Thursday.

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No, no, a thousand times no.

Sure the vast majority of people are confused about the difference between carbon dioxide concentrations and annual emissions (see “MIT Part 2: Tackling the biggest source of climate confusion“), but Alister Doyle, Reuters Environment Correspondent (and his editor Andrew Roche)? Say it ain’t so.

If the media doesn’t understand this, how will the public ever?

There isn’t a global economic downturn big enough to stop the growth of carbon dioxide concentrations. Emissions would have to drop more than 60 percent for that to happen, not the piddling one or two percent this downturn might cause.

It’s the bathtub, stupid! The (net) emissions are the rate of flow of CO2 in (minus the amount taken up by the ocean and land sinks). Concentrations are like the level of water in the tub — and they don’t drop easily, certainly not from a tiny drop in the rate of input. It appears from the story that it may not just be the Reuters reporter who is confused:

“The rise is in line with the long-term trend,” Kim Holmen, research director at the Norwegian Polar Institute, said of the measurements taken by a Stockholm University project on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard off north Norway.

Levels of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities, rose to 392 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere in Svalbard in December, a rise of 2-3 ppm from the same time a year earlier, he told Reuters.

Carbon dioxide concentrations are likely to have risen further in 2009, he said.


Let’s hope that was a reporter screw up. Let’s hope the research director at the Norwegian Polar Institute doesn’t think a rise in CO2 levels in 2009 is “likely.” It is about as much a certainty as anything is in science or life in general — yes, some undetected meteoroid could hit the planet and wipe out most life in the next month or two, but short of that, concentrations are gonna keep rising for a long, long time.

To paraphrase Jon Stewart: Oh, Reuters, why do you mock me?

This post was created for, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.