Okay, a special thanks to Gristmill readers for keeping this blog accurate and honest. I stand corrected, and with blog on my face. An excellent AP story written by Charles Hanley did indeed run starting on March 20, 2004, in many U.S. papers and worldwide, reporting a disturbingly large increase in atmospheric CO2 for 2003.Hanley’s story offered up scientists’ preliminary estimated atmospheric CO2 increase of 3 parts per million for last year. The story that I quoted from October 10, 2004 — that was reported around the world but not prominently in the U.S. — announced the final adjusted CO2 numbers of 2.54 parts per million for 2003.
And, yes, unlike our current president, I am willing to admit my mistake: I missed the Hanley AP story last March. And, yes, The New York Times did run a version of Hanley’s story on March 21, 2004.
But considering that this could turn out to be one of the most significant stories of the year and of the century — representing a harbinger of runaway catastrophic climate change — I don’t think the Times did it justice. They gave it 393 words, buried on page 22, and waited until the last paragraph to mention the ominous word “feedback,” and then failed to define the term (Hanley did a far better job in his original, longer AP piece).
A “positive feedback,” as so neatly explained in Daily Grist, can lead to a “runaway greenhouse effect,” wherein humankind’s CO2 emissions start by overwhelming the world’s natural carbon sinks, causing them to lose their ability to absorb carbon dioxide. Continued human emissions trigger a self-reinforcing cycle of natural CO2 release and a rapid out-of-control and catastrophic warming. (Human emissions could, for example, produce enough global warming to unlock vast amounts of stored methane in arctic tundra and/or carbon in plant material from dieing forests or rampant wildfires.) Some scientists worry that the high CO2 numbers in 2002 and 2003 are not accounted for by human emissions, and could indicate the start of a positive feedback effect.
Just such a feedback may have caused the Permian extinction some 250 million years ago when 90 percent of all life on earth was wiped out …
… And as the Permian shows, and as this blog writer learned today, “feedback” is everything. So I stand by my original contention: Climate change is underplayed in the mainstream media, and yes, even in The New York Times. This CO2 story, as reported by Charles Hanley, is critically important to our future, and to the current presidential election. It belonged on page one back in March 2004, and it still belongs there this October.