Thursday, June 21, 2007

Falling into carbon sinks

A study released yesterday by the International Energy Agency estimates that China has now surpassed the US in polluting carbon emissions (see China may lead in greenhouse gases from today's Los Angeles Times). Although some may take some solace in the US no longer being the lead global polluter, the drop in ranking has more to do with China's worsening environmental performance than any improvement on our end.

As far as the Earth, its sky and oceans are concerned, which country is worst matters less than the fact that these worldwide emissions are increasing. What one nation belches into the air will inevitably impact all of us. China has so far embraced economic growth at any cost, but it's reaching a point where the pollution is having such a grave affect on the health of its people and environment, as well as the rest of the world's, that it can't continue along that path. The article Dirty side of China's boom provides some scary details, including evidence that the air pollution is migrating to the west coast of the US.

An enforceable international protocal that finds a way forward to a sustainable economic model not reliant on carbon-based fuels is our only hope. The US and China wouldn't sign Kyoto, and we now see the result. As members of a democracy, the responsibility also belongs to us to hold our leaders accountable and compel them to act.

Deborah at Climate of Our Future pointed me to some articles that describe how our oceans act as "carbon sinks" (for a good summary, see the 2004 National Geographic article Oceans Found to Absorb Half of All Man-Made Carbon Dioxide), absorbing half the carbon dioxide that's spewed into our atmosphere. This has created a dampening affect and mitigated the affects of climate change so far. That's the good news.

The bad news is two-fold. The increased carbon content of our oceans has an adverse impact on the organisms living there — especially plankton, which sits at the bottom of the food chain and therefore is of critical importance to marine life. The oceans also can't keep absorbing carbon forever, and when they've reached their capacity they will no longer act as sinks. Then, we will see the affects of our rampant pollution in full bane — no longer held at bay.

The sink image was so strong for me, that I wrote a poem about it, which appears on Climate of Our Future and below. The urgency of the environmental cause is so great, I've also accepted Deborah's request to act as co-author of that blog.

Water drops
by Francis Scudellari

Water drops
le(a)d into water

Down, sinks to/o
burdened seas, un-told

One half, weighed
when whole, a world to/o

Oceans stretched

Carbon fed
(s)mothers life on life

Un-linked, chains
broken, an(d) un-known

When un-loosed
up, lost, our own un-
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