Greenhouse gases aren’t going anywhere

Despite this article’s headline, there is actually some good news here. But first the bad.

According to the World Meteorological Organization, greenhouse gas levels in 2011 were the highest ever recorded. While breaking a record can sometimes represent a freak spike in temperature, water levels, etc., this is unfortunately part of a larger trend. Levels of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane – all of which contribute to global warming – have been steadily on the rise. Since the Industrial Revolution 1750, 375 million tonnes of carbon have been released into the atmosphere, and that doesn’t show any sign of slowing down, despite small efforts toward cleaner energy.

With that much carbon floating around, fixing the situation may be beyond our capacity at this point, says WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.”These billions of tonnes of additional carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will remain there for centuries, causing our planet to warm further and impacting on all aspects of life on earth,” says Jarraud. “Future emissions will only compound the situation.”

All of these additional greenhouse gases are having an observable impact: radiative forcing – or the warming effect of the gases – has gone up 30 percent since 1990.

Climatologists are arguing that stricter rules governing emissions need to be put in place, rather than the “you don’t really have to do this” emissions targets laid out at the UN environmental conference in Copenhagen in 2009. The next U.N. Climate Change Conference starts next ween in Qatar; a perfect opportunity to take those climatologists’ advice.

On top of all this apathy, there is one group which is working to make a difference. Scientific American reported on the Humbo project, a effort in Humbo, Ethiopia to restore a devastated ecosystem. The hills there were decimated after decades of coal mining and logging, leaving the hills barren and prone to landslides, and farmers’ valuable honeybee hives empty.

But the hills’ many tree stumps presented an opportunity for World Vision Australia forester Tony Rinaudo. By using coppicing, a method that encourages shoots to grow out of old tree stumps, the hills have seen a return to life. Rinaudo got the local farmers involved, parsing out coppicing duties through the Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration program. That was six years ago. Today, the hills are green with new trees, and other native plants that absorb and fix greenhouse gases are back pumping out clean air. On top of that, the bees have retruned in droves, and hives are dripping with honey.

Workers encouraging new tree growth through coppicing. Photo: London Permaculture/Flickr

That’s not the only good news for the area. Humbo is pulling in cash by selling carbon credits back to the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the money for which comes from the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund. According to the bank, the village has already sequestered 73,000 metric tonnes of carbon through new plant growth. At $4.40 per metric ton, that’s more than $320,000 going back to the community.

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