Earth Aboil

Monday, October 6, 2008

SO MUCH carbon was released around the world from burning fossil fuels in 2007 that it could lead to a sweltering 11-degree Fahrenheit increase in the Earth's temperature by the end of the century, according to data recently unveiled by the Global Carbon Project. To put it more starkly, the relentless buildup of carbon emissions in the atmosphere is outpacing the worst-case scenario outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

According to the new report from the Global Carbon Project, an Australian-based international consortium of scientists, 8.47 gigatons of emissions were released in 2007, up 2.9 percent over 2006. The consortium pointed out that developed countries spewed carbon at a slightly higher rate than in 1990. But the dramatic increase in emissions is coming from developing nations such as China, India and Brazil. In less than 20 years, they've doubled their carbon output and are now responsible for a little more than half of all emissions.

The IPCC has said that an increase in the Earth's temperature between 3.2 and 9.7 degrees would lead to major melting of glaciers around the world. The impact on species such as polar bears, which need Arctic sea ice to survive, would be devastating. A rise of 11 degrees Fahrenheit, as estimated by the Global Carbon Project, would lead to a rise in sea level that would swamp major population centers and wreak other havoc on the planet.

These dire findings add to the body of evidence that efforts to address climate change must be stepped up and taken with urgency. They also buttress the persistent call by this page and advocates around the world for the United States to lead this effort. The problem can't be solved without the participation of developing countries, but they will not change their ways until Washington does. By inducing polluters to reduce greenhouse gas emissions -- by putting a price on carbon and by hastening the advent of alternative energy sources -- the United States will lead by example and stop helping to make a bad problem worse.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company