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Global Analysis – September 2015: Average Temperature Highest on Record; 2015 Likely to be Hottest Ever

2015-10-21

The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for September 2015 was the highest for September in the 136-year period of record, at 0.90°C (1.62°F) above the 20th century average of 15.0°C (59.0°F), surpassing the previous record set last year in 2014 by 0.12°C (0.19°F).

via Global Analysis – September 2015 | National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

In addition, the New York Times claims that “Scientists say it is now all but certain that the full year will be the hottest on record, too.”   So there cannot be any doubt that global warming is occurring, at least over the last 136 years that temperatures have been recorded.  In addition, there is strong evidence that temperatures have been rising since about 1750 and are the highest that they have been in about 800,000 years, coinciding with a peak in global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.  Human processes have been pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, by burning first wood, then coal, then operating internal combustion engines, and not least by production of concrete and cement.  At the same time, human processes have been impairing the extraction of carbon dioxide by cutting down the world’s forests; so far, about half of all forests have been eliminated.  The net effect of these human activities has been a 3-4% imbalance of carbon dioxide production over removal, resulting in a 1 to 1-1/2 part per million per year increase in carbon dioxide concentrations.

The train of cause and effect that connects carbon dioxide concentrations to rising average temperatures operates very slowly.  Industrial processes will continue for many years and carbon dioxide levels will continue to increase for many years.  Unless action is taken by all countries  and emissions are reduced, carbon dioxide will increase from the current 400 ppm to 800-1200 ppm by the year 2100.  Even if emissions are dramatically eliminated, carbon dioxide levels will remain the same  for a long time because of its long half life of 100-300 years.  Temperatures will continue to increase for a long time as well because the effects of high carbon dioxide take a long time to manifest themselves.

The only way to prevent continuing temperature increases and worsening ill effects is to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere directly by sequestering it on a massive scale or finding some other method to remove it from the atmosphere.  An example would be abiotic photosynthesis by chemical methods.  Planting enormous numbers of rapidly growing trees is another possibility: reforestation on a massive scale with genetically enhanced trees is potentially feasible.  There are deficiencies in the degree of carbon dioxide sequestration in most species of trees that can be remedied by judicious genetic engineering.  Planting trees that fix carbon dioxide more efficiently would multiply the effects of afforestation.

There is an argument that afforestation causes net warming because a forest has lower albedo than a non-forest.  This argument seems specious because the relative effects of sunlight absorption are different in a living versus a nonliving absorbing surface.  Absorbing sunlight leads to photosynthesis in one case, whereas in the other, it merely increases temperature.

In any case, the relative contributions of lowered albedo and lowered carbon dioxide concentration can be measured.  Whether afforestation can reduce global average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations enough to ameliorate the environment is academic, however; the policy will never be pursued because governments are not effective enough.  The only organizations with enough power to affect climate change are transnational corporations.  It is unlikely that such corporations will find it in their interest.

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