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My view: Carbon dioxide raising temperatures

By David Folland

Published: Friday, June 15 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this image released by NOAA, Chris Carparelli, adjusts a glass flask that line the walls of an air sample processing room at NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., Wednesday, May 30, 2012. Researchers at the lab measure the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in air sent in weekly from sites that are part of an international cooperative air sampling network. The world's air has reached what scientists call a troubling new milestone for carbon dioxide, the main global warming pollution. Monitoring stations across the Arctic this spring are measuring more than 400 parts per million of the heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere. The number isn't quite a surprise, because it's been rising at an accelerating pace, having years ago blown by the 350 mark that many scientists say is the highest safe level for carbon dioxide. So far only the Arctic has reached that 400 level, but the rest of the world will soon follow.

NOAA, Will von Dauster, Associated Press

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Two weeks ago, my friends Chris and Shirley Herrera brought me a very special present from Hawaii. It wasn't the usual chocolate covered macadamia nuts or a pineapple; it was a little vial of air. Dr. John Barnes, station chief of the Mauna Loa Observatory on the Big Island, had given them the air sample taken on May 8, 2012. Because of the level of carbon dioxide in the bottle, I wasn't surprised when I read of the astounding heat records in Seth Borenstein's article ("Spring fever: U.S. smashes heat records for season," June 7).

Stationed at a lofty 11,135 ft, the Mauna Loa Observatory has been documenting carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere since 1958, the longest continual monitoring of an atmospheric greenhouse gas. The first carbon dioxide level to be recorded there was 316 parts per million, or ppm. We know from study of ice core samples that throughout human history prior to the industrial revolution, the highest level was 280ppm. The carbon dioxide in the air sample I received was 397ppm.

People have been talking about reducing atmospheric greenhouse gases for over 20 years. Summits have been held, and governments (excluding the United States) have pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Many individuals, businesses and local governments have reduced their carbon footprints. Yet, atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to climb. In fact, in 2011, the Mauna Loa Observatory documented the biggest yearly jump since recording began. And this spring was the warmest ever recorded in U.S. history, smashing the prior record by 2 degrees.

The effects of a warming climate are being seen in Utah, too. Here in the Wasatch, Utah climatologist Dr. Chris Gillies and his colleagues have shown that 9 percent of precipitation is falling as rain instead of snow, compared to 40 years ago.

Despite sound evidence to the contrary, many continue to hold to beliefs that the warming is part of a natural cycle. Unfortunately, one group that clings to this fantasy includes many Utah state and federal legislators. In fact, the Utah Legislature is on record as denying the existence of human-caused climate change with their 2010 Climate Change Joint Resolution, HJR012.

Fortunately, there are many reasons to move to an economy powered by clean energy even if one is not convinced that climate change is a serious threat. Changing to clean energy will stimulate growth of jobs in the green economy, reduce air and water pollution, diversify our energy sources, eliminate our reliance on foreign oil and increase our national security.

We need legislators who are willing to address the data from the Mauna Loa Observatory, and as Jon Huntsman Jr. advocated, let science guide our discussion. The upcoming elections give us an opportunity to choose representatives who are willing to face the challenge of climate change. One such candidate is Bill Barron, who is running for U.S. Senate on a platform of carbon fee and dividend. Bill would like to see a revenue-neutral tax on carbon at the source, with the proceeds returned 100 percent to the American people. Other candidates might not be so forthcoming with their energy positions, so one can ask, "How do you propose to deal with the rising temperatures and rising carbon dioxide in our atmosphere?"

We can elect leaders who will take the bold actions necessary to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. I hope that one day I will receive another bottle of Mauna Loa air with a lower level of carbon dioxide.

David Folland is a retired pediatrician who volunteers for Citizens Climate Lobby.

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