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Originally published September 6 2009

Total Carbon Released Into Atmosphere Exceeds Half a Trillion Tons

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) More than half a trillion tons of carbon have been emitted into the atmosphere due to human activities since the Industrial Revolution, placing the planet more than halfway to the threshold signifying catastrophic warming.

In an analysis published in the journal Nature, climate scientist Myles Allen of Oxford University notes that 520 million tons of carbon have been burned since the Industrial Revolution. That's a problem, Allen says, because his calculations suggest that burning a total of one trillion tons will cause the planet to warm another 1.3 degrees Celsius from current averages. At current rates, it will take only 40 years to burn this amount.

The planet has already warmed an average of 0.7 degrees since the Industrial Revolution. Total warming of two degrees is widely accepted as the threshold for catastrophic climate change.

Also writing in Nature, another research team calculated that it would take only another 310 billion tons of carbon to push the planet over the two-degree threshold, in contrast with the 480 billion calculated by the Oxford team. This analysis yields only 20 years before the two-degree line is crossed.

"The bottom line? Dangerous change, even loosely defined, is going to be hard to avoid," wrote Gavin Schmidt of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Science and David Archer of the University of Chicago, in an accompanying commentary. "Unless emissions begin to decline very soon, severe disruption to the climate system will entail expensive adaptation measures and may eventually require cleaning up the mess by actively removing CO2 from the atmosphere."

Allen noted that rather than focusing on rates of emissions, countries committed to averting catastrophic warming need to shift their focus to limiting total emissions since the Industrial Revolution.

"The important thing about the cumulative budget is that a ton of carbon is a ton of carbon," he said. "If we release it now, it's a ton we can't release in 40 years' time. Every ton we put out is using up a ton of that atmospheric capacity."

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