By Frances Lamberts
The “Keeling curve” is named for the chemist who conducted daily U.S. Weather Service air measurements on a mountain in Hawaii. It shows the steadily growing carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere. With volumetric concentration at 315 parts per million in 1958 when the measurements began, it has risen to 414 pp.
For ten thousand years while human civilizations grew and flourished, atmospheric carbon had been between 275 and 285 pp. Charles Keeling analyzed its rise since the 19th century as roughly matching the increase in fossil fuels burnt each year. James Hansen of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, who in 1989 first testified to the Congress about the dangers of climate change, advocates a needed return to 350 ppm.
An interesting feature of the Keeling graph is its two data points each year. A high point represents the average carbon concentration during the winter months, the low point its concentration during the summer.
This trough reflects the work of trees, primarily in the Northern Hemisphere, whose greening and photosynthesis withdraw carbon dioxide from the air for food to store in their tissue. Trees and the oceans are the most important greenhouse-gas sequestration agents for the planet.
The Global Warming Mitigation Project gives a “Keeling Curve” award annually to 10 organizations or initiatives deemed to have high potential in reducing the global greenhouse gas emissions. Such projects as protect local forests, provide community solar irrigation pumps for farmers in poor rural areas, or innovative green energy measures have received the prize.
With announcement on July 27, the Citizens’ Climate Lobby was among the recipients of the prestigious award this year. The award category, “Social & Cultural Pathways,” seeks to aid people to understand and act concerning the human impacts on planet Earth, specifically the actions needed to develop beyond fossil fuels.
CCL was honored in this category for its bridge-building efforts toward national carbon-dividends legislation, which resulted in introduction of the bipartisan “Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividends Act” in both chambers of the Congress.
As we approach the national elections, let us vote and encourage new congressional leaders to support this legislation, and the bipartisan “Growing Climate Solutions Act” for climate-smart farming, or other legislative approaches to lessen the climate-change threats we face. And we should elect a president supportive of climate action and of protecting, not exploiting, our national forests and other public lands, thus to make the Keeling Curve go downward, not continually rising.