Every year, large amounts of man-made (anthropogenic) greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and other deadly gases are added to the Earth's atmosphere.
Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, mankind has been adding evermore CO2, coal soot, wood smoke, and other airborne emissions to the atmosphere. But in recent decades have we been adding more greenhouse gases to the planet's natural systems than they can absorb.
For example, last year, human beings contributed a total of 37 Gigatons of CO2 (and CO2 equivalent) gases to the atmosphere. Less than half of this total was absorbed by what is termed 'The Commons' – which is manifested in this case, as the combined ability of the world's oceans, forests and grasslands to absorb those emissions.
In brief, ocean plankton, the world's forests and grasslands take in CO2 – and produce life-giving oxygen in return. All the world's ocean plankton, the millions of square miles of forests and grasslands combined remove less than 18 Gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere per year.
Next year, we will contribute 38 Gigatons of CO2 and equivalent gases to the Earth's atmosphere, and in 2015 we will contribute even more CO2 to the atmosphere. In 2016, and 2017, humans are projected to add even more CO2 to the atmosphere surrounding the Earth.
Soon enough, 'the commons' will only be absorbing a third of all man-made CO2 production.
Which is exactly why we have global warming -- and the negative consequences associated with global warming.
"The tragedy of the commons is a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource even when it is clear that it is not in anyone's long-term interest for this to happen. This dilemma was first described in an influential article titled "The Tragedy of the Commons," Garrett Hardin wrote for the Princeton University journal 'Science' in 1968.
The present upward trend of CO2 production is expected to continue until 2060, when anthropogenic global CO2 levels will begin to fall dramatically according to the world's major energy companies -- which have predicted that solar, wind and other renewable energy will take the place of oil and gas.
Ray of Hope
The present renewable energy production is small when measured against the total amount of conventional energy. Good news is that half of all new electrical energy production comes from renewable energy. And, due to aggressive clean air regulations in countries around the world (Denmark, Germany, the US, Japan, and others) soon, more of the world's new (or under construction) energy power plants will be powered by renewable energy.
Some may think that we are putting 'too much effort' into the change-up to renewable energy, but they must remember that CO2 lingers for up to 100 years in the atmosphere -- while some toxic airborne pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, H2S, and CFC's, stay in the atmosphere for up to 33,000 years.
Much of the CO2, and other longer-lived greenhouse gases, produced during the World War II era, are still with us -- we are breathing them now, and will be for some time to come.
Think about all those Gigatons of (as yet unabsorbed) greenhouse gases which have been piling-up -- some of which last for hundreds of years, while other greenhouse gases last up to 33,000 years.
And, still we keep adding to it. Tick, tick, tick…
John Brian Shannon enjoys writing about green energy, sustainable development and economics for the ArabianGazette.com, Borderstan.com, EcoPoint.asia, EnergyBoom.com, HuffingtonPost.ca, United Nations Development Program (UNDP.org), West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI.org) and other quality publications.