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Carbon Delay

The CoronaVirus (Covid-19) is causing widespread sickness and death on several continents. But the panic that is sweeping over the general public is not caused by the sickness itself, it is caused by the fear and uncertainty that has resulted from the lag-time. The lag results when there is a lengthy period of time between an event taking place, and the results being felt. The lag for Covid-19 is estimated to be 14 days. This time lag results in the virus being more widely spread. The lack of planning and preparedness that results from a lag-time has increased the anxiety the public feels. But Covid-19 is still a virus and it has a life span. Eventually it will go dormant. Furthermore, Covid-19 impacted only a tiny portion of the world’s population. In time the virus will pass and life will move on.

The same is not true for climate change. Climate change will eventually impact every living organism on earth; it will get worse every year; it can not be stopped; it cannot be reversed and it can only be be slowed with a great deal of coordinated effort (The way the world tackled Covid-19).  There is no vaccine for climate change and there is no cure. But the most frightening, and tragic, aspect of climate change is the enormous lag time. The lag-time with Covid-19 is about two weeks. The lag-time with climate change was, until now, uncertain.

The lag-time, or Carbon Delay, is the amount of time between the carbon (CO2) being released at ground level, and before it makes it into the troposphere where it begins to trap the maximum amount of thermal energy. The Carbon Delay, while not exact, is measured in decades, not weeks. This delay is what has allowed our civilization to live in exactly the same manner we have for the past one hundred years; seemingly oblivious to the disruptions that lie ahead.

The Carbon Delay can be measured simply by comparing the total amount of carbon released per year when fossil fuels are combusted at ground level, to the rate of increase in the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere as measured in ppm by the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. (Mauna Loa is located at 13,700 feet, or about half way to the troposphere.)

In the 1950s about 6 GtCO2 (giga tons of Carbon) were released into the atmosphere every year. At that time the rate of increase of CO2 into the atmosphere was .7 ppm/yr. Today we release about 36 GtCO2 at ground level, six times more than in 1950, but the rate of increase in the CO2 concentration is about 2.1 ppm/yr., which is only three times greater than 1950. The difference between a 6 fold increased in carbon released, and a 3 fold increase in carbon measured in the atmosphere, is the Carbon Delay. These numbers are scientifically measured and therefore there is little room for debatable. The Carbon Ration when agriculture – and our civilization – first evolved can be seen in the figure below.

While the numbers in this calculation are known with a high level of confidence, no one knows for certain how long it takes for CO2 to get all the way into the troposphere. The best estimates range from 20 to 40 years.

What we do know for certain is when the earth had the right Carbon Ratio the earth cooled down, the weather became less extreme and more predictable. This allowed agriculture, and our civilization, to evolve. This can be visualized in the figure below.

Anyone with common sense can conclude that, if mankind takes the carbon out of the earth in the form of fossil fuels, and puts it back in the atmosphere in the form of CO2, the earth will again heat up to the point where we will no longer be able to have agriculture – at least not on an industrial scale. This can be seen in figure below.

This decades long Carbon Delay means the increased frequency and severity of the weather we are experiencing today is the result of CO2 released at ground level decades ago. This also means that when mankind is finally able to stop putting carbon back in the atmosphere, the earth’s temperature will continue to increase for the same amount of time as the Carbon Delay.

We will get over the Corvid-19 virus and life will move on. We cannot, however, stop or reverse climate change. We must now learn to adapt. In order to adapt, we must first acknowledge the decades long delay that is currently disguising climate change. The only way to do that will be to tell the wider world the truth about what is happening. One of the best way to do that is with the Earth Ship Program.