By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

In case you missed it, just before Thanksgiving, the World Meteorologic Society let us know that the atmospheric greenhouse gases reached their highest levels ever in 2007.

The same year the Arctic ice shelf pulled back more than ever. Hmmm. Coincidence?

According to the WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, the causes were clear: “Population growth and urban development worldwide continue to increase the use of fossil fuels, such as oil, coal and natural gas, which emit carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere. At the same time, the clearing of land for agriculture, including deforestation, is releasing carbon dioxide into the air and reducing carbon uptake by the biosphere.”

I checked a summary of the WMO report for any good news but found little.

Experts don’t expect a decline in greenhouse gas concentrations until decades after we curtail emissions here on the ground. With strong policies curbing GHGs, the concentrations could level off at around mid-century.

Which means what? Well, we won’t know how well we’re “fixing things” for a long time. To give you an example, remember CFC’s (Chlorofluorocarbons) ? These man-made gases used in refrigerants and aerosol products were mainly responsible for poking holes in the ozone layer. Their levels are declining now because of restrictions put in place in 1989, according to the WMO report.

As for greenhouse gases, scientists mainly hope to hold the line on when they peak in the atmosphere. If the peak comes too late, say by 2020 or 2025, they fear we’ll have lost the opportunity to make amends. (Scientifically it’s a little more complicated than that.)

So back to the good news, where is it? Well, the world did manage to collaborate on solutions pertaining to CFCs. Perhaps, once again, cooperative action will carry the day.

And too, we know what we’re confronting. We have seen the enemy and it is us. That might not be comforting. But we know now that we must get off fossil fuels. We must conserve, find clean energy solutions to power our houses and cars; discover ways to live that don’t take an undue toll on the water, air and soil.

The U.S., with 4 percent of the world population and one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, has not, for all its talk and expertise, been a good steward of the earth. Still the world looks to the U.S., with its abundance of human resources, for strong leadership. As United Nations climate talks opened in Poznan, Poland, today European leaders said they hoped for stronger U.S. engagement on the issue, given that president-elect Barak Obama has placed a high priority on fighting climate change.

Under President Bush, the U.S. has declined to sign the Kyoto Protocol, the main guidepost for emissions reductions, saying it would be too costly to businesses and that developing nations like China needed to do more. That stance is expected to change. U.S. youths attending the Poznan conference told the Environmental News Service that they hoped their country would confront climate change more aggressively.

“As youth representatives of the United States, we’re working with other young people from around the world here in Poland,” said Jeremy Osborn, 24, from Connecticut. “It’s time for our government to do the same. If we can all get along and work together, so can they.”

About 11,000 people, representing nearly 200 countries and hundreds of environmental groups, are attending the two-week conference in Poland, the 14th Conference of the 192 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Their goal is to further find and refine ways that nations and global groups can develop technology and finance solutions to climate change.

With the U.S. economy now officially in recession, Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, called on participants to focus on climate change actions that work hand in hand with economic recovery.

So where’s the good news? Today, 11,000 people gathered to discuss a common purpose.

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