• Suzy Costello, workbooks

MFA Week 8, 25 April-1 May 2021

Updated: 2 days ago

Continuing the stitch, Planning installation, Researching Earth's atmosphere and Climate Change, Writing my Mihi


Carbon Dioxide, Greenhouse Gases and Ozone Depletion

I feel the artwork I am stitching is more about changes to Earth's atmosphere brought about by humanity rather than a discussion on culture. This is research by NASA on changes in Earth's atmosphere over the last century.

NASA's website has a series of essays titled The Atmosphere: Keeping a Weather Eye on Earth's Climate Instabilities - Sizing Up Humanity's Impacts on Earth's Changing Atmosphere​: A Five-Part Series. It is written by Alan Buis in 2019 and discusses findings from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The fifth article looks at greenhouse gases. These are comments by NASA atmospheric scientist Eric Fetzer -

  • I wouldn’t describe Earth’s atmosphere as fragile so much as I’d say our climate system is unstable. Climate is being changed by the addition of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

  • Humanity has pushed climate instability well away from where it has been for many millennia. We’ve had 8,000 years of pretty much the same climate, and only about a century where things have really started to change.

  • We found that Earth’s climate system has responded to increasing carbon dioxide concentrations as climate models predicted. Atmospheric water vapor is sensitive to the presence of carbon dioxide. The more carbon dioxide, the more the atmosphere warms due to the greenhouse effect. A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, which is itself a greenhouse gas. This is how water vapor triples the warming from increasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

  • AIRS data have detected significant changes in the climate of the Arctic. We see increases in Arctic water vapor levels. The Arctic atmosphere is becoming more moist, adding to its warming, and the ocean is becoming more ice-free. These changes are happening more rapidly than scientists expected. I didn’t anticipate seeing them in a 17-year data record.

  • The AIRS team has also observed significant increases in the concentration of atmospheric ammonia in areas like northern India and eastern China due to agricultural activities. This has negatively impacted air quality in these regions.

  • While greenhouse gases are arguably the biggest driver of global climate change, other chemicals such as carbon monoxide and ammonia are also changing significantly, and AIRS is tracking those changes.

The following image is illustrates the amount of carbon monoxide released into the atmosphere as fires burnt in the Amazon basin in 2019.

The streak of red, orange, and yellow across South America, Africa, and the Atlantic Ocean in this animation points to high levels of carbon monoxide, as measured by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument flying on NASA's Aqua satellite. Credit: NASA-JPL/Caltech/NASA Scientific Visualization Studio

The fourth essay in the series looks at Ozone depletion. Buis interviews atmospheric scientist Bryan Duncan of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Duncan states -

  • Aura’s Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) have observed stratospheric ozone since 1970. It has provided some of the first long-term observations of air pollutants around the world. These include chemicals such as sulfur dioxide, formaldehyde and nitrogen dioxide, which is primarily produced by burning fossil fuels in vehicles and power plants and contributes to surface-level ozone.

  • This information is helping scientists understand why the ozone layer is varying over time, including how human-produced ozone-destroying chemicals thinned the ozone layer and caused the “ozone hole” over Antarctica.

Ozone hole over Antartica, Credit: NASA

"Fifty-one billion and zero - the two numbers Bill Gates says you need to know about climate.

Solving climate change would be "the most amazing thing humanity has ever done", says the billionaire founder of Microsoft.

By comparison, ending the pandemic is "very, very easy", he claims.

Mr Gates's new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, is a guide to tackling global warming.

Don't underestimate the scale of the challenge, he told me when we spoke last week.

"We've never made a transition like we're talking about doing in the next 30 years. There is no precedent for this."

Mr Gates' focus is on how technology can help us make that journey.

Renewable sources like wind and solar can help us decarbonise electricity but, as Mr Gates points out, that's less than 30% of total emissions.

We are also going to have to decarbonise the other 70% of the world economy - steel, cement, transport systems, fertiliser production and much, much more.

We simply don't have ways of doing that at the moment for many of these sectors.

'Governments must lead'

The answer, says Mr Gates, will be an innovation effort on a scale the world has never seen before.

This has to start with governments, he argues.

At the moment, the economic system doesn't price in the real cost of using fossil fuels. Most users don't pay anything for the damage to the environment done by pollution from the petrol in their car or the coal or gas that created the electricity in their home.

"Right now, you don't see the pain you're causing as you emit carbon dioxide," is how Mr Gates puts it.

That's why he says governments have to intervene.

"We need to have price signals to tell the private sector that we want green products," he says.

That is going to require a huge investment by governments in research and development, Mr Gates argues, as well as support to allow the market for new products and technologies to grow, thereby helping drive down prices.

Yet Mr Gates was famous for arguing that regulation stifled innovation when he was building Microsoft into the multi-billion-dollar behemoth it is now.

So isn't it a bit rich for him now to demand government intervention?

He replies he has always supported "the basic role of government in terms of roads and justice and education and scientific research".

And, on the climate issue, he maintains it will be impossible to avoid a disaster, particularly for those who live near the equator, without governments around the world getting behind the effort.

The Republican Party in America needs to recognise the importance of tackling climate change, says Mr Gates.

This needs to be a "constant 30-year push", he maintains. "Business just can't change all that physical infrastructure unless the market signals are constant and very clear.""


Tēnā koutou e hoa mā. (Greetings to you (3 or more people) my friends.)

Ko Remutaka te maunga. (The mountain is Remutaka.)

Ko Te Whanganui a Tara te moana. (The river/sea/lake is [name of the river/sea/lake].)

Ko Ngāti Irish/English te iwi. (The tribal group is [name of the tribal group].

Ko Suzy Costello taku ingoa. (My name is [your name].)

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa. (Greetings, greetings, greetings (to all of you).)

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