Greenhouse Gas Bulletin: Bizarre Thanksgiving Ritual

The annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin has been released by the World Meteorological Organization. As always, nothing has been accomplished. Learn more about the bizarre ritual we all go through every year when it comes out.

We go through a kind of bizarre Thanksgiving tradition every year in the environmental movement. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has a mandate to release an annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin around this time every fall.

The WMO dutifully runs off a fact-filled report with impressive statistics and even more impressive graphics. We express our alarm by repeating the scary but familiar sound bites and factoids from the bulletin. Policymakers soberly reiterate their commitment to the environment and to meeting “our Paris commitments.”  

Then we all have nice dinners with family and friends, buy a few trendy things on Black Friday and Boxing Day and go back to business as usual. Then, next autumn, we all go through the whole song and dance again. Meanwhile, greenhouse gases carry on merrily floating up into our atmosphere.


So, once again, thanks to the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, we can report that despite the best efforts of scientists and climate activists, greenhouse gas emissions are at an all-time high. Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4) and Nitrous Oxide (N2O) have all expanded to record levels in our atmosphere. It seems appropriate that Nitrous Oxide is “Laughing Gas” because these results are truly laughable.

How far are we above pre-industrial levels? For C02, it’s 147%. Methane’s new record lifted it all the way to 259%. And just for comic relief, laughing gas managed to climb to 123%. The rate of increase is not slowing down for any of the top three greenhouse gases. It’s like reporting on a sporting event called the Olympics of Oblivion.

Carbon dioxide has been chugging along at the same steady rate for the past ten years. Methane and Nitrous Oxide emissions increased at rates well above the ten-year average. We’re not cutting greenhouse gas emissions worldwide at all, you and I are rapidly cranking out more of them every year.


That’s right, the cause is you and me and our human activities. The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin explains that C02 gets released from burning fossil fuels, CH4 is a by-product of our livestock agriculture, and N20 flows into the atmosphere from all the nitrogen we use in our chemical fertilizers. We keep having to grow more and more crops to feed all the offspring we keep procreating.

How do we know that these emissions come from humans? This year’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin spends a bit of time on the different isotopes of these gases. Keeping it simple, so that I can understand it, the isotypes of carbon that nature produces are different than those we release in industrial emissions. Since both C02 and CH4 contain carbon, we can detect the difference like a kind of human fingerprint. And, we’ve been caught red-handed just like on CSI.

What are the consequences of all this? Oh, nothing much, just rising temperatures, more extreme weather, water stress, sea-level rise and disruption to marine and land ecosystems. By the way, CO2 stays in our atmosphere for hundreds of years. It lasts even longer in our oceans. So when we miss our targets, there’s no “undo button.”


The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin makes it clear that the only way out of this mess is to cut our emissions by 7.6 percent each year between now and 2030. If we don’t, the world will lose its chance to get on back in the game and hold temperatures at the 1.5°C temperature goal set in the Paris Agreement.

Inger Andersen has the unenviable job of being the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. He put it this way, “”Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions – over 7 percent each year if we break it down evenly over the next decade.” He went on to say, “This shows that countries simply cannot wait until the end of 2020, when new climate commitments are due, to step up action. They – and every city, region, business and individual – need to act now.”

The Paris Agreement wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. First of all, even if every country jumped in and followed every commitment to the letter (they haven’t), the global average temperature will increase to 3.2˚ C by 2100. We’re supposed to be trying to keep it at 1.5˚ C. Even at that, only about half of OECD countries are on track to meet their lame goals.


There is a bit of good news around all of this. The next Conference of the Parties to the Paris Agreement, known as COP25, starts next week in Madrid. We can always hope that the dismal news coming out of the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin will be a kick in the pants for them. That might lead to attainable goals and sincere commitments to implement them.

That’s only going to happen if people inform themselves and pressure their governments around the world to do the same.

We always have more to learn if we dare to know.

Learn more:

WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin No. 15
UN Emissions Gap Report 2019
UN Climate Change Conference (COP25)
Greta Thunberg “How Dare You?”
Climate Crisis Becomes Undeniable
Climate Wars in Australia are a Microcosm


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