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Concept: Greenhouse gas


What we eat greatly influences our personal health and the environment we all share. Recent analyses have highlighted the likely dual health and environmental benefits of reducing the fraction of animal-sourced foods in our diets. Here, we couple for the first time, to our knowledge, a region-specific global health model based on dietary and weight-related risk factors with emissions accounting and economic valuation modules to quantify the linked health and environmental consequences of dietary changes. We find that the impacts of dietary changes toward less meat and more plant-based diets vary greatly among regions. The largest absolute environmental and health benefits result from diet shifts in developing countries whereas Western high-income and middle-income countries gain most in per capita terms. Transitioning toward more plant-based diets that are in line with standard dietary guidelines could reduce global mortality by 6-10% and food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 29-70% compared with a reference scenario in 2050. We find that the monetized value of the improvements in health would be comparable with, or exceed, the value of the environmental benefits although the exact valuation method used considerably affects the estimated amounts. Overall, we estimate the economic benefits of improving diets to be 1-31 trillion US dollars, which is equivalent to 0.4-13% of global gross domestic product (GDP) in 2050. However, significant changes in the global food system would be necessary for regional diets to match the dietary patterns studied here.

Concepts: Health care, Carbon dioxide, Nutrition, Value added, Climate change, Gross domestic product, Greenhouse gas, Attribution of recent climate change


We assess climate impacts of global warming using ongoing observations and paleoclimate data. We use Earth’s measured energy imbalance, paleoclimate data, and simple representations of the global carbon cycle and temperature to define emission reductions needed to stabilize climate and avoid potentially disastrous impacts on today’s young people, future generations, and nature. A cumulative industrial-era limit of ∼500 GtC fossil fuel emissions and 100 GtC storage in the biosphere and soil would keep climate close to the Holocene range to which humanity and other species are adapted. Cumulative emissions of ∼1000 GtC, sometimes associated with 2°C global warming, would spur “slow” feedbacks and eventual warming of 3-4°C with disastrous consequences. Rapid emissions reduction is required to restore Earth’s energy balance and avoid ocean heat uptake that would practically guarantee irreversible effects. Continuation of high fossil fuel emissions, given current knowledge of the consequences, would be an act of extraordinary witting intergenerational injustice. Responsible policymaking requires a rising price on carbon emissions that would preclude emissions from most remaining coal and unconventional fossil fuels and phase down emissions from conventional fossil fuels.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Carbon, Climate change, Methane, Fossil fuel, Coal, Greenhouse gas, Global warming


Engineering estimates of methane emissions from natural gas production have led to varied projections of national emissions. This work reports direct measurements of methane emissions at 190 onshore natural gas sites in the United States (150 production sites, 27 well completion flowbacks, 9 well unloadings, and 4 workovers). For well completion flowbacks, which clear fractured wells of liquid to allow gas production, methane emissions ranged from 0.01 Mg to 17 Mg (mean = 1.7 Mg; 95% confidence bounds of 0.67-3.3 Mg), compared with an average of 81 Mg per event in the 2011 EPA national emission inventory from April 2013. Emission factors for pneumatic pumps and controllers as well as equipment leaks were both comparable to and higher than estimates in the national inventory. Overall, if emission factors from this work for completion flowbacks, equipment leaks, and pneumatic pumps and controllers are assumed to be representative of national populations and are used to estimate national emissions, total annual emissions from these source categories are calculated to be 957 Gg of methane (with sampling and measurement uncertainties estimated at ±200 Gg). The estimate for comparable source categories in the EPA national inventory is ∼1,200 Gg. Additional measurements of unloadings and workovers are needed to produce national emission estimates for these source categories. The 957 Gg in emissions for completion flowbacks, pneumatics, and equipment leaks, coupled with EPA national inventory estimates for other categories, leads to an estimated 2,300 Gg of methane emissions from natural gas production (0.42% of gross gas production).

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Statistics, Mathematics, United States, Natural gas, Methane, Air pollution, Greenhouse gas


Ongoing greenhouse gas emissions can modify climate processes and induce shifts in ocean temperature, pH, oxygen concentration, and productivity, which in turn could alter biological and social systems. Here, we provide a synoptic global assessment of the simultaneous changes in future ocean biogeochemical variables over marine biota and their broader implications for people. We analyzed modern Earth System Models forced by greenhouse gas concentration pathways until 2100 and showed that the entire world’s ocean surface will be simultaneously impacted by varying intensities of ocean warming, acidification, oxygen depletion, or shortfalls in productivity. In contrast, only a small fraction of the world’s ocean surface, mostly in polar regions, will experience increased oxygenation and productivity, while almost nowhere will there be ocean cooling or pH elevation. We compiled the global distribution of 32 marine habitats and biodiversity hotspots and found that they would all experience simultaneous exposure to changes in multiple biogeochemical variables. This superposition highlights the high risk for synergistic ecosystem responses, the suite of physiological adaptations needed to cope with future climate change, and the potential for reorganization of global biodiversity patterns. If co-occurring biogeochemical changes influence the delivery of ocean goods and services, then they could also have a considerable effect on human welfare. Approximately 470 to 870 million of the poorest people in the world rely heavily on the ocean for food, jobs, and revenues and live in countries that will be most affected by simultaneous changes in ocean biogeochemistry. These results highlight the high risk of degradation of marine ecosystems and associated human hardship expected in a future following current trends in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Earth, Oceanography, Ecosystem, Climate change, Natural gas, Greenhouse gas, Global warming


Among American Conservatives, but not Liberals, trust in science has been declining since the 1970’s. Climate science has become particularly polarized, with Conservatives being more likely than Liberals to reject the notion that greenhouse gas emissions are warming the globe. Conversely, opposition to genetically-modified (GM) foods and vaccinations is often ascribed to the political Left although reliable data are lacking. There are also growing indications that rejection of science is suffused by conspiracist ideation, that is the general tendency to endorse conspiracy theories including the specific beliefs that inconvenient scientific findings constitute a “hoax.”

Concepts: Scientific method, Political spectrum, Greenhouse gas, Democratic Party, Conspiracy theory


Megadroughts are comparable in severity to the worst droughts of the 20th century but are of much longer duration. A megadrought in the American Southwest would impose unprecedented stress on the limited water resources of the area, making it critical to evaluate future risks not only under different climate change mitigation scenarios but also for different aspects of regional hydroclimate. We find that changes in the mean hydroclimate state, rather than its variability, determine megadrought risk in the American Southwest. Estimates of megadrought probabilities based on precipitation alone tend to underestimate risk. Furthermore, business-as-usual emissions of greenhouse gases will drive regional warming and drying, regardless of large precipitation uncertainties. We find that regional temperature increases alone push megadrought risk above 70, 90, or 99% by the end of the century, even if precipitation increases moderately, does not change, or decreases, respectively. Although each possibility is supported by some climate model simulations, the latter is the most common outcome for the American Southwest in Coupled Model Intercomparison 5 generation models. An aggressive reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions cuts megadrought risks nearly in half.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Climate, Climate change, Water vapor, Natural gas, Greenhouse gas, Global warming, Attribution of recent climate change


Starting at least in the 1970s, empirical work suggested that demographic (population) and economic (affluence) forces are the key drivers of anthropogenic stress on the environment. We evaluate the extent to which politics attenuates the effects of economic and demographic factors on environmental outcomes by examining variation in CO2 emissions across US states and within states over time. We find that demographic and economic forces can in part be offset by politics supportive of the environment-increases in emissions over time are lower in states that elect legislators with strong environmental records.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Environment, Natural environment, Climate change, Natural gas, Greenhouse gas, Emission standard, Global warming


Countries export much of the harm created by their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions because the Earth’s atmosphere intermixes globally. Yet, the extent to which this leads to inequity between GHG emitters and those impacted by the resulting climate change depends on the distribution of climate vulnerability. Here, we determine empirically the relationship between countries' GHG emissions and their vulnerability to negative effects of climate change. In line with the results of other studies, we find an enormous global inequality where 20 of the 36 highest emitting countries are among the least vulnerable to negative impacts of future climate change. Conversely, 11 of the 17 countries with low or moderate GHG emissions, are acutely vulnerable to negative impacts of climate change. In 2010, only 28 (16%) countries had an equitable balance between emissions and vulnerability. Moreover, future emissions scenarios show that this inequality will significantly worsen by 2030. Many countries are manifestly free riders causing others to bear a climate change burden, which acts as a disincentive for them to mitigate their emissions. It is time that this persistent and worsening climate inequity is resolved, and for the largest emitting countries to act on their commitment of common but differentiated responsibilities.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Earth, Climate change, Atmosphere, Natural gas, Greenhouse gas, Ozone, Attribution of recent climate change


Policy makers have generally agreed that the average global temperature rise caused by greenhouse gas emissions should not exceed 2 °C above the average global temperature of pre-industrial times. It has been estimated that to have at least a 50 per cent chance of keeping warming below 2 °C throughout the twenty-first century, the cumulative carbon emissions between 2011 and 2050 need to be limited to around 1,100 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (Gt CO2). However, the greenhouse gas emissions contained in present estimates of global fossil fuel reserves are around three times higher than this, and so the unabated use of all current fossil fuel reserves is incompatible with a warming limit of 2 °C. Here we use a single integrated assessment model that contains estimates of the quantities, locations and nature of the world’s oil, gas and coal reserves and resources, and which is shown to be consistent with a wide variety of modelling approaches with different assumptions, to explore the implications of this emissions limit for fossil fuel production in different regions. Our results suggest that, globally, a third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80 per cent of current coal reserves should remain unused from 2010 to 2050 in order to meet the target of 2 °C. We show that development of resources in the Arctic and any increase in unconventional oil production are incommensurate with efforts to limit average global warming to 2 °C. Our results show that policy makers' instincts to exploit rapidly and completely their territorial fossil fuels are, in aggregate, inconsistent with their commitments to this temperature limit. Implementation of this policy commitment would also render unnecessary continued substantial expenditure on fossil fuel exploration, because any new discoveries could not lead to increased aggregate production.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Petroleum, Natural gas, Methane, Fossil fuel, Coal, Greenhouse gas, Global warming


Radiocarbon analyses are commonly used in a broad range of fields, including earth science, archaeology, forgery detection, isotope forensics, and physiology. Many applications are sensitive to the radiocarbon ((14)C) content of atmospheric CO2, which has varied since 1890 as a result of nuclear weapons testing, fossil fuel emissions, and CO2 cycling between atmospheric, oceanic, and terrestrial carbon reservoirs. Over this century, the ratio (14)C/C in atmospheric CO2 (Δ(14)CO2) will be determined by the amount of fossil fuel combustion, which decreases Δ(14)CO2 because fossil fuels have lost all (14)C from radioactive decay. Simulations of Δ(14)CO2 using the emission scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report, the Representative Concentration Pathways, indicate that ambitious emission reductions could sustain Δ(14)CO2 near the preindustrial level of 0‰ through 2100, whereas “business-as-usual” emissions will reduce Δ(14)CO2 to -250‰, equivalent to the depletion expected from over 2,000 y of radioactive decay. Given current emissions trends, fossil fuel emission-driven artificial “aging” of the atmosphere is likely to occur much faster and with a larger magnitude than previously expected. This finding has strong and as yet unrecognized implications for many applications of radiocarbon in various fields, and it implies that radiocarbon dating may no longer provide definitive ages for samples up to 2,000 y old.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Carbon, Atmosphere, Methane, Fossil fuel, Combustion, Greenhouse gas, Global warming