If you can turn your attention from ISIS and the Ray Rice saga for a moment, the planet has an even bigger problem.
The amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2013, driven by a surge in levels of carbon dioxide, according to the World Meteorological Organization's annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.
Oksana Tarasova, a scientist and chief of the WMO's Global Atmospheric Watch program, told the Washington Post that the surge of nearly three parts per million over 2012 levels was twice as large as the average increase in carbon levels in recent decades. "The changes we're seeing are really drastic," Tarasova said. "We are seeing the growth rate rising exponentially."
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WMO's findings, based upon data from the organization's network of 125 monitoring stations, are particularly worrisome, because they may be an indication that natural buffers - such as the oceans and plant life - that have been absorbing much of humans' carbon emissions are starting to reach overload. The oceans, for example, have absorbed so much carbon that they've become more acidic than at any time in the past 300,000 years.
An analysis of the findings in Nature also notes that methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, reached a new high of 1,824 parts per billion in 2013, mostly due to increased emissions from cattle herds, rice farming, the mining of fossil fuels, landfills and the burning of biomass - that is, plant material - for energy.
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The big jump in greenhouse gas emissions isn't likely to cause a similar dramatic rise in temperatures - not yet, anyway. Global temperatures, while at record levels, haven't risen as rapidly over the past decade as they did over the previous 50 years, and an article published in Science in late August predicts that they'll continue to rise more slowly for another 10 years or so, as a cycle of ocean currents that's been mitigating the heat draws to a close. After that, though, the thermometer may start climbing more rapidly.
President Obama and other world leaders are scheduled to discuss these woes at a Sept. 23 UN climate summit in New York City.