Are We Toast?

Or, Do We Have The Time And Wisdom To Protect Our Planet's Climate?

Understanding Climate Change

Any attempt to understand and address the extraordinarily complex issue of Global Climate Change must include consideration of:

Greenhouse gas residence time in the Atmosphere

  • It will take approximately 300 years for just 75% of the carbon dioxide that we add to the atmosphere to be dissolved in the oceans, or absorbed by the biosphere. The remaining 25% will essentially remain in the atmosphere indefinitely(1).

  • The IPCC has estimated(2) that even if the emissions of CO2 were reduced to zero sea levels would continue to rise for millennia and temperatures would rise for centuries.

Feedback processes found in both biological and physical systems, such as:

  • Arctic ice is melting at a rapidly increasing rate. As the ice melts, water pools on its surface which absorbs more solar energy than the reflective ice. The warm surface water increases in the melting of the underlying ice. When the ice cover completely melts, the exposed ocean surface absorbs more solar energy, warms and increases the melting of adjacent ice.

  • Permafrost is rapidly melting at the higher latitudes and releasing large amounts of methane, a highly effective greenhouse gas, which then causes increased global warming.

  • Cool ocean waters hold large amounts of carbon dioxide which is released into the atmosphere as the oceans warm; which then causes increased warming and leads to the release of additional carbon dioxide.

It is possible that any feedback process will reach a point where it can no longer be halted, or reversed by any act of mankind. The point at which this occurs is called the “tipping point”.

 

Socio-economic considerations including:

  • Since people living today will not see any identifiable consequences of their actions it will not appear to be in their self-interest to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

  • Economic development requires energy, with coal being the most widely distributed and available fossil fuel.

  • All nations, especially the “developing nations” aspire to greater economic development.

  • Any effective action to address global climate change must span generations and will require a cooperative global effort between nations, governments, ethnic groups and religions.

 


1.) Archer, D. (2005), Fate of fossil fuel CO2 in geologic time, J. Geophys. Res., 110, C09S05, doi:10.1029/2004JC002625.

2.) IPCC, 2001: Climate Change 2001: Synthesis Report. A Contribution of Working Groups I, II, and III to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Watson, R.T. and the Core Writing Team (eds.)]. CambridgeUniversity Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom, and New York, NY, USA, 398 pp.

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