Action would have to be radical -- but climate change can be slowed.
Everybody in the United States could switch from cars to bicycles.
The Chinese could close all their factories.
Europe could give up electricity and return to the age of the lantern.
But all those steps together would not come close to stopping global warming.
A landmark report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released Friday, warns that there is so much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that even if concentrations held at current levels, the effects of global warming would continue for centuries.
There is still hope. The report notes that a concerted world effort could stave off the direst consequences of global warming, such as widespread flooding, drought and extreme weather.
Ultimately eliminating the global warming threat, however, would require radical action.
To stabilize atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide — the primary contributor to global warming — CO2 emissions would have to drop 70% to 80%, said Richard Somerville, a theoretical meteorologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla.
Such a reduction would bring emissions into equilibrium with the planet's ability to absorb carbon dioxide. The last time the planet was in balance was more than 150 years ago, before the widespread use of coal and steam engines.
What would it take to bring that kind of reduction?
"All truck, all trains, all airplanes, cars, motorcycles and boats in the United States — that's 7.3% of global emissions," said Gregg Marland, a fossil fuel pollution expert at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
Closing all fossil-fuel-powered electricity plants worldwide and replacing them with windmills, solar panels and nuclear power plants would make a serious dent — a 39% reduction globally, Marland said.
His calculation doesn't include all the fossil fuels that would have to be burned to build the greener facilities, though.
Trees could be planted to absorb more carbon dioxide. But even if every available space in the United States were turned into woodland, Marland said, it would not come close to offsetting U.S. emissions.
"There is not enough land area," he said.
The United States accounts for nearly a quarter of the carbon dioxide released each year, according to government statistics. China, in second at about 15%, is gaining fast.
If the rest of the world returned to the Stone Age, carbon concentrations would still rise.
Carbon does not dissipate rapidly. Some is eventually absorbed by oceans and plants, but about half stays in the atmosphere. And there is no easy way to get it out.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Game over on global warming?
Alan Zarembo of the Los Angeles Times has written the most sobering and in my opinion, honest assessment of the global warming scenario. There's no sugar coating when he asks: Game over on global warming? This is exactly what I've been thinking and writing. It's not pretty and the danger with this kind of truth is that people will just give up if they feel there is no hope. I've said before that I think Al Gore is purposefully overly optimistic for this very reason. Frankly, I think that we have to face the truth, however harsh it may be, so that our actions reflect the seriousness of the problem. What this means is that we should be taking very radical and extreme action. It's not going to be pretty either way and there is no doubt our lives from here on out will be VERY different.