Every month, the highly regarded journal Nature: Climate Change refines our understanding of global warming. This month’s revelation is more jaw-dropping than most. Its ominous title: Continued global warming after CO2 emissions stop.
We have naively assumed that if we just Stopped Adding Greenhouse Gases to the Atmosphere, global warming would slow, and then stop. This is a reasonable assumption. Within a year of banning ozone-destroying CFCs, the Hole in the Ozone stopped growing and started shrinking. Voile!
But that is NOT what is going to happen. Instead, the globe will cool – perhaps for a century. Then, after lulling us into complacency, the Earth will begin to warm again, as heat stored in the oceans radiates into the atmosphere. And this second warming episode may persist for hundreds of years. “….surface temperature may actually increase on multi-century timescales after an initial century-long decrease.” In other words: If we stop lacing the air with CO2, it will cool for about a century. But then all the extra heat stored in the oceans will radiate into the atmosphere, heating the Earth even more than before. So it is not just our children who face more desperate lives, but seven generations of humans after us.
This week there is a hopeful sign that maybe we are taking this climate thing more seriously. Less than a month ago, William Nordhouse’s book The Climate Casino was published. It’s the latest climate disaster book. The American economy looms large as a casualty. I’d planned to use The Climate Casino as one of several readings in my environmental studies class Spring term. But the Whitman bookstore can’t get it. It is sold out of the distributor, sold out at Amazon, Barnes and Noble online, The Bookloft in Enterprise, Book and Games in Walla Walla, and even a bookseller in London that I tried to order from. Perhaps Yale University Press only printed 100 copies or so, thinking that climate made dull reading. Evidently they were wrong.
But, while awareness of climate problems rises, we remain reluctant to act. After-all, nothing really bad will happen until long after we are gone. The US has no carbon tax, (17 other nations do, including Sweden, India, Japan, and Norway, and Costa Rica.) and no national cap and trade scheme. We remain conveniently wedded to fossil fuels. But shrugging our shoulders and getting on with life as “normal” is the ultimate cop out. The quality of life for our progeny—for all life—in the next two centuries is in our hands today. Bearing responsibility for the future should be no less a concern than that voiced eloquently by Iroquois tribal leader Oren Lyons: “In our way of life, in our government, with every decision we make, we always keep in mind the Seventh Generation to come. It’s our job to see that the people coming ahead, the generations still unborn, have a world no worse than ours and hopefully better. When we walk upon Mother Earth we always plant our feet carefully because we know the faces of our future generations are looking up at us from beneath the ground. We never forget them.
Nature Climate Change: Continued Global Warming after CO2 Stoppage. Froelicher, et al, 2013:
NY Times review of The Climate Casino: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/01/business/climate-casino-an-overview-of-global-warming.html?_r=0