Reality check: carbon dioxide emissions continue to increase, the signs of global warming are ever more evident (see Arctic sea ice, Antarctica and Western U.S. forests for recent exhibits)...and even if we reverse the first trend (CO2), the other (global warming) will continue for 1,000 years.
That last disturbing statement is the conclusion of a new study splashed across the front of the Los Angeles Times today.
The basic conclusion is nothing new to people familiar with the science of climate change. The reason there's such focus on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is that they not only trap the sun's heat near the Earth's surface but they also remain in the atmosphere for years or decades, depending on the chemical. So if we stopped cutting down forests, digging up coal and burning fossil fuels today, the carbon dioxide that resulted from the last couple centuries' worth of land use, agriculture and fossil fuel burning will take a long way to cycle through.
You might think that it would take about as long to fix the problem as it did to create it. It's been about 150 years of industrial revolution, so it ought to take maybe that long, maybe twice as long, to fix. Right? The study pushes that time horizon back to at least 1,000 years before the climate would "reset." That's the year 3000 -- which just looks weird.
The study is a reminder -- a bold face, upper case-type reminder, with an exclamation point or two -- that the consequences of failing to confront global warming amounts to condemning our children, our children's children, their children...and several other generations after them...to a very different world, one on which there's less freshwater to drink, less dry land on which to live, more extreme and violent weather and a host of other commonplace nightmarish realities.
It puts into perspective the failure of the last administration to do anything significant to confront the problem, and it puts into sharp focus the demands put upon the Obama administration to act quickly and boldly. To that end, there's good news in President Obama's move to reverse a Bush policy on greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, on his strong cabinet picks for scientific, energy and environmental positions, and on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's decision to appoint a special envoy on global warming.
It will take all that -- all them, all of us -- and more to solve the problem. We won't see the results of our hard work in our lifetimes. But countless future generations will be able to thank us, rather than curse us, if we do.
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