The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently released a sobering new study that found climate change and human damage to the global environment to be essentially irreversible.
Study author Susan Solomon, one of the world’s top climate scientists, explained in an interview with National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” that as carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise, the planet will be put through increasingly additional environmental damage and disruption. The damage will persist even if such hazardous emissions are lassoed under control. Solomon’s study also looked at the long-term effects of this crisis in terms of sea-level rise and drought.
“We’re used to thinking about pollution problems as things that we can fix,” Solomon said in the interview. “Smog, we just cut back and everything will be better later. Or haze, you know, it’ll go away pretty quickly.”
However, Solomon and her colleagues have discovered and reported that this is not true of the most abundant and detrimental greenhouse gas: carbon dioxide. Even if we do find a way to make our cars and vehicles run off of corn, water or old People magazines, lowering the amount of carbon dioxide that is injected into our atmosphere is going to do little to stop global warming.
“People have imagined that if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide the climate would go back to normal in 100 years or 200 years,” Solomon stated. “What we’re showing here is that’s not right. It’s essentially an irreversible change that will last for more than a thousand years.”
The environment’s one-way stubbornness is primarily attributable to the oceans’ ability to absorb a lot of the planet’s excess heat and carbon dioxide that humans have been pumping into the air. This continues until the oceans become saturated and the carbon dioxide and heat will begin to emanate from the ocean. Such a process will take place for hundreds of years thereafter.
The troubling effects of the rising amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere can be seen all over the world. Gargantuan shelves of ice in Antarctica are breaking off into the frigid waters; in the journal, “Science,” research ecologist Phillip van Mantgem reports that forest trees in western America have been dying at greater rates in recent decades; and ocean waters are becoming more acidic from all the carbon dioxide they soak up, which throws the global coral ecosystem into jeopardy.
It should frighten us that if the human population goes about its business as it has for just a few more decades, the emissions we’ve been making have the potential to create permanent dust-bowl conditions in the Southwest U.S. and around the Mediterranean, according to Solomon.
Solomon’s study should be viewed as a rude awakening. The idea that we will be unable to hit a global “Ctrl + Y” command in the future and undo the damage we’ve caused in the past 100 years should directly affect how we react to the situation of climate change today. The global thermostat is not something that can be persuaded to fall and rise at our whim, and scientists rightfully stress that we must be cautious as to how we proceed from here on out.
In the same interview, Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University stated, “These are all … changes that are starting to happen in at least a minor way already. So the question becomes, ‘where do we stop it, when does all of this become dangerous?'”
Oppenheimer insists that the answer is “sooner rather than later.” For years, scientists have been doing their utmost to warn politicians to find an acceptable level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Solomon’s new study stresses that it’s ideal for us to aim low; if we shoot for the moon, trying to undo the damage will be like trying to scrub three-week old marinara sauce off of a Tupperware container. And that’s pretty damn near impossible.
Oppenheimer believes it is incredibly urgent that we deal with climate change now, but also believes that setting limits for carbon dioxide emission is ultimately up to the politicians. As gloomy and doomsday-esque as the whole prospect sounds, Solomon also insists that this is not the time to give up hope and throw in the towel.
“I guess if it’s irreversible, to me it seems all the more reason you might want to do something about it,” Solomon said. “Because committing to something that you can’t back out of seems to me like a step that you’d want to take even more carefully than something you thought you could reverse.”
AE Anteater is a third-year English major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Filed Under: Opinion