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Science

Only Zero Emissions Can Prevent a Warmer Planet

Its Future is in our Hands - Live EarthI played around for a few minutes with a heading that said something along the lines of “Scientists alert us to the Obvious… etc” for this story. It seems to me that I am dealing more and more with people who simply intend to live their lives with their heads buried in the sand.

That isn’t to say that scientific debate is not necessary or needed; only, that it seems that the obvious seems to bypass people as simply another annoying fact against their chosen belief.

In addition, there are those who feel that they have an ace up their sleeves when they talk to me. They feel that knowledge of increasingly colder temperatures and unexpected snow storms is evidence not of global warming, but of global cooling. They put the card down on the table with a grin. They seem to exude complete confidence in me not having a full house of cards that were actually dealt to me.

In other words, how come people look at the recent weird weather anomalies which most climate change advocates will themselves use as proof of a changing planet, but fail to look at years of steadily climbing temperatures?

All of that is simply by way of pointing to new research showing that greenhouse gas emissions will have to be entirely eliminated in order for our climate to stabilize and to prevent our temperatures from rising.

In response to that I say two things; a) well duh and b) why, for the love of Pete, did it take a scientific study to bring this to peoples attention?

Damon Matthews from Concordia University in Canada and Ken Caldeira from Carnegie Institute for Science, Stanford, in the US, are the men behind this research. They show that our current efforts to simply stabilize our emissions – rather than eradicating our emissions – are simply not enough.

“Even if we eliminated carbon dioxide today we are still committed to a global temperature rise of around 0.8 ºC lasting at least 500 years,” says Caldeira. As to why carbon dioxide persists so long, Caldeira points to the slow response time of our many oceans. “It takes a lot of energy to heat them up and then a long time for them to cool back down,” he adds.

Their study used a global climate model that, instead of only looking at what happens when the emissions have stabilized, looked at how greenhouse emissions need to change in order to stabilize the global temperature.

Matthews and Caldeira created four models, each of which began with a single pulse of carbon dioxide in to a pre-industrial atmosphere (to mimic but simplify the steady increase of carbon dioxide emissions over the past hundred years or so). Pulse sizes of 50, 200, 500 and 2000 billion tons of carbon made up the four models.

At the end of a 500 year period in which the model calculated global temperatures and atmospheric and ocean carbon dioxide levels, the pair found that between 20% and 35% of the initial pulse had remained in the simulated atmosphere. This was true for even the smallest emission pulse. The remainder of the carbon had been absorbed by land and ocean carbon sinks.

The existence of original carbon dioxide at the end of the 500 year period signifies that global warming took place over the entire period of time. For the four simulations, respectively, global temperatures stabilized at 0.09, 0.34, 0.88 and 3.6 ºC above pre-industrial levels.

This research has received academic support from those such as Roger Pielke, a climate policy expert at the University of Colorado in Boulder. “This research makes the case that simply stabilising concentrations is insufficient to stabilise temperatures. Their argument, if widely accepted, raises the bar on what it means to mitigate climate change,” he says.

Matthews and Caldeira warned in their report, though unrealistically (and probably knowingly so), that the current emission targets for 2050 were simply insufficient. “It is technologically challenging, but not impossible. The biggest challenge will be to get political consensus,” says Caldeira.

Now, to be fair, a zero emissions future is not out of the realm of scientific possibility. In my opinion, it’s out of the realm of political possibility, but let’s all just revolt and do away with that issue. Costa Rica is already aiming towards zero emissions, and with new tools such as renewable energy, electric cars and carbon capture there are experts who believe this is a feasible goal.

Dave Reay, a climate scientist at the University of Edinburgh, is one who believes this, “If used on a large enough scale then new technologies like carbon capture could get us to zero emissions.”

Either way, it is good to at least see the evidence in the scientific world for those who hadn’t been in a position to see the obvious. As the photo suggests, the future is in our own hands!

Check out Shirley Siluk Gregory’s previous brief on this issue here.




2 comments
  1. Ceres

    Oh well, that was pretty obvious wasn’t it? But people just don’t want to stop living their absolutely ignorant and comfortable little lives. They just pretend they don’t listen or they don’t know and some even have the stupidity to say they just don’t care. problem is that governments support them and even say scientists lie..

    Thanks for the wonderful blog posting

  2. Solar Nano

    I used the below comment in an earlier blog about the use of food crops for biofuel. By using algae biofuels, as well as other clean sustainable alternatives, we could be well on our way to zero emmisions into the atmosphere, not by 2050, but by 2025.

    It is idiotic to think that food based biofuels have a future in the world. Corn, soybean, palm oil and conventional pond-grown algae typically yield 18 gallons, 48 gallons, 635 gallons and 10,000 gallons per acre per year respectively. Valcent Products, http://www.valcent.net, has data proving that algae, using their closed loop vertical system, can grow 33,000 gallons of biodiesel, 16,500 gallons of ethanol, and 64 tons of animal feed on one acre of arid land using very little water. Some years back the NREL predicted that we could eliminate fossil fuels by growing algae in open ponds, at 10,000 gallons an acre of biofuel per year, using 15,000 square miles of nonagricultural land. No need for fresh water with the use of sea water. The Valcent system is 5 times more efficient than open ponds. Using the NREL figure 15,000 square miles and divide by 5, you get 3,000 square miles to feed the nations fuel needs. Add another 3,000 square miles to feed all of the electric needs for home and industry. 6,000 square miles of land theoretically should keep all of our fuel dollars at home, keep all food on the table, feed a hell of allot of animals, creates new jobs and, because algae needs carbon to grow, clean the air of all of those nasty pollutants that infect our health and planet. We can start doing that now. As for the future, phase out all the grossly inefficient polluting transportation, and go to efficient, non polluting all electric transport while sequestering the carbon, produced from the generation of electricity, back into growing more algae.

    What could be better??? Certainly not food for biofuel!!!

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