A Conclusion for All Evidence
The article quotes scientist after scientist declaring that “this means we must act quickly,” but it seems to me a forced reaction to the new information:
Many damaging effects of climate change are already basically irreversible, researchers declared Monday, warning that even if carbon emissions can somehow be halted temperatures around the globe will remain high until at least the year 3000.
“People have imagined that if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide the climate would go back to normal in 100 years, 200 years; that’s not true,” climate researcher Susan Solomon said in a teleconference.
Solomon, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., is lead author of an international team’s paper reporting irreversible damage from climate change, being published in Tuesday’s edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
She defines “irreversible” as change that would remain for 1,000 years even if humans stopped adding carbon to the atmosphere immediately.
I take that to suggest that climate change (broadly speaking) is a long-term process to which no short-term contributions will have immediate effects. If that conclusion has an effect on policy, it ought to make our steps more measured, because irreversibility is not a threshold, in this case, but a degree. It’s not no problem versus perpetual problem; the problem merely grows until it crosses an arbitrary line of really-bad-ness, and wreaking drastic changes to our short-term economy would cause immediate harm to the global community.
It doesn’t much matter to a starving family whether the condition persists for 50 years or 1,000.