Thursday, January 29, 2009

TOP SCIENTIST: CLIMATE CHANGE IRREVERSIBLE

NPR - Climate change is essentially irreversible, according to a sobering new scientific study. As carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise, the world will experience more and more long-term environmental disruption. The damage will persist even when, and if, emissions are brought under control, says study author Susan Solomon, who is among the world's top climate scientists.

"We're used to thinking about pollution problems as things that we can fix," Solomon says. "Smog, we just cut back and everything will be better later. Or haze, you know, it'll go away pretty quickly."

That's the case for some of the gases that contribute to climate change, such as methane and nitrous oxide. But as Solomon and colleagues suggest in a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it is not true for the most abundant greenhouse gas: carbon dioxide. Turning off the carbon dioxide emissions won't stop global warming. . .

If we continue with business as usual for even a few more decades, she says, emissions could be enough to create permanent dust-bowl conditions in the U.S. Southwest and around the Mediterranean.

"The sea level rise is a much slower thing, so it will take a long time to happen, but we will lock into it, based on the peak level of [carbon dioxide] we reach in this century," Solomon says.

The idea that changes will be irreversible has consequences for how we should deal with climate change. The global thermostat can't be turned down quickly once it's been turned up, so scientists say we need to proceed with more caution right now.