I’ve written a couple of posts on climate change basics (Gases, Forcing & Surface Temperature and Energy & Projections) that described how energy enters and moves through the climate system and some physical ramifications of emitting greenhouse gases. This post will build on those in an important way by examining what is very likely to happen to the base climate system in response to increasing carbon emissions. The operative word that is used throughout is: permanency. The climate system has so far been slightly altered by our species’ emissions. Most of the effects of that alteration won’t go away for hundreds of years. As humans emit additional emissions, the effects grow.
For all intents and purposes, as far as our species is concerned, the climate system’s alteration will not go away for a long, long time – on the order of thousands of years. That’s permanency as far as we’re concerned. Or, as the paper I cite puts it: it’s irreversible. Conditions will very likely not return to those we’ve experienced in our lifetimes and in the past few thousand years for many thousands of years into the future. That’s the cold, hard scientific truth of the situation. Now, people can decide for themselves whether such irreversibility or permanency is a “good” or “bad” thing – I won’t make normative judgments for anyone else but myself. I don’t consider such a change a “good” thing. The effects I will describe here are significant, but they are only those that are easily projected. Many other effects that haven’t been considered or experienced by our species will almost certainly fall out as a result of projections discussed here. Our civil institutions are not well equipped to handle even the first-order effects, let alone the compounding influence of effects upon effects.
On a personal note, I will not describe things as ‘catastrophic’ anymore. I have hinted at this in some posts I’ve written in the past few months without much explanation. The primary reason for this is using such language simply turns people off from considering the material. I think we need more people engaged on this topic, not less, and will consider scientific results of language and framing as much as I consider climate science results (a post dealing with this specifically is in the works). That said, I will continue to not spend many resources to engage the ideologically driven skeptic community. They simply have a different worldview than I do and neither party will convince the other that their side is “correct”. One goal of this blog is to inform those who are interested and to have civil, productive discussions of peer-reviewed climate science and the political/policy implications of that science.
So, before I delve into some details, words like `permanency` and `irreversible` will be used more frequently on this blog in the future. I will not use words like catastrophic. On that note …