The Long Thaw: How Humans Are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth's Climate

By David Archer | Go to book overview

PROLOGUE
Global Warming
in Geologic Time

Global warming could be one of humankind’s longest lasting legacies. The climatic impacts of releasing fossil fuel CO2 to the atmosphere will last longer than Stonehenge. Longer than time capsules, longer than nuclear waste, far longer than the age of human civilization so far. Each ton of coal that we burn leaves CO2 gas in the atmosphere. The CO2 coming from a quarter of that ton will still be affecting the climate one thousand years from now, at the start of the next millennium. And that is only the beginning.

The excess CO2 in the atmosphere at the next millennium may not be the exact same molecules that came from our power plants. Some of the CO2 from fossil fuels will have been taken up into trees, or deposited in soils. Some will have dissolved in the oceans. But, as this book will explain, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere at the next millennium will be higher if that coal is burned than if it is not. About 10% of the CO2 from coal will still be affecting the climate in one hundred thousand years.

Over the last few centuries, mankind has been humbled by insights from the scientific enterprise. Darwin told us that hu

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