Climate Change Actions Can't Wait

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), February 16, 2009 | Go to article overview

Climate Change Actions Can't Wait


Byline: Bob Doppelt For The Register-Guard

Despite the economic downturn, now is the time to enact strong policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That is the most important conclusion to be drawn from a new study from Susan Solomon, one of the world's leading climate scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In their report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Solomon and her co-authors said that if human-induced carbon dioxide emissions continue to be emitted at their current pace, the effects will last for a thousand years - or in their terms, be "irreversible" - because carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere and the oceans for a long time, and the interactions between the two can produce unchangeable sea level rise, droughts and other effects.

In some ways, this information is not new. Climate scientists long have known that high atmospheric concentrations of CO2 from fossil fuels will produce long-lasting disruptions in the climate.

The real significance of Solomon's study is its not-so-subtle message of the urgent need to slash emissions. It's still not too late to prevent global warming from becoming irreversible. But if we don't act swiftly and boldly, it soon will be.

If we begin to immediately ratchet down emissions, the world is still likely to experience a temperature increase of somewhere between 1 degree to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit in the coming decades. This is already in the pipeline, and many scientists are convinced we are committed to the higher levels.

Even the lower level will have significant adverse economic, social and ecological consequences. Every level of government, private firm and household should begin to prepare now for those impacts.

But these consequences will seem trivial compared to the impacts that will result if emissions are allowed to continue to rise as they have for the past few decades. Once emissions rise too high, Solomon said, it will be very difficult to reverse course and restabilize the climate.

We will have committed the world to everlasting adverse climate change.

Twice in the past few weeks I have been asked to speak at hearings held by the Oregon House and Senate committees dealing with the climate bills about my University of Oregon program's climate impact studies. After my testimony I listened as utility, business, and nonprofit executives trotted up to the podium to give their views of the climate bills.

Nearly every speaker acknowledged the need to reduce emissions. But the agreement ended there. …

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