This month I want to change gears substantially. I’d like to talk about the implications for serious climate change based on what we have already seen in the Arctic and elsewhere. The Earth has been in a warming period which is due either to an unexplained and somewhat accelerated end to the most recent ice age or is due in full or partially to the burning of fossil fuels since the beginning of the industrial revolution. The approach I want to take, however, is one which largely ignores how we got to where we are now and projects how things will most likely look over the remainder of the century.
First, there is no doubt that the Earth is under a significant warming pressure. If nothing else were to happen, our warming trend will have serious consequences over the remaining decades of this century and beyond. It’s useful to think about what the consequences are today and will be tomorrow.
In the immediate decades before us burning or not continuing to burn fossil fuels may not make a significant difference on how things go. In the long run, however, continuing to burn fossil fuels will certainly be a problem. If we were to burn all of the remaining natural gas, oil and all the remaining coal, it take us until at least the middle of next century to finish them off even if we find a few more reserve pockets of gas, oil and coal.
In any case we may have a few more years, as we would if we were to significantly improve the efficiency of our machines even if we made no significant transition to alternative clean energy sources. Those are not valid assumptions, but even if we remove the burning of fossil fuels as an added source of carbon dioxide to in the atmosphere there are other sources of greenhouse gases, such as methane coming from melting permafrost, and that will make a significant contribution to greenhouse gases even if burning fossil fuels were to cease tomorrow.