Carnegie Study: Climate Requires Near-zero Emissions

Cross-posted on Reuters, USAToday, FoxNews, IBS

Scientists at the Carnegie Institution have just completed a study that has concluded the only way to stabilize the climate is to reduce carbon emissions to a near-zero level:
In the study, to be published in Geophysical Research Letters, climate scientists Ken Caldeira and Damon Matthews used an Earth system model at the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology to simulate the response of the Earth’s climate to different levels of carbon dioxide emission over the next 500 years. ~snip~

The scientists investigated how much climate changes as a result of each individual emission of carbon dioxide, and found that each increment of emission leads to another increment of warming.[...] With emissions set to zero in the simulations, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere slowly fell as carbon “sinks” such as the oceans and land vegetation absorbed the gas. Surprisingly, however, the model predicted that global temperatures would remain high for at least 500 years after carbon dioxide emissions ceased.

In our earlier article, Everything but the Oceans' Sink, we explored the connection between global warming and the inability of the Southern Ocean to absorb C02. Caldeira and Matthews' study further points to the connection between carbon sinks and the impact on climate stability.
Matthews and Caldeira found that to prevent the Earth from heating further, carbon dioxide emissions would, effectively, need to be eliminated.

“It is just not that hard to solve the technological challenges,” [Caldeira] says. “We can develop and deploy wind turbines, electric cars, and so on, and live well without damaging the environment. The future can be better than the present, but we have to take steps to start kicking the CO2 habit now, so we won't need to go cold turkey later.”
Whilst it is easy say it's not hard, it is difficult when an entire world's transportation and financial system is built upon fossil fuels. This includes the hungry populations of emerging nations like China and India that want their chance at the riches the West has enjoyed since the 1950's.

Caldeira and Matthew's study does point out the danger if we don't find a way to wean ourselves cabon emitting fossil fuels. It is not clear how their findings will lead to a quicker implementation of zero emission policies, at least before it becomes clear to everyone that cold turkey is the only answer.

Journal reference: Matthews, H. D., and K. Caldeira (2008), Stabilizing climate requires near-zero emissions, Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1029/2007GL032388, in press. Adapted from materials provided by Carnegie Institution (2008, February 18). Stabilizing Climate Requires Near-zero Carbon Emissions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 1, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­.