Main climate

Main climate

Scientists have warned that avoiding dangerous climate change this century will require steep cuts in carbon dioxide emissions. New energy-efficient or carbon-free technologies can help, but what about the power plants, cars, trucks, and other fossil-fuel-burning devices already in operation? Unless forced into early retirement, they will emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for decades to come. Will their emissions push carbon dioxide levels beyond prescribed limits, regardless of what we build next? Is there already too much inertia in the system to curb climate change? Not just yet, say scientists Steven Davis and Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology. But to avoid the worst impacts we need to get busy building the next generation of clean energy technologies.

Davis and Caldeira, with colleague Damon Matthews of Concordia University in Montreal, calculated the amount of carbon dioxide expected to be released from existing energy infrastructure worldwide, and then used a global climate model to project its effect on the Earth’s atmosphere and climate.

“The problem of climate change has tremendous inertia,” says Davis. “Some of this inertia relates to the natural carbon cycle, but there is also inertia in the manmade infrastructure that emits CO2 and other greenhouse gases. We asked a hypothetical question: what if we never built another CO2-emitting device, but the ones already in existence lived out their normal lives?”

Advertisements