Expert sees long legacy in emissions
By Jim Erickson, Rocky Mountain News
July 19, 2005
Even if carbon dioxide emissions were magically cut to zero today, future generations will feel the heat.
Because heat-trapping carbon dioxide gas lingers in the air for a century or more, our descendents will feel the effects of global warming even if dramatic steps are taken now to reduce emissions, said Susan Solomon, a Boulder atmospheric scientist.
"It's important to appreciate what our contributions to climate change imply, not just for our own lifetime but for our children and our grandchildren," said Solomon, who works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Humans pump the equivalent of about 7 billion tons of carbon into the air each year in the form of carbon dioxide. Fossil-fuel combustion and deforestation are the main sources.
Even if all new emissions could be blocked - an obvious impossibility - it would take about a century to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide to levels that existed in 1975, Solomon and French colleague Pierre Friedlingstein report this week in "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."
Under this imaginary zero-emissions scenario, the remaining carbon dioxide would increase global temperatures about half a degree Fahrenheit over the next 30 years, according to the report, which relied on computer climate models.
The world's oceans, which are slow to respond to increased air temperatures, would add to the ongoing warming.
Solomon is best known for identifying the process that produces the Antarctic ozone hole.
She is one of two co-chairs of Working Group 1 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Established by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations in 1988, the panel periodically assesses the latest climate research and advises policymakers on the likely effects of climate change.
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