Wednesday, October 12, 2011
South Mudd 365
Environmental Science and Engineering Seminar
Climate Change and the End of Exponential Growth
Pieter Tans, Senior Research Scientist, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
In the public non-scientific debate that is ongoing in the United States about climate change a few important and well established facts are often forgotten. They are: 1. The observed increases of long-lived greenhouse gases are entirely due to human activities. 2. The partial absorption of Earths radiation to space, cooling the Earth, by greenhouse gases is known. 3. Many of the greenhouse gases will remain in the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years. 4. Physics and chemistry tell us that we should expect to see warming, and we have. 5. There are important feedback mechanisms in the climate system, from well known to poorly known, that could amplify the climate effect of human emissions. Therefore, man-made global climate change is a clear manifestation that we have reached limits of resource consumption by our species, and that continuing business-as-usual has a substantial chance of destroying our civilization. It is likely that fossil fuel resources will not remain cheap for much longer, with high energy prices becoming an impediment to development. Vigorous policies to decrease our rapidly dependence on fossil fuels are necessary to continue enabling development and to safeguard it by reducing the risk of catastrophic climate change.