Dan Schrag, Harvard University Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment and Scientific advisor for President Obama recently explained that “the situation of climate change is much scarier and darker than we want to acknowledge”.
This graph shows the CO2 concentration (parts per million) in the atmosphere starting 400 thousand years ago to present time. We have data from ice cores dating back 400,000 years, and never in the history of the planet we have observed more than 300 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Today we are over 350 ppm. Schrag predicts that we will hit 400 ppm by 2014. Eventually we will hit 500 ppm, 600 ppm, and probably more, the question is when, not if, and what will the limit be?
Furthermore, these changes in the atmosphere are happening 400 times faster than ever before. Which makes the consequences even more unpredictable.
Another key point to consider is the enormous cumulative power of greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane. If we completely stopped dumping CO2 and methane into the atmosphere today, there would already be enough to last thousands of years. The emissions we put up today will stick around for a long time.
This large time scale problem is precisely why reducing emissions will just not be enough if we want to solve the problem of climate change. According to Schrag “we need to stop using fossil fuels and have Zero carbon emissions if we want to fight climate change”.
The current CO2 concentrations and speed at which they are increasing has never been observed before in the history of the earth. Who knows what the consequences will be, but they have the potential of being catastrophic beyond our imagination.
But how do we shift away from burning coal, oil, and natural gas? According to Schrag “alternative energies need to be financially competitive in order to eliminate our dependence in fossil fuels”. Electric cars need to be more efficient, cheaper and faster. That’s when consumers will switch to more responsible vehicles, not before.
Schrag also argued that governments have a very hard time dealing with climate change in a long time scale. Politicians mostly think in short time frames, and sometimes lack the motivation to invest in long-term goals.
In the economic and political establishment’s minds, fossil fuels are still imperative to the health of our economy and societal structures. Schrag brought up an analogy made by professor Andy Hoffman between fossil fuels and slavery. “Slavery in North America was seen as an economic issue. It was believed to be crucial for the economic and social structure of the country. It was just like fossil fuels not seen as a moral issue, but purely economical”.
Will future generations see our current use of fossil fuels as horrific, irresponsible and narrow minded? No doubt.
As Schrag described, “we do have the obligation of not compromising the capability of future generations to have similar or more freedoms than we have now”.
If we really care about our future generations we have to act now. Before it’s too late and the climate change bomb explodes in front of our children and grand children’s faces .We owe it to them.