So says Ray Pierrehumbert (right), professor of geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago, speaking before graduate students at the Lutheran School of Theology. I'll loosely quote/paraphrase tonight's talk:
Fossil fuels have forbidden fruit written all over them.
We are basically undoing the cycle which involves the burial of carbon for hundreds of millions of years. We’re liberating that carbon. No organic process can tap into that and oxidize it. We have become more than a force of nature. We humans are nature, a force of geology...
We are literally setting the kind of climate for pretty much rest of the history of the human species. Managing these next few generations is very critical in terms of our stewardship, what kind of environment we bequeath to future generations.
This natural carbon cycle that regulates our climate…ticks along with something like 1/10 of a gigaton of carbon a year. How does human fossil fuel stack up against that?
Last year carbon coming from fossil fuel was 8 gigatons.
CO2 is not like other pollutants where you can take a wait-and-see attitude. Unlike acid rain where it wil stop within weeks of cleaning up power plants, carbon dioxide is only removed slowly.
The Northwest Passage was clear from May to September 2007 for the 1st time in known history.
There are 400 molecules per million of CO2 in atmosphere versus 200 a century ago. Things are happening in sea ice faster than models predict.
A heat wave near 2100 would be 35 degress Fahrenheit warmer than in the year 2000. That would be 135 degress F in Chicago. It would hit the poorest the hardest.
While there have been mass extinctions over hundreds of millions of years, now we’re at the stage where the next big crash will not be externally. It will be internally, if we let it happen.
Who is more defenseless than our descendants 1,000 yrs from now who have no say in what we do?
A person in China puts out 2/10 of a ton of carbon per year. 1/10 is too much to be sustainable but it still buys time. France: 1.6 tons/year. Average U.S. person is 5.5 tons per year.
Even if we don’t manage to get our acts together to prevent the doubling of carbon dioxide, we need to prevent the quadrupling. For the next 400 years there will still be a chance to do something to make life better for subsequent generations. There's no point at which you should despair.
A lot of things we do with energy are material substitutes for human interactions. What uses less carbon than sitting around playing guitar and singing songs?
Every pound you take out of that 5 tons will resound throughout the ages. There’s a long way to go, a lot of opportunity for virtue:
Reducing personal carbon emissions is almost an act of devotion. It’s like putting a brick in a cathedral. We’re working on a spiritual edifice we’re leaving for the future.
It’s not really a matter of guilt; it’s a matter of virtue.