Are We Really Past the Point of No Return on Climate? Scientists Respond To Controversial New Study
The study, published in Scientific Reports Thursday, was conducted by two researchers at the BI Norwegian Business School. They used the ESCIMO climate model to determine that, even if emissions ceased tomorrow, the permafrost would continue to thaw for hundreds of years.
"According to our models, humanity is beyond the point-of-no-return when it comes to halting the melting of permafrost using greenhouse gas cuts as the single tool," lead author and professor emeritus of climate strategy Jorgen Randers told AFP. "If we want to stop this melting process we must do something in addition – for example, suck CO2 out of the atmosphere and store it underground, and make Earth's surface brighter."
However, other scientists have pointed to the simplicity of the model Randers and his colleague Ulrich Goluke used and cautioned against misinterpreting their findings as a reason to give up on climate action.
"This paper clearly may be cited in support of a misleading message that it is now 'too late' to avoid catastrophic climate change, which would have the potential to cause unnecessary despair," University of Exeter climate scientist professor Richard Betts said in response. "However, the study is nowhere near strong enough to make such a frightening message credible."
So what exactly does the study say? The researchers used their model to see what would happen by 2500 if emissions stopped today and if they slowly declined to zero by 2100, as AFP explained. In the first scenario, temperatures would still rise to around 2.3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels within the next 50 years, taper off, then rise again starting in 2150. By 2500, the world would be around three degrees Celsius warmer and sea levels would rise by around three meters (approximately 9.8 feet). In the second, temperature and sea level rise would end up in the same place, but the temperature increase would be much faster.
The reason for the persistent increase comes from three feedback loops, the model found.
- The melting of sea ice, which means that the sun's heat is absorbed into the darker ocean instead of reflected back by the bright ice.
- The thawing of permafrost, which releases more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
- Increased moisture in the atmosphere, which in turn raises temperatures.
The only way to have prevented runaway climate change would have been to have stopped burning fossil fuels between 1960 and 1970, the model found, as USA TODAY reported. In order to stop temperatures and sea levels from rising now, we would have to remove at least 33 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year starting this one.
The study authors were the first to admit their findings were limited to one model.
"We encourage other model builders to explore our discovery in their (bigger) models, and report on their findings," they wrote.
However, Betts noted that their model was not the model used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and did not realistically simulate how the climate works.
Penn State University meteorologist Michael Mann agreed. He told USA TODAY that it was not very complex and did not accurately reproduce atmospheric and ocean circulation systems.
"While such models can be useful for conceptual inferences, their predictions have to be taken with great skepticism. Far more realistic climate models that do resolve the large-scale dynamics of the ocean, atmosphere and carbon cycle, do NOT produce the dramatic changes these authors argue for based on their very simplified model," he said. "It must be taken not just with a grain of salt, but a whole salt-shaker worth of salt."
That said, even the models used by the IPCC show that we will need to draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to reach the Paris agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, even if we achieve zero emissions by 2050.
"What the study does draw attention to is that reducing global carbon emissions to zero by 2050 is just the start of our actions to deal with climate change," University College London climate professor Mark Maslin said in response.
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- Redwoods are the world's tallest trees.
- Now scientists have discovered they are even bigger than we thought.
- Using laser technology they map the 80-meter giants.
- Trees are a key plank in the fight against climate change.
They are among the largest trees in the world, descendants of forests where dinosaurs roamed.
Pixabay / Simi Luft<p><span>Until recently, measuring these trees meant scaling their 80 meter high trunks with a tape measure. Now, a team of scientists from University College London and the University of Maryland uses advanced laser scanning, to create 3D maps and calculate the total mass.</span></p><p>The results are striking: suggesting the trees <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">may be as much as 30% larger than earlier measurements suggested.</a> Part of that could be due to the additional trunks the Redwoods can grow as they age, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a process known as reiteration</a>.</p>
New 3D measurements of large redwood trees for biomass and structure. Nature / UCL<p>Measuring the trees more accurately is important because carbon capture will probably play a key role in the battle against climate change. Forest <a href="https://www.wri.org/blog/2020/09/carbon-sequestration-natural-forest-regrowth" target="_blank">growth could absorb billions of tons</a> of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year.</p><p>"The importance of big trees is widely-recognised in terms of carbon storage, demographics and impact on their surrounding ecosystems," the authors wrote<a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank"> in the journal Nature</a>. "Unfortunately the importance of big trees is in direct proportion to the difficulty of measuring them."</p><p>Redwoods are so long lived because of their ability to <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cope with climate change, resist disease and even survive fire damage</a>, the scientists say. Almost a fifth of their volume may be bark, which helps protect them.</p>
Carbon Capture Champions<p><span>Earlier research by scientists at Humboldt University and the University of Washington found that </span><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378112716302584" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Redwood forests store almost 2,600 tonnes of carbon per hectare</a><span>, their bark alone containing more carbon than any other neighboring species.</span></p><p>While the importance of trees in fighting climate change is widely accepted, not all species enjoy the same protection as California's coastal Redwoods. In 2019 the world lost the equivalent of <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation-and-forest-degradation" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30 soccer fields of forest cover every minute</a>, due to agricultural expansion, logging and fires, according to The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).</p>
Pixabay<p>Although <a href="https://c402277.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/publications/1420/files/original/Deforestation_fronts_-_drivers_and_responses_in_a_changing_world_-_full_report_%281%29.pdf?1610810475" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the rate of loss is reported to have slowed in recent years</a>, reforesting the world to help stem climate change is a massive task.</p><p><span>That's why the World Economic Forum launched the Trillion Trees Challenge (</span><a href="https://www.1t.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1t.org</a><span>) and is engaging organizations and individuals across the globe through its </span><a href="https://uplink.weforum.org/uplink/s/uplink-issue/a002o00000vOf09AAC/trillion-trees" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Uplink innovation crowdsourcing platform</a><span> to support the project.</span></p><p>That's backed up by research led by ETH Zurich/Crowther Lab showing there's potential to restore tree coverage across 2.2 billion acres of degraded land.</p><p>"Forests are critical to the health of the planet," according to <a href="https://www.1t.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1t.org</a>. "They sequester carbon, regulate global temperatures and freshwater flows, recharge groundwater, anchor fertile soil and act as flood barriers."</p><p><em data-redactor-tag="em" data-verified="redactor">Reposted with permission from the </em><span><em data-redactor-tag="em" data-verified="redactor"><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/03/redwoods-store-more-co2-and-are-more-enormous-than-we-thought/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em></span></p>
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