From: Oregon State University/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Published February 9, 2016 09:12 AM

Are we impacting the future of our planet for thousands of years?

The Earth may suffer irreversible damage that could last tens of thousands of years because of the rate humans are emitting carbon into the atmosphere.

In a new study in Nature Climate Change, researchers at Oregon State University, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and collaborating institutions found that the longer-term impacts of climate change go well past the 21st century.

“Much of the carbon we are putting in the air from burning fossil fuels will stay there for thousands of years — and some of it will be there for more than 100,000 years,” said Peter Clark, an Oregon State University paleoclimatologist and lead author on the article. “People need to understand that the effects of climate change on the planet won’t go away, at least not for thousands of generations.”

LLNL’s Benjamin Santer said the focus on climate change at the end of the 21st century needs to be shifted toward a much longer-term perspective.

“Our greenhouse gas emissions today produce climate-change commitments for many centuries to come,” Santer said. “Today’s actions — or inaction — will have long-term climate consequences for generations of our descendants.”

“The long-term view sends the chilling message what the real risks and consequences are of the fossil fuel era,” said Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern in Switzerland, who is past co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Working Group I. “It will commit us to massive adaptation efforts so that for many, dislocation and migration becomes the only option.”

Sea level rise is one of the most noticeable impacts of global warming, yet its effects are just starting to be seen, according to the article. The latest IPCC report calls for sea level rise of one meter by the year 2100. In the new study, however, the authors look at four different sea level-rise scenarios based on different rates of warming, from a low rate that could only be reached with massive efforts to eliminate fossil fuel use over the next few decades, to a higher rate based on the consumption of half the remaining fossil fuels over the next few centuries.

Jet landing image via Shutterstock.

Read more at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

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