Sunday, March 4, 2012

Who Cares About Carbon?

Merely the Living, Really

Carbon symbol from the Periodic Table
 ~ Climate change deniers cannot dispute the evidence that carbon concentrations in the atmosphere are increasing.

Instead, they argue that it doesn't matter because it's happened before. Indeed it has, and that history should give us all pause.

Geologist Bryan Lovell explains:

The beauty of looking in the rock record is you don’t have to run a computer model to see what’s going to happen. You see the whole thing. When you put say 2,000 gigatons [billion tons] or thereby of carbon into the atmosphere rapidly a certain number of things happen. It gets hot. The oceans get acid. They run short of oxygen and as a result quite a number of animals become extinct. And in the rock record what you see subsequently is the extinction event is recorded, and you see the draw-down over a period of 100,000 or 200,000 years of the carbon from the atmosphere, which is manifested on the floor of the ocean as a development of a carbon-rich mudstone. It’s just a very fine-grained rock. It’s just a stinking black mud laid down on the floor of the ocean.

The people who are saying to us, we’re carrying out an experiment with Earth and we don’t really know the outcome, well that sounds dramatic but strictly speaking it’s not true. Earth itself has run the experiment several times — 183 million years ago, something very comparable.

The fascinating thing that seems to be emerging is, as we look at … the 1,000-year timescales going back to 183 million years, other past warming events where we get these black mudstones, we find that whatever the starting conditions, amazingly you get the same outcome. Every time you pull this particular carbon trigger at a certain rate and dump it into the atmosphere, that’s what you get. [Emphasis added]
While most people in a position of any expertise think that carbon emissions in the atmosphere are human-caused, it doesn't really matter. Carbon is carbon, and the damage will be the same. To the extent we can reduce the carbon dumping, however, we can also reduce the impacts.

It is also time to start preparing for the effects of that carbon dumping—rising sea levels, more extreme weather, changing hydrological cycle, acidifying oceans, species extinction. Why do we wait?

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