The Viridian Design Movement

Viridian Note 00297: The Persistence Problem

Bruce Sterling []

Key Concepts: Greenhouse effect, trend persistence, climate change, next two hundred years

Attention Conservation Notice: May cause feelings of fatalistic dread.


(((The subject of this Note: the grim idea that the Greenhouse has been brewing for decade on end, and will come down upon us like the slow grinding of continents, no matter what steps we may take == this idea got a certain amount of elliptical discussion at the Greenhouse panel at the Davos Forum. Here were the issue's Great and the Good, from the IPCC and the Pew Foundation, and they got this kind of look on their faces as they diplomatically described this prospect... This kind of resigned, cross-we-bear expression.... "I wonder who will break this difficult concept to the benighted masses... maybe they're so dumb that they'll never catch on.")))

Source: Georgia Institute of Technology press release

Public release date: 17-Feb-2002

Jane M. Sanders 404-894-2214 Georgia Institute of Technology

"Global warming will persist at least a century even if emissions curbed now

"Though significant uncertainty remains regarding the amount of global warming that will occur over the next century or two, scientists agree that the trend will continue for the next hundred years even if fossil fuel consumption is dramatically reduced. (((Let's put it this way: the human race is screwed. Better yet: even if the Space Brothers arrive in UFOs and carry off every last one of us, the planet is still screwed.)))

"Scientists predict significant increases in global temperature and sea level this century. And related changes in weather patterns are expected to affect agricultural production. Global warming is likely to have the greatest human impact in poor countries unable to adequately respond to the changes. (((Or, in English: "lots of poor people will starve.")))

"Professor Robert Dickinson of the Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences will present the evidence behind this assessment at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on Feb. 17 in Boston. Dickinson's presentation, titled 'Predicting Climate Change," is part of the symposium "Climate Change: Integrating Science, Economics and Policy.' (((Presumably Dickinson indeed delivered this presentation at the AAAS; I wasn't there. I wonder what it would take to get a whole room full of scientists to run screaming into the streets of Boston.)))

"'Current climate models can indicate the general nature of climate change for the next 100 to 200 years,' Dickinson says. 'But the effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) that have been released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels last for at least 100 years. That means that any reductions in CO2 that are expected to be possible over this period will not result in a cleaner atmosphere and less global warming than we see today for at least a century.' (((Oh well. We'll just hold our breath till the unpleasantness is over.)))

"Climate models indicate temperature increases of 3 to more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit this century and a sea level rise of 6 inches to nearly 3 feet. (...)

"'Given enough time, there may be as many winners as losers. However, many of the losers will be very unhappy, such as people who live on islands that will be put under water,' Dickinson says. (((I do like the idea that at least some people will be overjoyed at global warming; I sure hope they are hospitable.))) 'It will take a lot of time for humans to adjust their systems to these changes. The biggest problem is the speed at which global warming is occurring.

"'If it were happening over 1,000 years, rather than 100 years, it would hardly be noticed. But we're talking about fairly large changes within the next generation. We're talking about people with houses on the beach having to move. The U.S. is fairly resilient, and people can move. But in Bangladesh and other low-elevation areas with few resources, there will be severe difficulties.'

(...) "The global temperature has increased more rapidly in the past 10 years, but the changes are more dramatic in high latitudes perhaps because of natural variability, Dickinson explains.

(...) "Much research is yet to be done regarding climate change, but Dickinson believes policymakers can already glean some guidance from the evidence he will cite in his presentation at AAAS. That evidence will come from research at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, where Dickinson worked for 21 years, as well as his current research and the 2001 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"For example, enough data exists to develop mitigation and adaptation plans regarding greenhouse gases, Dickinson says. Mitigation involves strategies for reducing greenhouse gases or changing other factors to compensate for them (a fairly new concept). Reductions can involve both consuming lesser amounts of fossil fuels and also finding ways to capture the gases and put them in places other than the atmosphere. The latter approach is called sequestration and is part of a U.S. Department of Energy research initiative.

"'The only way to stop the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is to reduce CO2 emissions to 20 to 30 percent of today's levels,' Dickinson says. 'This may require a similar reduction in the consumption of fossil fuels. I believe we will eventually achieve that goal, but it will probably take 100 years. (...)

"'We have to move our energy systems to forms other than fossil fuels. And when I say we, I don't just mean the United States. The U.S. is the biggest user of fossil fuels, but China and India are likely to surpass the U.S. in the next 50 years, and China may surpass the U.S. in the next decade."

For technical information, contact: Robert Dickinson, 404-385-1509, or E-mail:

(((This puts "sequestration" into a rather new light. The problem is not about your world-shattering behavior == it's about getting rid of evil gases that your grandfather put up there.

(((What if people give up using fossil fuels, then also begin violently and rapidly sucking greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere? Suppose that, driven by increasing havoc, they engage in massive sequestration programs around, say 2050. They yank the levels of pollutants back to the pre-industrial atmosphere of 1750, within a decade. What would that activity do to the climate? I wonder if anyone has ever modelled that.)))

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