If we burn all the fossil fuels “not only will the resultant climate change be faster than anything Earth has seen for millions of years, the climate that will exist is likely to have no natural counterpart, as far as we can tell, in at least the last 420 million years.” — Gavin Foster, Professor of Isotope Geochemistry at the University of Southampton
Back in the 1780s as coal-fired smoke stacks sprouted across England to belch their black soot into the hitherto virgin skies of Earth, it’s likely we had not yet an inkling of the vast destruction these dark Satanic Mills were ultimately capable of unleashing:
(Scientists have now found that burning all the fossil fuels through about 2250 could result in conditions that are worse than those that occurred during the Permian Extinction of 252 million years ago. Video source: Catastrophe — The Permian Extinction.)
Svante Arrhenius, by the late 19th Century, had hinted that coal burning might warm the Earth by a tiny bit in a few thousand years. But the very fossils we were digging up and burning at an ever-more-rapid pace warned of a different and far more ominous story (see video above). They hinted of a time when massive volumes of ancient carbon stored in the Earth were released into the atmosphere over the course of thousands of years. And that this release created such hot and toxic conditions that, for most living things, the Earth was no longer habitable.
The Permian-Triassic Extinction of 252 million years ago was the worst hothouse catastrophe that has ever occurred in all of the geological record. It wiped out 96 percent of marine species and more than 70 percent of terrestrial vertebrates. It was the worst of many such hothouse events sparked by rising levels of greenhouse gasses that now serve as a clear warning in the fossil record of the dangers we invite.
Today, after merely 230-odd years and following the emission, by fossil fuel burning, of hundreds of billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere, the Earth has warmed by far more than just a tiny bit. The glaciers are melting, the seas are rising, the corals are bleaching from the heat of it all, and unprecedented (to modern humans) droughts, heatwaves, storms and wildfires are all being unleashed.
(Unsafe at any warming. As of 2014 the world was about 0.8 C hotter than NASA’s 20th Century baseline — which was already hotter than any previous time period in which human civilization existed. By 2016, that line had moved up to 0.98 C hotter than the NASA 20th Century range and 1.2 C hotter than 1880s averages. Image source: Precarious Climate.)
And though climates have changed in the past, the new scientific evidence indicates that what is happening today is clearly unusual:
Scientists can seek to understand past climates by looking at the evidence locked away in rocks, sediments and fossils. What this tells us is that yes, the climate has changed in the past, but the current speed of change is highly unusual. For instance, carbon dioxide hasn’t been added to the atmosphere as rapidly as today for at least the past 66m years.
By burning fossil fuels, we have crossed the threshold into a new age of trouble. But all the present calamity is just a foretaste of how bad things could get if we fail to stop burning the fossil fuels and to halt a great and vastly harmful emission of carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere.
For, according to our best present knowledge, in the Earth there still remains enough fossil carbon to raise the current level of atmospheric CO2 (CO2e) from today’s highly elevated 405 parts per million (493 ppm CO2e) average to over 2,000 parts per million by around 2250. And a new scientific study now confirms that if all this fossilized carbon is burned by then, the amount of heat trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere will become greater than during the worst mass extinction event in the Earth’s deep past (rising by about 10-18 degrees Celsius above 1880s levels).
(The potential and likely global impacts of climate change are bad enough during the 21st Century with between 1.5 and 6 C + warming expected. But if we burn all the fossil fuels, new science indicates that about 10-18 C worth of warming is ultimately possible. Looking at these impacts, what sane person would recommend doing such a thing? Image source: Climate Impacts.)
Unprecedented in 420 Million Years
This new study shows that fossil fuel burning, if it continues, will be enough to produce a warming event that has never happened in all of the past 420 million years by the 23rd Century. From now to then is about the same passage of time that occurred between the 1780s and now. And though humankind and its civilizations are probably capable of surviving the first 230 years of this considerable fossil fuel burning, it is highly doubtful that the same can be said for the next 230 years.
“It is well recognised that the climate today is changing at rates well above the geological norm. If humanity fails to tackle rising CO2 and burns all the readily available fossil fuel, by AD 2250 CO2 will be at around 2000 ppm — levels not seen since 200 million years ago. However, because the Sun was dimmer back then, the net climate forcing 200 million years ago was lower than we would experience in such a high CO2 future. So not only will the resultant climate change be faster than anything Earth has seen for millions of years, the climate that will exist is likely to have no natural counterpart, as far as we can tell, in at least the last 420 million years.”
Hat tip to Wharf Rat
Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs
Hat tip to Mark Oliver
Hat tip to Wili