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Jan 292009

By John DeFore
Green Right Now

President Obama may be moving swiftly to turn his environmental campaign pledges into official policy, but even a miraculous transformation of our behavior at this point would be too late to stop some effects that are “basically irreversible,” according to statements made by climate scientists this week.

In a press teleconference held in advance of the publication of their research, the scientists said that, contrary to what many laymen and policymakers assume, the earth’s temperature would not return to normal even if carbon emissions were cut to zero tomorrow — not in 100 years, not in 200 years, and probably not within this millennium.

“I don’t think that the very long time scale of the persistence of these effects has been understood,” the report’s lead author Susan Solomon, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told the Associated Press.

The “effects” she referred to are climate change effects already in play — melting ice sheets, expansion of the ocean, changes in global rainfall patterns.

She pointed out that one factor slowing global temperature rise, the ocean’s ability to absorb heat, will also keep heat around if and when the greenhouse effect is reined in. She also noted that carbon dioxide, which is responsible for around half of global warming, remains in the air for hundreds of years as opposed to other, more rapidly degrading gases.

Solomon, who has been a leader on the International Panel on Climate Change, led a team of international scientists to produce the report on the long-term effects of global warming. It is due to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Solomon and scientists not involved in the report — like Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Arizona, who described the paper as “quite important, not alarmist, and very important for the current debates on climate policy” — all emphasized that its findings were one more reason to act immediately to turn debate over carbon emissions into action.

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