In barely a week of work, President Obama's made it clear he's dead serious about doing something to combat climate change—unfortunately, it might not change anything for a long, long time. A new study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and commissioned by the Department of Energy shows that carbon emissions will probably stay trapped in climate systems for thousands of years. Even if we cut emissions now, a warming world is likely irreversible.
“Our study convinced us that current choices regarding carbon dioxide emissions will have legacies that will irreversibly change the planet,” said (lead researcher Susan) Solomon. "People have imagined that if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide the climate would go back to normal in 100 years, 200 year—that's not true."
Oceans have helped absorb some of the excess heat caused by global warming, but they're likely to release that back into the atmosphere eventually. Rising temperatures will likely decrease rain output in parts of dry areas of southern Europe, North America, Africa, and Australia, which could lead to decreasing human water supplies, increased fire frequency, ecosystem change and expanded deserts.
That doesn't mean we should tear out our hair, buy a lot of sunblock, and chuck Obama's climate-change initiatives out the window: Limiting carbon output can help keep the carbon problem from getting worse.
So keep changing lightbulbs, riding your bike to work, and going green—if only for the sake of your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandchildren.
(To learn more about how you can de-carbon your life, check out BACKPACKER's Green Scene blog.)