Greenhouse gas emissions from today will greatly affect our descendants for at least 1000 years.
"In 1000 years, between 15 and 40 per cent of the CO2 we emit today will still be left in the atmosphere," says Professor Anders Hammer Strømman at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).
"We are talking about effects 30 generations ahead. This is something people need to take to heart now."
It doesn’t stop with 30 generations either. The effects of our actions today will be measurable for longer than that.
The content of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere grew stronger over the past decade than ever before.
"It is time to wake up," says the climate researcher.
Hammer Strømman is co-author of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that will be presented 13 April. Here, the researchers will present several possible solutions to mitigate climate change. Hammer Strømman is a professor at the Department of Energy and Process Engineering, Industrial Ecology Programme at NTNU.
"There is no free lunch here either. Nobody is going to solve these problems for us. We can’t sit back and let the politicians take care of it. We all have to make sacrifices."
This means that we have to fly less. Travel less. Buy less. You and me. Not just everyone else.
"We in the Western world are role models for people in India and China. They want the same as we have. That means we need to change our lifestyle," he says.
People in the West have benefited from an increase in living standards, which has largely been driven by a large consumption of fossil fuels.
"We haven’t managed to reverse the trend," he says.
In recent years, emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere increased by about 2 per cent a year. They must instead be reduced by 3 to 6 per cent a year if we are to have any chance of avoiding that the planet heats up more than two degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial times, by the year 2100.
"We already see that this will be very difficult," says Hammer Strømman.
Children born today have a good chance of experiencing the year 2100. It isn’t that far away. The consequences of global warming may be lower food production, ocean acidification, loss of biodiversity, worse weather conditions and poor access to fresh water.
Bioenergy and CCS
For the time being we can’t quote directly from the report, and Hammer Strømman has a role that prohibits him from telling which countermeasures he prefers, but the available literature shows that most researchers agree on some of them.
"All of the overall solution scenarios take bioenergy and carbon capture and storage into the calculations," says Hammer Strømman.
It doesn’t mean that all scientists are agreeing when it comes to details and procedures. It means that these two factors are involved in all the solutions that researchers have found.
But if bioenergy is to become more common, we must find solutions so that the cultivation of biofuel does not come into unnecessary conflict with food production or biodiversity. This requires political solutions.
At the same time: If carbon capture and storage is to become common, it must be profitable to do so. This is also up to the politicians.
"Unfortunately, it isn’t commercially viable to invest in technology for capturing and storing CO2 today," says Hammer Strømman.
It is still too cheap to pollute. If the researchers’ solutions are to have any chance of being implemented, it must become more expensive to pollute than not to. And we must act now.
Must cut fossil fuels
We shouldn’t think that it is enough to just use more renewable energy either.
"Investing in renewable energy is not enough. Consumption of fossil fuels must be reduced," concludes Hammer Strømman.
It helps very little to develop wind and hydroelectric power if we don’t also cut our consumption of fossil fuels.
This might of course be bad news for Norway, a nation dependent on income from petroleum products, unless we begin to invest in renewable energy. Hammer Strømman isn’t in a position where he wants to make a statement on that, though. He still has one clear message:
"The longer we wait, the more expensive it becomes," he warns. "If we continue as we do now, it will only get worse when we try to fix the damage."
Then we need to remove CO2 from the air, with technological solutions that to some extent still don’t exist.
"But if we do something now, it doesn’t have to become that expensive," he concludes.
Materials provided by The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Original written by Steinar Brandslet. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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