A probing exploration of the impact of climate change over geological time.
Stager (Paleoecology/Paul Smith Coll.) takes the long view of global climate change. Most popular discussions of the subject look only at the next century or so, ignoring the question of what happens after the current generation is gone from the scene. Carbon dioxide pumped into the air by burning fossil fuels will be around thousands or hundred of thousands of years from now, and the effects will occur on a similar time scale. Ice-sheet collapse and sea-level rise will likely take place gradually enough to allow coastal residents to adjust—decades, if not centuries. Comparison with past warm episodes, notably the Eemian interglacial, 130,000 years ago, gives perspective. Different latitudes will feel results unequally—much discussion has focused on polar icecaps, but tropical climates will feel the impact as well. As some regions become drier, others may experience more rainfall. Stager examines both moderate and extreme scenarios, depending on the degree of carbon release. The impact may even be benign in some regions. Greenland may become a temperate climate, while much of Europe faces rising sea levels. Warming isn’t the only long-term issue. Acidification of the oceans, a chemical reaction caused by dissolved carbon dioxide, is likely to harm many aquatic species. Many animals that survived past episodes of climate change by moving are now endangered because of human settlements in their way. A key point is that humanity has the ability to moderate the release of carbon, shaping the long-range impact on climate. While we are already past the point where significant global warming can be prevented, the author points out that cutting carbon now preserves some for a future era when its release could help prevent another ice age—a global disaster every bit as threatening to the human race as warming.