By tamping C/CO2 emissions, what is it we hope to achieve?

It could otherwise be called the race to net-zero or net-negative airborne emissions of carbon/carbon dioxide (C/CO2), specifically the part or amount put there by us.

The idea behind achieving baseline or below-baseline atmospheric C/CO2 that’s been anthropogenically introduced through fossil fuel-burning activities, experts are telling us, is to restore balance or equilibrium to the air but pretty much exclusively in that regard, just to be clear.

The real question is: Does the air carbon/carbon dioxide-wise need balancing, equilibrating? Well, the answer to that really depends on what you’re position is on the effect the rise in concentration of atmospheric C/CO2 is having or could be having sometime off into the future.

What we know

We know the last major ice age began about 20,000 years ago and lasted approximately 10,000 years, give or take. Since that time average temperature at the Earth’s surface has more or less stabilized. Based on previous documented evidence, the Earth goes through a period of warming followed (or led by) a cooling-down phase (depending on how you look at things), a process that not only repeats approximately every 100,000 years but this pattern has been established over at least the past 800,000 years (these periods are known as the Interglacials and Glacials, respectively), with the global mean surface temperature (GMST) swing ranging from a low of -8 below to as much as 2 degrees Celsius above what is considered baseline or normal.

Also known is that occurring alongside all Interglacial/Glacial cycles, at least those going back some 800 millennia anyway from the present time, are for all intents and purposes corresponding drops and jumps in both atmospheric carbon/carbon dioxide and methane.

Data have also revealed that since from about the time of the Industrial Revolution’s introduction in 1750 to the present day GMST has risen approximately 1.1 degrees Celsius (1.9 degrees Fahrenheit) and the concentration of CO2 in the air has climbed from about 280 parts per million (ppm) to, as reported by one source,* a high of 417.1 ppm in May of last year.

So, are these two events – GMST rise (change) and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration rise (change) – related? In other words, is there a direct connection and, if so, and many agree there is, which precedes which? If not already known definitively then determining that can hold answers to many known unknowns.

All of this aside and regardless of what your position may be on a C/CO2 change influencing a corresponding change in GMST and vice versa, the question of the hour is what harm could there possibly be in trying to significantly lower the amount of carbon/carbon dioxide humans are responsible for putting in the atmosphere each year – that currently standing at about 10 billion tons (10 gigatons)/40 billion tons (40 gigatons)?** Again, this is dependent really on what the overarching accepted world view is on matters related to such, but also on the knowledge pertaining to natural climatic variations and cycles, and on phenomena like orbital forcing and aphelion and perihelion; we certainly can’t omit or forget about those.

While we’re at it, we may all want to ask ourselves what if we just left well enough alone, or, in other words, to embrace and maintain a “business-as-usual” position on this? What if? The question then becomes: Are we willing to take that risk?

If, in the other hand, we decide that the best course of action is one of erring on the side of caution, planetary/human protection/preservation or if we collectively decide if in our attempt to lower said emissions, emissions-lowering is just being done for emissions-lowering sake and that’s all, we’ll, regardless, at the end of the day and at the very least, there seems nothing that stands to be lost and potentially there is much to be gained, like possibly GMST stabilization if not outright normalization.

This, I firmly believe, is what the world is still up in the air, and in some cases even up in arms, over. A matter that has yet to be fully resolved, for sure.

* Kolbert, Elizabeth, “Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future,” 2021, p. 153

** Ibid, p. 158

– Alan Kandel

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