Reducing fossil fuel emissions a long term goal


Jim Sakolosky

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A recent letter to the editor criticized Elizabeth City Council for not endorsing the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The writer contends it is unwise to spend dollars to reduce the effects of climate change because even if global carbon emissions are eliminated today, global temperature would be reduced by “less than 0.4 degrees Celsius by 2100.”

The writer misses the point of efforts to reduce fossil fuel emissions. Those efforts are not aimed at reducing temperature in the short term (i.e., 50-100 years). It is too late for that. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is persistent. It takes a very long time to dissipate. Some dissolves in the ocean, which takes decades to hundreds of years. Dissipation by other means takes thousands of years or longer.

Efforts to reduce fossil fuel emissions are aimed at limiting the on-going increase in global temperature. It will take decades to phase out fossil fuels.

Under these circumstances, asking “how much will temperature decrease by 2100 if fossil fuels are eliminated today” is the wrong question. A more pertinent one is “to what extent can temperature increase be limited during the phase out.”

As long as fossil fuels continue to be burned, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will continue to increase, causing temperature to continue to rise. Climate scientists agree that limiting the amount of increase can avoid the most devastating effects of climate change. The signers of the Paris Accord (which now includes all countries of the world except the United States under President Trump), established a goal of limiting the average increase in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Jim Sakolosky

Elizabeth City