Matt Huber, a climate modeler at Purdue University who has spent most of his career trying to understand the PETM, has also tried to forecast what might happen if humans choose to burn off all the fossil fuel deposits. Huber uses a climate model, developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, that is one of the least sensitive to carbon dioxide. The results he gets are still infernal. In what he calls his "reasonable best guess at a bad scenario" (his worst case is the "global-burn scenario"), regions where half the human population now lives become almost unbearable. In much of China, India, southern Europe, and the United States, summer temperatures would average well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, night and day, year after year.
Climate scientists don't often talk about such grim long-term forecasts, Huber says, in part because skeptics, exaggerating scientific uncertainties, are always accusing them of alarmism. "We've basically been trying to edit ourselves," Huber says. "Whenever we see something really bad, we tend to hold off. The middle ground is actually much worse than people think.
"If we continue down this road, there really is no uncertainty. We're headed for the Eocene. And we know what that's like."
[...]it isn’t the rate of CO2 pollution that matters, it’s the cumulative total emissions; much of the emitted carbon dioxide (about one third of it) will hang around in the atmosphere for at least 50 or 100 years. If we accept the ethical idea that “the polluter should pay” then we should ask how big is each country’s historical footprint. The next picture shows each country’s cumulative emissions of CO2, expressed as an average emission rate over the period 1880–2004.
Congratulations, Britain! The UK has made it onto the winners’ podium. We may be only an average European country today, but in the table of historical emitters, per capita, we are second only to the USA.
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