Scientist James Hansen, lead author of a new study urgently calling for removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, poses next to a mock grave stone declaring “Climate change a matter of life or death” in 2009 in Coventry, England. Hansen, a prominent climate researcher, has dismissed criticisms that his recent papers blur the line between advocacy and research. Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Without ‘negative emissions’ to help return atmospheric CO2 to 350 ppm, future generations could face costs that ‘may become too heavy to bear,’ paper says.
The only way to keep young people from inheriting a world reeling from catastrophic climate change is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions dramatically and immediately, according to a new paper. Not only that, but it’s also necessary to aggressively remove greenhouse gas that’s already accumulated.
“If rapid emission reductions are initiated soon, it is still possible that at least a large fraction of required CO2 extraction can be achieved via relatively natural agricultural and forestry practices with other benefits,” the authors wrote.
“On the other hand, if large fossil fuel emissions are allowed to continue, the scale and cost of industrial CO2 extraction, occurring in conjunction with a deteriorating climate with growing economic effects, may become unmanageable. Simply put, the burden placed on young people and future generations may become too heavy to bear.”
The study’s 12 authors, led by prominent climate scientist James Hansen, the former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, call for bringing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels down to levels not recorded since the 1980s: 350 parts per million, a long standing goal of Hansen’s.
The level is now above 400 ppm, up more than 40 percent since before the Industrial Revolution. Many scientists reckon that 450 ppm is the safe limit to avoid the worst effects of global warming.
The paper, called “Young People’s Burden: Requirement of Negative CO2 Emissions,” was published Tuesday in the journal Earth System Dynamics Discussions.