Thursday, October 30, 2008

David Archer's "The Long Thaw"

David Archer is professor of geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago, the author of Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast, and a frequent contributor to the weblog RealClimate.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Long Thaw: How Humans are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my new book, The Long Thaw: How Humans are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate, happens to be blank, so I will not be quoting it extensively here, although it is in fact a profound and pivotal page in the book. Page 99 is the turning point between a discussion of past and present climate changes in the first two sections of the book, and predictions for the deep future in the third and final section. The stuff in the first two sections is also fairly commonly treated in climate change books, whereas we head into new science after page 99.

Popular books on global warming present it as a century-timescale issue, if the question comes up at all. This is in part a case of shortsightedness, due to our own tragically limited life spans, but also due to a few unfortunate mistakes in the Summaries for Policymakers produced as part of the IPCC Climate Change Scientific Assessment Reports. As I explain after the reader has crossed the fateful page 99, CO2 from fossil fuel combustion will continue to affect the climate of the Earth for hundreds of thousands of years, into the almost unimaginable future.

Many aspects of the Earth system, such as ice sheets and sea level, respond slowly to climate changes, so their responses will be much stronger over the very long haul. The response of sea level to climate changes in the geologic past lead us to conclude that ultimately we could flood the continents by tens of meters, significantly reducing the carrying capacity of the Earth. Fossil fuels have been accumulating on Earth for a hundred million years; we could blow through them in a century, and the climate impact would outlast all of our other works.
Read an excerpt from The Long Thaw, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Visit David Archer's webpage and read his blog posts at RealClimate.

--Marshal Zeringue