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Biofuels and Irreversible Climate Change

February 6, 2009
Last week, the paper Irreversible climate change because of carbon dioxide emissions was published in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The article received coverage on the airwaves, blogosphere, and in the traditional media.

Susan Solomon, the lead author on the paper was interviewed by NPR,

"We're used to thinking about pollution problems as things that we can fix," Solomon says. "Smog, we just cut back and everything will be better later. Or haze, you know, it'll go away pretty quickly."

"People have imagined that if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide that the climate would go back to normal in 100 years or 200 years. What we're showing here is that's not right. It's essentially an irreversible change that will last for more than a thousand years," Solomon says.

But David, blogging for Real Climate says take heart and don't despair,

So in terms of its intended rhetorical association, Unstoppable = Burn Baby Burn. But let’s not confuse Irreversible with Unstoppable. One means no turning back, while the other means no slowing down. They are very different words. Despair not!

It’s further emissions we need to worry about. Climate change is like a ratchet, which we wind up by releasing CO2. Once we turn the crank, there's no easy turning back to the natural climate. But we can still decide to stop turning the crank, and the sooner the better.

Solomon, appears to agree. The New York Times quotes Solomon as saying,

So if we slow it down,” she said, “we have more time to find solutions.”

So we have to find a way to slow it down, by coming up with alternative sources of fuel and so on. This is where biofuels come in. There has been some debate in this blog over carbon debt and cellulosic ethanol, particularly after the release of the Searchinger paper in Science. (See previous posts having to do with Searchinger)

The fact is,production of biofuels is sustainable and can help reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and help supply our current and future energy needs.

Switching to biofuels for our energy needs, just might be able to buy us the time that we need to figure out a solution to one of the world's most difficult problems.