Burning all fossil fuels would scorch Earth: study

May 23, 2016 by Marlowe Hood
Most of the UN climate science panel's projections for greenhouse gas emissions do not forecast beyond two trillion tonnes of carbon, more than enough to unleash a crippling maelstrom of rising seas, drought, heat waves and floods

Using up all known fossil fuel reserves would render Earth even more unliveable than scientists had previously projected, researchers said on Monday.

Average temperatures would climb by up to 9.5 degrees Celsius (17 degrees Fahrenheit)—five times the cap on global warming set at climate talks in Paris in December, they reported.

In the Arctic region—already heating at more than double the global average—the thermometer would rise an unimaginable 15 C to 20 C.

Burning all known reserves of oil, gas and coal would inject about five trillion tonnes of heat-trapping carbon into the atmosphere, mainly in the form of carbon dioxide, a team wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change.

This number—about ten times the 540 billion tonnes of carbon emitted since the start of industrialisation—would be reached near the end of the 22nd century if fossil fuel trends go unchanged, it added.

Most of the UN climate science panel's projections for do not forecast beyond two trillion tonnes of carbon, more than enough to unleash a crippling maelstrom of rising seas, drought, heat waves and floods.

Indeed, to have a better-than-even chance of holding global warming at 2 C (3.6 F), the total carbon budget—including what has already been released—is about one trillion tonnes, the UN has said.

But extreme modelling scenarios cannot and should not be ignored, said the lead author of the study.

"It is relevant to know what would happen if we do not take actions to mitigate ," Kasia Tokarska, a doctoral student at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, told AFP.

Burning all known reserves of oil, gas and coal would inject about five trillion tonnes of heat-trapping carbon into the atmosphere, mainly in the form of carbon dioxide, a team wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change
High stakes

There was still no guarantee, she pointed out, that the 195 nations which forged the Paris Agreement will deliver on their collective pledge to hold global warming to under 2 C (3.6 F) by cutting back on .

Negotiators reconvened in Bonn this week to start turning the landmark political deal into an operational plan, but have found themselves bogged down in procedural discussions.

"Policymakers need to have a clear view of what is at stake... if no meaningful climate policies are put in place," said Thomas Frolicher, an expert on environmental physics at the science and technology university ETH Zurich, in a comment on the study.

Previous research had projected that Earth's temperature rise would slow down once the level of two trillion tonnes is reached—beyond that threshold, the impact of additional carbon diminishes.

Using up-to-date climate models, however, Tokarska and colleagues showed that much of this work had over-estimated the oceans' capacity to absorb the CO2 humans pumped into the air, along with the additional heat it generates.

"The ocean takes up heat more slowly under those conditions," offsetting the slowdown in , she explained by email.

Older models had projected that depleting fossil fuel reserves entirely would heat the planet by 4.3 C to 8.4 C. The new study revises this to between 6.4 C and 9.5 C.

And there's another wild card.

Even if humanity manages to drastically curb its use of oil, gas and coal, Nature could add massive amounts of greenhouse gases all by itself, scientists warn.

Hundreds of billions of tonnes of , mostly in the form of methane, are locked in the increasingly misnamed permafrost of the sub-Arctic region.

Beyond a certain threshold—and no one knows what that is— could irretrievably unlock these methane reserves.

Explore further: Climate 'carbon budget' soon maxed out: study

More information: Nature Climate Change, Nature Climate Change, DOI: 10.1038/nclimate3036

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28 comments

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HeloMenelo
4 / 5 (20) May 23, 2016
Fossil fuels already damaged and continues to damage earth
gkam
2.6 / 5 (17) May 23, 2016
Yeah, but what about corporate profits?

Don't the oil companies have the right to pollute for profit?
JongDan
1.9 / 5 (14) May 23, 2016
Great! I guess this means we have plenty of reserves left!
gkam
1.8 / 5 (13) May 23, 2016
Yup. We can use them as feedstocks for other materials.
leetennant
3.5 / 5 (13) May 23, 2016
The good news is, humans will be wiped out long before this occurs. At the rate we're going, not many of us are making it to next century.
jonnyrox
1.7 / 5 (24) May 23, 2016
oh what BS this site chooses to publish !!!
leetennant
4.3 / 5 (17) May 23, 2016
oh what BS this site chooses to publish !!!


The level of commentary on this site is so insightful. I love reading so many well-informed and carefully-argued scientific analyses.
Shootist
1.9 / 5 (22) May 23, 2016
All the carbon in the crust was once in the atmosphere. All of it. Limestone, coal, peat, petroleum, natural gas. No one has come up with proof of any abiological means to produce petroleum, peat or coal.

Limestone is mostly made of the shells of coral, forams and mollusks. These organisms used carbon from dissolved CO2 to build these shells. The dissolved CO2 came from the atmosphere.

Before there were plants that used chlorophyll and sunlight to extract CO2 from the atmosphere, incorporating the carbon into their structure, and expelling the O2 -- ALL of the carbon budget of Earth was in the atmosphere. Despite the TEOTWAWKI tone of the article, the planet couldn't have been too bad, life began on such a carbon "poisoned" world.
kochevnik
1.7 / 5 (12) May 24, 2016
I think there are very good odds all the psychopathic monkeys will soon fling 100million degree plasma balls at each-other and most of humanities's problems will be finished in 15 minutes
Mark Thomas
3.7 / 5 (15) May 24, 2016
"All the carbon in the crust was once in the atmosphere."

"the planet couldn't have been too bad, life began on such a carbon "poisoned" world."

That might explain how Earth managed to stay warm billions of years ago when the sun had only 70% the intensity it has today. Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury of dumping all that carbon back into the atmosphere because the sun is much brighter now.

https://en.wikipe..._paradox
https://en.wikipe...ronments
antialias_physorg
4.6 / 5 (11) May 24, 2016
I guess this means we have plenty of reserves left

If you can't use it it's not a reserve.
gkam
2 / 5 (12) May 24, 2016
We can reserve it for feedstocks.

We should not be burning it anyway.
kochevnik
1.3 / 5 (13) May 24, 2016
CO2 according to Nature is being locked up by plants at record rates. This is Margret Mead tripe
Da Schneib
4.4 / 5 (11) May 24, 2016
/me makes popcorn. This one promises to be a denier classic.
antialias_physorg
4.3 / 5 (11) May 24, 2016
CO2 according to Nature is being locked up by plants at record rates.

You do know the difference between "at record rate" and "at sufficient rate"? And you do know that plants decay and relase all that 'locked up' CO2 again?

Or are you THAT stupid that you don't know these things? What do they teach in school these days?
Edenlegaia
2 / 5 (8) May 24, 2016
"Even if humanity manages to drastically curb its use of oil, gas and coal, Nature could add massive amounts of greenhouse gases all by itself, scientists warn."

If even Nature don't care about reducing Co2's emissions, where are we going?
geoffrey_landis
4.7 / 5 (12) May 24, 2016
It doesn't really help the conversation to use phrases such as "would scorch the Earth" and "render Earth unliveable." The actual phrase in the article was "could ultimately result in considerably more profound climate changes than previously suggested."
Stick to the actual science, please, and leave the hyperbole and scare phrasing to journalists and talk-radio hosts.
antigoracle
1.7 / 5 (11) May 24, 2016
So it's official, the AGW Cult has outdone that other infamous cult, the church, in lies and contradictions.
leetennant
4.6 / 5 (9) May 24, 2016
"Even if humanity manages to drastically curb its use of oil, gas and coal, Nature could add massive amounts of greenhouse gases all by itself, scientists warn."

If even Nature don't care about reducing Co2's emissions, where are we going?


Hahahaha. Hey, did someone say popcorn?
thermodynamics
5 / 5 (9) May 24, 2016
It doesn't really help the conversation to use phrases such as "would scorch the Earth" and "render Earth unliveable." The actual phrase in the article was "could ultimately result in considerably more profound climate changes than previously suggested."
Stick to the actual science, please, and leave the hyperbole and scare phrasing to journalists and talk-radio hosts.


Geoffrey: These are the times I wish I could give out more than 5 points for the quote, but I am limited to 5. You are absolutely correct about the hyperbole and the negative impact on the reporting. Your choice of words would have been much better. Everyone should stick to the science. It is scary enough if it is understood.
Da Schneib
4.5 / 5 (8) May 24, 2016
@thermo, completely agreed. I 5ed @geoffrey too.

FTW, it *is* clickbait, and this *is* physorg. 'nuff said.
deniersdoom
3.7 / 5 (12) May 24, 2016
You know, it's something the deniers of AGW just don't get; Simple stupid math. For every ton of coal burned 2.86 tons of CO2 are created. So how can 2.86 tons of CO2 be created from 1 ton of coal? Well the answer is that burning coal (combustion) is a chemical process that takes 2 oxygen atoms from the air and 1 carbon from the coal, combines them releasing energy. Once the CO2 is created it takes ~1500 years to naturally disassociate back to carbon and oxygen. But CO2 is a strong greenhouse gas and traps heat. On the massive scale that mankind consumes fossil fuels global warming from CO2 greenhouse gas becomes a real problem.

Do any of the deniers want to dispute any of that? I didn't think so. But there is more to it. There is methane also being leaked from all the franking gas wells, and the methane released by global warming feed back. When you combine all of the feed backs, you will realize the global warming problem is very very very serious and grave.
HeloMenelo
3.3 / 5 (7) May 27, 2016
So it's official, the AGW Cult has outdone that other infamous cult, the church, in lies and contradictions.

Wrooooongg, what's official is, scientists have proven time and again the results of fossil fuel burning wasting the earth.

stuck in the tree again....?
antigoracle
1.8 / 5 (5) May 27, 2016
stuck in...

Stuck in STUPID again, AGreatWhopper.
It's sad to see you using your myriad of sock puppets to up vote yourself when the Chicken Littles give you 1s and amusing when you talk to yourself.
gkam
1.9 / 5 (9) May 28, 2016
Exxon says it is American to pollute. Keep it up.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.6 / 5 (5) May 28, 2016
Geoffrey: These are the times I wish I could give out more than 5 points for the quote, but I am limited to 5. You are absolutely correct about the hyperbole and the negative impact on the reporting etcetcetc
This post of yours is hyperbole.
SURFIN85
1 / 5 (1) May 31, 2016
I just moved 1000 miles north and it is colder (obviously) but the difference between now and 30 years ago is quite obvious. The closer you get to the poles the faster it is warming.

And for all the predictions of the model in the article, the reality will be far, far worse, taking into account the massive annihilation of plant and animal species, the acidification of the oceans, the chaos and panicked migrations, the famines and the plagues.

My personal theory is that religious people really want this. After all theirs are apocalyptic doctrines which hold that this Earth is not sacred but a worthless illusion or thing to be used up.

I was going to vote Trump for the immigration thing (do we need more overpopulation? No.) but the reality is whoever it is needs to recognize the causes and needs to push hard for solutions. As for deniers, well. The internet is made for marginal voices.
SURFIN85
3 / 5 (2) May 31, 2016
I just moved 1000 miles north and it is colder (obviously) but the difference between now and 30 years ago is quite obvious. The closer you get to the poles the faster it is warming.

And for all the predictions of the model in the article, the reality will be far, far worse, taking into account the massive annihilation of plant and animal species, the acidification of the oceans, the chaos and panicked migrations, the famines and the plagues.

My personal theory is that religious people really want this. After all theirs are apocalyptic doctrines which hold that this Earth is not sacred but a worthless illusion or thing to be used up.

I was going to vote Trump for the immigration thing (do we need more overpopulation? No.) but the reality is whoever it is needs to recognize the causes and needs to push hard for solutions. As for deniers, well. The internet is made for marginal voices.

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