By Chip Miller
In this new series on “Big Fat Planet,” we will answer selected questions about Earth’s climate submitted by readers. Recently, a reader asked: “Is there still time to reduce climate change, or is it too late?” The following answer is from Dr. Chip Miller, a researcher specializing in remote sensing of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He is principal investigator of the Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE) and was deputy principal investigator for NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite mission, which was designed to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide from space.
This is a question that has been asked many times and many studies have investigated similar questions: What level of climate change is “acceptable”? What constitutes “dangerous interference” in the climate system?
The short answer is that it’s not too late to act, but our past actions may have already locked in certain outcomes and action is needed to avoid more substantial impacts in the future.
In the 1990s and early 2000s it was generally felt that a doubling of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere compared to pre-industrial levels - that is, CO2 concentrations increasing to about 500 parts ...