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by ANDREW GLIKSON Earth and Paleoclimate scientist
The Earth surface temperature reflects the net balance between incoming solar shortwave radiation and outgoing terrestrial long wave radiation Kiehl and Trenberth, 1997 . The severe disturbance of the energy balance of the atmosphere ensuing from the emission of over 320 billion tons of carbon since 1750 threatens a shift in the state of the atmosphere/ocean system to ice free greenhouse Earth conditions. Based on the recent Copenhagen Synthesis Report , climate change trends at the top range of IPCC 2007 projections , and the identification of tipping points in the recent history of the atmosphere/ocean system i.e. at 14 - 11 and 8.2 thousand years-ago , the scale and pace of 21st Century climate changes  require re-consideration of mitigation and adaptation strategies.
John Holdren, Obama's science advisor, compared global warming to “being in a car with bad brakes driving toward a cliff in the fog."
Should humanity choose to undertake all possible mitigation and adaptation efforts in an attempt at slowing global warming down, or even reversing it, steps need to include:
It is possible that, in order to gain time, some governments may opt for geo-engineering efforts, including stratospheric injection of sulfur aerosols simulating volcanic eruptions , likely over polar regions, meant to temporarily raise the Earth albedo while other measures are undertaken.
The alternative to urgent fast tracked mitigation efforts does not bear contemplation.
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Figure 1. Top: Atmospheric CO2 and continental glaciation 400 Ma to present. Vertical bars mark the timing and palaeo-latitudinal extent of ice sheets. Plotted CO2 records represent five-point running averages from each of the four major proxies: stomata leaf pores, phytoplankton, Boron, pedogenic carbonates.
Middle: Global compilation of deep-sea benthic foraminifera 18O isotope records from 40 Deep Sea Drilling Program and Ocean Drilling Program sites updated with high-resolution records for the Eocene through Miocene interval.
Bottom: Detailed record of CO2 for the last 65 Myr. The range of error for each CO2 proxy varies considerably, with estimates based on soil nodules yielding the greatest uncertainty. Also plotted are the plausible ranges of CO2 from three geochemical carbon cycle models. After figure 6, http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/Report/ AR4WG1_Print_Ch06.pdf
Figure 2. One realization of the globally averaged surface air temperature from the ECHAM5 coupled climate model forced with the SRES A2 greenhouse gas increase scenario for the 21st century. Easterling and Wehner 2009. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L08706 http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2009/2009GL037810.shtml
Figure 3. Map of potential policy-relevant tipping elements in the climate system, overlain on global population density. Subsystems indicated could exhibit threshold-type behavior in response to anthropogenic climate forcing, where a small perturbation at a critical point qualitatively alters the future fate of the system. They could be triggered this century and would undergo a qualitative change within this millennium We exclude from the map systems in which any threshold appears inaccessible this century e.g., East Antarctic Ice Sheet or the qualitative change would appear beyond this millennium e.g., marine methane hydrates. Question marks indicate systems whose status as tipping elements is particularly uncertain. Lenton, T.M., et al., 2008. Tipping points in the Earth system. PNAS, 105, 1786–1793 _ www.pnas.org_cgi_doi_10.1073_pnas.0705414105
Earth and Paleoclimate scientist
Australian National University
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