Global Warming: Worst-Case Scenario?

Disclaimer: I don't know what I'm talking about.

There's something I've been wondering about, global-warming-wise, that I haven't heard discussed elsewhere. These things that we're burning---oil, coal, natural gas and whatnot---are called fossil fuels for a reason, namely that they're made up of long-dead plants and animals. And these plants and animals were made up of, among other things, carbon absorbed from the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide.

So hundreds of millions of years ago, before the fossil fuels were formed, all of the carbon that's camped out in oil wells and coal mines now must have been in the atmosphere. The Earth was obviously hospitable to life at that time---otherwise said long-dead plants and animals never would have been born, and we wouldn't have fossil fuels now.

All this seems to imply that the worst-case scenario, if we burn up all the fossil fuels, is that we end up with a climate similar to the one we had back when they were first being formed and all the carbon was in the atmosphere. Some thoughts on why I might be wrong:

  1. The fossil fuels formed first may have come from life forms which were adapted to much higher temperatures than we are.
  2. In burning fossil fuels, we may produce pollutants other than carbon dioxide which act as stronger warming agents.
  3. Not all fossil fuels come from organic sources.
  4. Other things have changed since then. Maybe it was okay to have all that carbon dioxide in our atmosphere then, but it would be disastrous now.

Alternatively, maybe I'm right, but it doesn't matter. It could be that we'll be able to adjust to the new climate, but the costs will be tremendous. The guy manning the phones at Big Al's Moving Co. said he'd have to get back to me on a quote for moving New York inland (by the way, that would make a great premise for an anti-global-warming PSA).

As I said above, I don't know what I'm talking about. Can anyone tell me what, if anything, is wrong with my reasoning?

Share this