A Sun Herald article, "As scientists worry about warming world, US public doesn't" (Nov. 5), cited a poll showing that most Americans believe we are changing the climate, but they are just not that worried about it.
Most believe it will be a problem for future generations. I am 72, so I don't worry too much; however, my children and grandchildren should worry a lot, and they are not "future generations." This lack of urgency is the result of a very dangerous misunderstanding about the dynamics of global warming.
Since the dawn of civilization, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have been relatively constant. There was a "carbon cycle" in which animals exhaled CO2, and plants took it in. A nice, steady balance existed.
By the 1800s, however, we were digging up increasing amounts of long-buried carbon and burning it, producing energy and CO2. Since 1860, humans have dumped about 3 trillion tons of the stuff into our atmosphere and are adding more than 40 billion additional tons every year. Unfortunately, CO2 is very stable, so most of that 3 trillion tons is still up there.
The balance is now broken; CO2 traps more heat every year. Even if we kept the amount of CO2 at the level it is today, the planet would continue to heat up for at least 60 years until that balance is re-established. This means we have already "locked in" at least 60 years of continued heating that we cannot do anything about, and we are merrily pumping in over a million additional tons a day!
By not acting now, we are like a patient that has been diagnosed with cancer but decides not to do anything until the really bad stuff starts happening.
I am no fan of Al Gore, but this really is an inconvenient truth. Forget future generations. We can and must do something now to protect billions of people who are alive today.