Think effects are 40-50 years out? Think again! It’s more like 10 years!

Study collapses CO2-warming lagtime

CO2 Takes Just 10 Years to Reach Planet’s Peak Heat


In a study that could have important ramifications on estimating the impacts, costs and benefits of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, new research shows that CO2 brings peak heat within a decade of being emitted, with the effects then lingering 100 years or more into the future.

The research, published Wednesday in Environmental Research Letters, provides policymakers and economists with a new perspective on how fast human carbon emissions heat the planet. Back-of-the-envelope estimates for how long it takes for a given puff of CO2 to crank up the heat have generally been from 40-50 years. But the new study shows that the time frame for CO2 emissions to reach their maximum warming potential is likely closer to 10 years.

“The way we talk about climate change is often, ‘oh, we’re really making emissions cuts for the sake of our children or grandchildren because the effects won’t be felt for decades. But the implications are that there’s certainly benefits that can be reaped by people making decisions today,” Katharine Ricke, a research fellow from Stanford who led the study, said. “The difference for an economist or a policymaker between something that happens 10 years from now or 40 years from now is a big deal.”

The new study provides economists with a key piece of information as they try to pinpoint the true cost of carbon emissions. That cost — sometimes referred to as the social cost of carbon — can be used to weigh the benefits and costs of regulations.

There’s currently a lot of uncertainty around that cost, but most researchers agree it’s likely to rise as estimates of climate impacts, such as sea level rise, are refined and new ones, like damage from tropical cyclones, are discovered. Interest from economists about those estimates is what Ricke said motivated her to pursue this study.

By revealing that CO2 has such a rapid warming effect on the planet, the study said that “people alive today are very likely to benefit from emissions avoided today.” Ricke said that provides a clearer incentive for policymakers and politicians — and the people who vote for them — to consider actions for reducing emissions.

“We’re more used to making decisions about things that will happen 10 years in the future than things that will happen in 40 years,” she said.

But the maximum warming impact of CO2 is only a single note in an otherwise long symphony of climate change. Ricke and her collaborator, Ken Caldeira, created 6,000 projections using advanced climate models to test when CO2 emissions increased warming and to see how long those impacts lasted. Their results confirm something scientists have long said: that the warming effects of CO2 emissions will linger for decades and even centuries.

Pieter Tans, a senior scientist at the Earth System Research Laboratory, said that the long view was more important than focusing on the maximum warming, in part because the warming wasn’t notable enough to even be considered a peak.

“It reaches a peak but its barely a peak. It’s more like a step,” Tanshe said.

He also warned that low probability/high impact events such as a rapid release of methane currently stored in permafrost provide as much, if not a greater, urgency to reduce emissions.

Reto Knutti, a scientist who leads a climate group at ETH Zurich, was also leery of focusing too much on the impacts of CO2 a decade out, particularly because of the time it will take to shift the world away from burning fossil fuels.

“It takes only a few years for the climate to respond to emissions, but it takes a generation, at least, to change the emissions. We are slow, not the climate,” he said.



23 thoughts on “Think effects are 40-50 years out? Think again! It’s more like 10 years!

  1. “The study, compiled by scientists from the space agency, Cornell University and Columbia University, predicts an 80% chance that the Great Plains and the American Southwest will endure a major weather shift beginning in 2050, which could spark massive wildfires and water shortages if the current pace of climate change continues.

    Most alarming: The forecasted drought accompanying the weather shift could be of a severity not seen within the past 1,000 years.”

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Wow. These studies should be a wake up call for everyone. From little things we can do individually, to the broader policies set on a state/national level, people have to start taking climate change seriously. Thanks for the post TE.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Well, that will certainly go a long way to solve the public pension funding problem. Every cloud has a silver lining…..

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Don’t forget the world wide trend of de-forestation. All the geoengineering in the world can’t top the effectiveness of healthy forest ecosystems at sequestering carbon.

    Liked by 2 people

    • There’s more trees now, at least in the U.S., than there were 50 years ago. That’s why deer populations are declining.


    • A favored method of deforestation (burning) is even worse than harvesting for lumber because it not only removes a carbon storage unit, it instantly releases all the previously stored carbon.

      Liked by 2 people

    • technically Fred is right, but those are young trees, not 200 year old very efficient carbon sinks.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We are producing a lot more carbon than we were 50 years ago as well.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Young, fast growing trees produce a lot more oxygen than older trees. Same with plants in general. NASA did some study on that years ago while trying to figure out if plants could help with air on space ships or stations.


    • Not really, The best sequestration is burying plants before they decay so they can become deep underground coal. And new plants can continue to grow over the buried ones and be buried in their own turn.

      Living plants that die in place will quickly rot, limiting the total carbon capture to only the living pants on the surface.


  5. Take away the leisure class “right” to spend their money as they please and they will have absolutely nothing to talk about at the dinner table.

    Each of those frivolous 10-day junkets to Europe, per person, wastes the equivalent of about 70% of the average annual fuel consumed per auto in the U.S.

    It’s the biggest inter-generational theft in human history.

    If the truth about climate and over-consumption remains largely censored in the U.S. nothing will change.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You don’t have to be Nostradamus to see how our “TRUE American” descendants, and everyone else on the planet, will inevitably curse the frivolous waste of the last “cheap” fuel needed to rapidly retool toward sustainability.

    Our “civilization” lacks the education required to understand the fun, the imperative, and the enduring sense of family, friendship and community derived from extracting ourselves from the delusional (and deadly) social bond of consumerism, toward the reality-based interdependence of planing and building our regional economic, energy, and agricultural independence.

    Mother nature is batting last…

    Liked by 3 people

    • Very well said, Anonymous 12:41.



      Facts are that life on earth has gone through many environmental ‘bottlenecks’ that reduced populations to small fractions of what they were and extinguished many species. Yet here we are all today, many species are in plentiful numbers and human life has a ‘niche’.

      No one can know how humans will be living in 2100, but its very very likely there will be billions of them. One thing’s for sure though, none of us here today will be among them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Not everyone is only worried about their own life, Nan. We are all, of course, going to die but most of us wish for a decent life for future generations as well. They are the only immortality I believe in.

        Liked by 2 people

      • As I wrote, I think its a certainty there will be billions of people in 2100. And they will be living as we do today. Some in comfort and luxury and some in deprivation and need.

        Personally I’d rather focus on alleviating the on-going suffering that is actually happening, and hope that future generations will do the same.


  7. Maybe you didn’t know that many millions of people are already suffering the effects of climate change with many more promising to join them….notwithstanding your “gloom and doom” mockery, pointless as it is.

    There are simply too many broader benefits to immediately changing our “Culture Against Man” lifestyle, added to the imperatives being emphasized by so many scientists….jobs, jobs jobs among them…

    You’re right Jane, our unique human ability to care for the “seventh generation” is too often overwhelmed by our primitive, animal instinct of unbridled greed.

    Liked by 2 people

    • We’re certainly suffering the effects of climate change this morning in Florida. It’s so cold, I saw a democrat walking with his hands in his OWN pockets!


  8. All snark aside, climate change is hurting people now, forcing poor farmers off their land and fueling revolutions:

    And this current weird weather across the country from too warm here to crazy ice and storms in the east and south, costing millions in lost wages, profits and property damage:

    Liked by 2 people

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