According to a new study conducted by German researchers, even somehow magically removing massive amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere won’t solve our climate problems – we need to find ways to stop emitting.

The research, published in Nature Climate Change shows that there is no ‘technofix’ that would allow humans to continue with the ‘business as usual’ and continue burning up oil, gas and coal at the same rates without drastic consequences.

Image in Creative Commons, as uploaded by jppi on Morguefile.

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Sabine Mathesius (of the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research) and her team have decided to model what the effects of a yet undeveloped technology that would remove massive amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. No one knows how or if that could be done, but the reasoning behind the experiment was the following: let’s say everything goes out fine and we find a way – will things be OK? Plausibly, we could remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at the rate of 90bn tons a year by planting more trees or developing new CO2 storage technologies. That’s twice as more than what we’re spewing out in the atmosphere now.

“Interestingly, it turns out that after ‘business as usual’ until 2150, even taking such enormous amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere wouldn’t help the deep ocean that much – after the acidified water has been transported by large-scale ocean circulation to great depths, it is out of reach for many centuries, no matter how much CO2 is removed from the atmosphere,” said a co-author, Ken Caldeira, who is normally based at the Carnegie Institution in the US.

Basically, the changes we’re already imposing on the planet are long reaching, and right now, we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. For hundreds of years to come, the effects of what we are doing now will be felt. By 2500, ocean surface temperatures would have increased by 5C, but that’s not the only problem. CO2 would sink into the oceanic waters, raising acidity to a level which would make life extremely difficult for fish and shellfish.

“In the deep ocean, the chemical echo of this century’s CO2 pollution will reverberate for thousands of years,” said co-author Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, who directs the Potsdam Institute. “If we do not implement emissions reductions measures in line with the 2C target in time, we will not be able to preserve ocean life as we know it.”

The takeaway message is simple: even if we find a way to eliminate CO2 from the atmosphere, the consequences will be dire, just based on what we’ve done so far. If we don’t, the effects are almost inconceivable.