When it comes to human-caused global warming, news of the long-term effects is mixed. On the one hand, the planet will indeed recover from the damage we've done -- the only downside is that it will take 100,000 years, and chances are it will come at the expense of many species along the way. If humanity continues to emit greenhouse gases at the rate it has been, says one scientist, it could take millennia for the Earth to get back to good health, but only after a series of mass extinctions the likes of which have not been seen for millions of years.In hopes of gaining a better understanding of how our planet will cope with the effects of global warming, a conference organized by the Geological Society will convene in London this week to discuss past occasions when Earth's climate underwent change. Researchers have managed to gather insight into historic shifts in climate by examining sedimentary layers which reveal a world steeped in greenhouse gases.
Around 55 million years ago, notes Professor Jim Zachos of the University of California, the planet was undergoing some dramatic temperature changes which led to mass extinctions. From around this time, thousands of years worth of volcanic activity is believed to have been responsible for emitting some 4,500 gigatons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
But even that tumultuous prehistoric era was nothing compared to what we could happen in the next few centuries -- and because of us. Zachos predicts that humanity will add about 5,000 gigatons of greenhouse gases into atmosphere in several hundred year's time if we continue at our present rate. "The impacts will be pretty severe compared to 55 million years ago in terms of evolution of this planet," warns the researcher.
"Mass extinction of species" would be inevitable, he added.
A report from The Telegraph includes a longer statement on the Earth's road to recovery:
The geological evidence from the 55 million year event and from earlier warming episodes suggests that such an addition [a massive increase in greenhouse gases caused by the activities of mankind] is likely to raise average global temperatures by at least 5 to 6C, and possibly more, and that recovery of the Earth's climate in the absence of mitigation measures could take 100,000 years or more. Numerical models of the climate system support such an interpretation. In the light of the evidence presented here it is reasonable to conclude that emitting further large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over time is likely to be unwise, uncomfortable though that fact may be.
It's impossible to say where we'll be in the next few centuries, let alone in 100,000 years, but one thing is for certain -- actions taken today to combat global warming may determine that answer. Still, it's comforting to know that the planet will naturally recover from our harmful practices of today, but life on Earth would be better served by an ounce of prevention.