Grandchildren May Inherit 'Hot House' Planet of Our Making

Feb. 19, 2007
Strom's new book (cover above) will be published in April. "Hot House" refers to periods in Earth history when it was so hot that there was no ice and the temperature of the Arctic Ocean was about the same as the ocean temperature at Hawaii today. Tropical ocean surface temperatures at the time were about the same as a hot tub. "In the worse possible scenario, we could be headed in that direction," Strom says.
Strom's new book (cover above) will be published in April. "Hot House" refers to periods in Earth history when it was so hot that there was no ice and the temperature of the Arctic Ocean was about the same as the ocean temperature at Hawaii today. Tropical ocean surface temperatures at the time were about the same as a hot tub. "In the worse possible scenario, we could be headed in that direction," Strom says.

We have about 20 years to cut current greenhouse gas emissions by between 60 to 70 percent -- or our grandchildren will inherit a dangerously 'hot house' planet, University of Arizona planetary scientist Robert G. Strom says in his forthcoming book on global warming.

Strom, professor emeritus with UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, is renown for his research on such topics as the impact cratering record on solar system surfaces and the possibility of ancient oceans and ice sheets on Mars. But for the past few years Strom has been consumed with research on Earth's changing climate, a climate warming because of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that humans have been adding to the atmosphere.

"Global warming is a very serious problem that requires immediate world action," Strom said. "Europe has been light years ahead of the United States when it comes to understanding this. I think the IPCC report issued earlier this month has finally awakened U.S. media to our problem." (The IPCC report was prepared by the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.)

"We need to keep atmospheric carbon dioxide from reaching 440 parts per million or it will be impossible to keep the global average temperature from eventually climbing another 2 degrees Celsius, with very serious consequences for humans," Strom said. The current concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide is 381 ppm and rising at an average rate of 2 ppm per year, he added.

Strom will give a public lecture on Earth's warming climate at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27, in Kuiper Space Sciences Room 308. His talk - and his forthcoming book - is titled "Hot House: Global Climate Change and the Human Condition." The lecture, which is part of the LPL Evening Lecture Series, is free and open to the public.

Strom cites several causes for concern:

  • The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, signed by 160 nations but not the United States, will not come close to achieving the goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 60-70 percent within two decades.
  • China will surpass the United States in emitting greenhouse gases by 2010 -- or three years from now.
  • Because of the inertia of the climate system, the global average temperature will rise about 1 degree C even if global greenhouse gas emissions were cut to zero today.
  • The IPCC report "probably vastly underestimated the rise in sea level because it was based on computer models of melting only," Strom said. "It did not, and could not, estimate the rise in sea level caused by collapse of portions of the ice sheets into the ocean. These ice sheets are becoming unstable."

"It is hard to understand that the really serious consequences will happen not to us, but to our grandchildren," he said. 'If we do too little, they will get what we deserve."