September 18, 2018
A Thought Leader Series Piece
by Bob Litterman
Continuously pumping greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere is a risk. We simply don’t know our atmosphere’s capacity to safely absorb these heat-trapping emissions, but we do know it’s not limitless. Evidence shows that Earth’s temperature is rising, oceans are warming and acidifying, ice sheets are shrinking, and intense weather events are happening more and more frequently — all of which directly or indirectly cause societal damage. Though Earth’s climate has always changed, it is virtually certain that this rapid trend of warming is caused by human activity since the mid-20th century. And there’s no sign of it slowing down.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, carbon dioxide accounted for 81 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2016. As we drive gas-fueled cars, power electricity grids with fossil fuels, grow food and live our lives, we are dumping carbon into the atmosphere at an unprecedented and alarming rate. Once released into the atmosphere, carbon dioxide can affect climate for hundreds or thousands of years — longer than any other greenhouse gas.
At what point will we reach a catastrophic tipping point in which future generations will be unable to adapt to the impacts of climate change, leading to a significant and permanent decline in well-being?