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The Planet's Climate Is Changing, But Is It Time To Panic?


David Goldman/AP

The suns sets as an iceberg floats in the Nuup Kangerlua Fjord near Nuuk in southwestern Greenland, where glaciers have been melting.

There’s a question out there related to climate change that everyone asks but no one seems to have a good answer for: When will climate change reach the point of no return?

Read the news, and timelines range from 18 months to 12 years to 40 years.

UNLV geology professor Matt Lachniet explained it is not about an exact drop-dead moment.

"Climate change is already here," he said, "It is already locked into the system by warming up the oceans, etc. It's really a question that we have of how much climate change are we willing to accept before we do something." 

Lachniet explained that if we're going to accept two degrees of warming, we have only a short window of time, but if we're going to accept three or four degrees, we'll have more time.

"It is a progressive set of impacts and the time to act to try to reduce that future impact is now," he said.

Nevada state climatologist and associate professor at the University of Nevada, Reno Stephanie McAfee agreed. She said places are already experiencing the impacts of climate change.

"It's not the case that if we turn things around in 18 months there will be absolutely no impact from climate change," she said, "There are already impacts."

McAfee explained that is not an all-or-nothing proposition, meaning the world can't cut emissions immediately and see climate return to the way it was, or do nothing and the world becomes uninhabitable. There is a wide range of possibilities.

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In addition, Lachniet explained that to return the Earth to its pre-Industrial Revolution carbon levels it would take thousands of years.

"It takes that long for carbon dioxide to come out of the atmosphere," he said, "So what we're doing is we're putting out so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere so much faster than nature is able to remove it and store it in a different reservoirs that it is going to take a minimum 10,000 years to get back to where we were before we started the Industrial Revolution."

With those realities in mind, it may be time for a new question: Should we learn to adapt as we strive to stop the causes?

McAfee said there are adaptions that could blunt the impacts of climate change being felt in Southern Nevada. 

"We might see things like some of the strategies that are used to mitigate these urban heat islands in cities, whether that's changing pavement and roofing types so that the city doesn't trap as much heat, so that buildings stay cooler and so it is less work and less energy to cool them," she said.

People could plant more vegetation because planting more vegetation helps cool areas off.

"Because in Southern Nevada in particular, climate change that we see that might be most notable and most impactful for people are these changes in extremely hot weather," she said.


Stephanie McAfee, Nevada state climatologist and associate professor, UNR; Matt Lachniet, Professor of Geology, UNLV  

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