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Warming 'avoidable,' geochemist says


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POSTED: Friday, May 08, 2009

Internationally renowned climate scientist Wallace S. Broecker says he wishes he could live 50 more years to see how humankind solves the problem of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

“;This whole thing of stopping CO2 from building up is an enormous job, but if we don't do it, we're going to be sorry because we're going to mess up the planet,”; says Columbia University's Newberry professor of earth and environmental sciences.

At the University of Hawaii last night, the famed geochemist gave a public lecture sponsored by the Oceanography Department, the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research and the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. The topic: emissions from fossil fuels.

He said in an interview that he is convinced the increase of CO2 cannot be stopped unless it is captured from the atmosphere and stored or put away, perhaps with deep-sea disposal.

He believes a device called an “;air extractor,”; invented by Columbia colleague Klaus Lackner, could help combat the buildup of greenhouse gases. Lackner designed modular units that use filter packs to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“;The beauty of this is it could be done anywhere in the world,”; Broecker said.

Each unit can capture one ton of carbon dioxide a day—the equivalent of what is produced by 20 average American automobiles, Broecker said. “;To take out all the CO2 we're producing, we would need 20 million of these things, but we would need millions of whatever we're going to do, whether it's windmills or acreage of biofuel.”;

He said he recently met with President Barack Obama's science adviser, who is interested in what Lackner is doing, and the administration “;is going to push all this stuff.”; It will take the rest of the century to solve the carbon dioxide problem, “;basically starting from scratch,”; he said.

“;We really want to rein in CO2,”; said Broecker, who has worked on climate issues throughout his career. Left unchecked, it will cause enormous environmental damage, he said.

“;It's avoidable, therefore we should avoid it. If we don't, people are going to look back and say, 'They really blew it. They knew it was a problem. They had the wherewithal to solve the problem, maybe for an increase in energy cost of 15 percent.' That is an increase we can afford, and we should do it.”;

In a 1975 article in Science magazine, Broecker was one of the first scientists to recognize “;global warming”; as a critical problem. He said he is annoyed that the term is attributed to him.

“;I'd rather be remembered for things I actually did,”; he said.