Oil refineries like this one in Corpus Christi, Texas, are heating up the planet. The basic mechanics of climate change are simple: Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat. More carbon dioxide means more heat is trapped across the Earth, causing it to warm up.
But scaled up over the entire planet, these physical processes interact in a myriad of complex and sometimes unexpected ways. The Arctic reflects sunlight back into space. Clouds in some circumstances trap heat, and in others, they cool the region beneath them. Forests store a big chunk of carbon, but they’re being burned, cut down, and dying off from warming. The ocean soaks up a huge amount of heat and carbon dioxide, but it can’t absorb it forever. And these effects are not all linear; some may taper off as the planet heats up while others may suddenly accelerate.
That’s why scientists for decades have struggled to answer the basic question of how much the earth will eventually warm up for a given amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The term for this parameter is equilibrium climate sensitivity . The classic way of framing it is asking what happens if we double the amount of carbon […]
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