If we globally stopped burning fossil fuel tomorrow, what would happen?
Motor vehicles would be parked and turned off. By and by, Amish would come by with buggies and haul them to scrapyards, I guess.
They'd be about the last ones standing.
A few billion people would die, because food couldn't be moved from where it was grown to where it was needed. We know how to run railroads with steam engines fired by wood, but we don't have the antique engines to actually do it.
We know how to plow and harvest with livestock driven machinery, but we have neither. OK, the Amish do but not the rest of us.
We know how to get energy from water, with water wheels say, but again, we don't have the mill ponds and wheels.
Cold turkey, tomorrow, casts away all our nuclear power plants and expensive dams and so forth, because the simple, small engines that serve them run on diesel or gasoline and all that is out of bounds.
Any sensible plan for the future involves preparing a new infrastructure. Paring back coal fired electricity while building out wind, solar, and nuclear. Bridge solutions such as fracked natural gas in lieu of coal. Building electric cars before shutting down gasoline refineries.
It also involves some use of fossil fuel. Nobody's going to try and tool around in an electric tank. Diesel generators will have to kick in when the power goes out at hospitals after a storm. We can manage with a lot less, but managing with absolutely nothing would be a lot more difficult. Biodiesel, perhaps?
We would immediately be confronted with the loss of global dimming. The fossil fuels put particulate in the upper atmosphere that reflects sunlight away from the surface. Scientists first saw the loss-of- global-dimming effect after 9/11 when most commercial aviation was grounded. Temperatures started going up by almost 1 C average.
Our situation with global dimming isn't a problem, it's a predicament-problems have solutions. A cessation of fossil fuel use would push average temperatures up by 1.2 C in a matter of a few weeks, which would be almost 1 C higher than the 2 C target established as the ‘must not cross' target of the Paris Accords.
As Dr. Guy McPherson said four years ago when the global dimming effect was accepted, we're damned if we do, damned if we don't. We can't survive if we keep pumping CO2 into the upper atmosphere, and we can't eliminate global dimming without pushing the temperature up to extinction levels.
If anything that is immense and happens vanishes immediately chaos must ensue. If a target date was set and alternative energy sources and strict usage standards for conservation and only essential energy usage were established the world would survive and perhaps heal itself. We probably could get by on 10-20% of our current energy usage; just stopping DT from wasteful travel will be a good start.
We have all survived temporary cessation of fossil fuel Our car has run out of gas, our power gone out, Puerto Rico has survived a long power outage in certain areas I know there's fossil fuel backup but if you had auxiliary solar cells on your roof to supply essential energy etc. If we burned garbage and waste biomass in our coal plants etc. It would require effort and planning. Countries seem able to do it for War maybe it's time to start doing it for Peace.
Globally temperatures would continue to rise and climate change effects would continue to get worse. There is already too much CO2 in the atmosphere and the feedback loop of warming, release of CO2 and CH4 is well under way.
The recent agreement at COP21 was to try to limit the warming to 1.5 degrees by halting emissions. But halting all emissions won't halt warming. Also there are lots of assumptions about climate change so it is hard to know how quickly the Earth would warm if we stopped emitting CO2 tomorrow, but the Earth would warm.
To actually counter this, there will need to be drawdown efforts to capture the CO2 in the atmosphere. The CH4 is a problem but it only lasts 25 years. The CO2 will stay up there for 20,000 years and has to be trapped and absorbed with a number of techniques. The most promising is advanced weathering, such as by drilling and exposing olivine, which absorbs CO2 naturally; net-negative concrete; and, bio-methods.
Methods to directly extract the gas still need to make it into a form that won't escape back into the atmosphere. So, scrubbing smoke stacks of CO2 and injecting this into hot houses does cause it to be absorbed by the plants, but when they rot (or we eat them) the CO2 is emitted again. More CO2 does help plants grow faster and larger but they don't end up with a higher nutrient value. It is not known if more CO2 provided for timber growth will result in more timber. I'm going to find this out.
Left in the atmosphere, the CO2 will eventually be re-absorbed by the biosphere but it will take 20,000 years and may acidify the oceans further. There is also the chance that the biosphere responds to higher levels of CO2 with a greater CO2 absorbing biome. The problem is that this could take thousands of years as well.
So, do stop emitting CO2 tomorrow, but also help think about how we are going to get the current gas down out of the air!
Temp wise, the earth's average temperature would continue rising, until it plateaued at a level lower than if we did not stop. Probably would take a decade or more. Not sure
This is because of a few reasons such as positive feedback loops that are already in motion and the delay in changing the temp of something large like the oceans. And it takes a long time for natural processes to sequester such a large excess of CO2.
Back on the ground, over the short to medium term (hours to a few years) there would be massive chaos, blackouts, starvation etc as the world still is very dependent on fossil fuels.
In 1998, coal represented 38 percent of global power generation. In 2017, it represented ... 38 percent of global power generation.
We'd starve the world population down very, very quickly by 5–7 billion people or nearly everyone except subsistence farmers using hand labor and livestock with no external inputs. So there's a significant downside to that goal.
Fossil fuels are chemical hydrocarbons formed by earth forces rather than old dinosaurs (19th Century guess, hence the term) or old biomass/swamp plants (20th Century guess.) Astronomy and space exploration reveal enormous amounts of the same hydrocarbons we call fossil fuels (methane gas/natural gas) on the gas giant planets in our solar system, clearly not dead dinosaurs or 50 mile deep swamps for a source.