Because climate change is such a complex, globe-spanning problem, it’s hard to really wrap your head around possible future scenarios. A future where no action is taken to slow greenhouse gas emissions is easy enough to grok, but what exactly does a “middle-of-the-road emissions world” entail?
These scenarios work well for outlining the range of futures available to us, but it can be hard to understand the steps necessary to get to that future. “What if?” scenarios are often easier to think about. What if we eliminated all greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow? Or, if those rainbow unicorns are too impractical for you, what if we didn't replace fossil fuel infrastructure when it reached the end of its life, replacing it with clean alternatives instead?
End of life
That’s the question that a new study led by the University of Leeds’ Chris Smith investigated. The basic idea is to find out how much warming the world’s existing fossil-fuel-burning machinery commits us to, given how long that machinery is likely to run before it naturally hits the scrap heap.