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See Inside July 2005

Can We Bury Global Warming?

Pumping carbon dioxide underground to avoid warming the atmosphere is feasible, but only if several key challenges can be met

When William Shakespeare took a breath, 280 molecules out of every million entering his lungs were carbon dioxide. Each time you draw breath today, 380 molecules per million are carbon dioxide. That portion climbs about two molecules every year.

No one knows the exact consequences of this upsurge in the atmosphere's carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration nor the effects that lie ahead as more and more of the gas enters the air in the coming decades--humankind is running an uncontrolled experiment on the world. Scientists know that carbon dioxide is warming the atmosphere, which in turn is causing sea level to rise, and that the CO2 absorbed by the oceans is acidifying the water. But they are unsure of exactly how climate could alter across the globe, how fast sea level might rise, what a more acidic ocean could mean, which ecological systems on land and in the sea would be most vulnerable to climate change and how these developments might affect human health and well-being. Our current course is bringing climate change upon ourselves faster than we can learn how severe the changes will be.

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