Over the past year, everyone seemed to get on board with the idea that the world is in trouble and we need to do something about it.
Everyone, that is, except a few key world leaders and a couple of climate change denialists on the internet.
Leonardo DiCaprio made a doccie about climate change, Greta Thunberg almost won a Nobel Prize for her efforts to raise awareness around the issue, and the Extinction Rebellion did everything they could think of to get the world thinking and acting, even glueing themselves to planes.
Unfortunately, it might not have been enough. According to The Guardian, the world may have already crossed a number of climate tipping points placing us in a state of planetary emergency.
Tipping points are reached when particular impacts of global heating become unstoppable, such as the runaway loss of ice sheets or forests. In the past, extreme heating of 5C was thought necessary to pass tipping points, but the latest evidence suggests this could happen between 1C and 2C.
The planet has already heated by 1C and the temperature is likely to keep rising, because greenhouse gas levels are rising.
The researchers, writing in a commentary article in the journal Nature, acknowledge that the complex science of tipping points means great uncertainty remains. But they say the potential damage from the tipping points is so big and the time to act so short, that “to err on the side of danger is not a responsible option”. They call for urgent international action.
“A saving grace is that the rate at which damage accumulates from tipping could still be under our control to some extent,” they write. “The stability and resilience of our planet is in peril. International action – not just words – must reflect this.”
In other words, don’t go and spend all your savings on a bunker and lifetime supply of tinned beans just yet. Instead, focus your energy on not making the problem worse.
Prof Tim Lenton at the University of Exeter, the lead author of the article says that the “kids [striking for climate action] are right: we are seeing potentially irreversible changes in the climate system underway, or very close”.
The new article comes as the UN warns action is very far from stopping global temperature rise, with the world currently on track for 3C-4C. The commentary lists nine tipping points that may have been activated.
…The scientists report that 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been lost since 1970. The tipping point, where loss of forest leads to it drying out, could lie in the range 20%-40%, they said. In temperate forests, especially in North America, heating has triggered more fires and pest outbreaks, potentially turning some regions from a sink for carbon to a source. In the tropics, corals are predicted to be wiped out by 2C of heating.
It might be too late to reverse the existing damage, but we could prevent things from getting worse.
Barring action, the only comfort we’ll have when we go extinct as a species is that the climate change denialists will be going extinct along with us.
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