Earth is just one degree away from humanity's future being under threat

James Marshall
August 7, 2018

Scientists have published their report on 6 August, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, right while the world was struggling to face the heatwaves.

Sea levels could also rise between 10 and 60 metres, threatening coastal areas.

If polar ice continues to melt, forests are slashed and greenhouse gases rise to new highs - as they now do each year - the Earth will pass a tipping point.

Rockström added that stopping the "whole row of dominoes from tumbling over" will be either hard, or impossible, and that "if Hothouse Earth becomes the reality", some places on Earth will be uninhabitable.

Global average temperatures are just over one degree above pre-industrial temperatures, but rising by 0.17 degrees every 10 years.

Some of the tipping points are thawing of the permafrost, the ocean floor losing methane hydrates, ocean carbon skins and weak land, the loss of Arctic summer sea ice along with the reduction of the sea ice from Antarctica and polar ice sheets.

"The current efforts by nations, which are not sufficient to meet the emission-reduction targets set in the Paris Agreement a few years ago, are unlikely to help us avoid this very risky situation, where many parts of the planet could become uninhabitable for humans", said Professor Steffen from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society.

"Hothouse Earth is likely to be uncontrollable and unsafe to many", said the article by scientists at University of Copenhagen, Australian National University and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

With Arctic ice and glaciers melting away; increasingly powerful and frequent storms in the Atlantic and Pacific; coral reefs dying from warming oceans; record-setting wildfires in the USA; unprecedented heatwaves in Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere-climate researchers have been at the forefront of sounding the alarms about the frightening path humanity is now following.

"Avoiding this scenario requires a redirection of human actions from exploitation to stewardship of the Earth system", he said.

"We explore the risk that self-reinforcing feedbacks could push the Earth System toward a planetary threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperature rises and cause continued warming on a "Hothouse Earth" pathway even as human emissions are reduced", the paper's abstract reads.

"These tipping elements can potentially act like a row of dominoes", said Johan Rockstrom, co-director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and another of co-author of the report.

California is struggling to contain its largest-ever wildfire, while Spain and Portugal were contemplating record-breaking temperatures.

"People getting a taste of the heatwaves, this is what climate change is all about", she said. "We need to know now".

Speaking about the impact of climate change, Chris Rapley, Professor of Climate Science at University College London said: "Previous research has shown that an increase in the mean global temperature of 11-12C would make more than half of the land area now occupied by humans uninhabitable".

Richardson said that rather than considering the report a "doomsday prophet", it should give hope that if action is taken now, the world can avert the most dire predictions. If we understand this system and how it works, then we have the power to go in and trick the system.

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