Earth May Have Crossed a Series of Climate Tipping Points, Scientists Warn
Sat, April 10, 2021

Earth May Have Crossed a Series of Climate Tipping Points, Scientists Warn

Recently, scientists have warned that our planet is heading toward a “global tipping point” if the climate crisis continues to get worse / Photo by: NejroN via 123RF

 

The Earth's climate is changing, but have we reached the point of no return? For years, scientists, environmental organizations, and advocates have been trying to reverse or at least lessen the impacts of climate change across the world. 

Recently, scientists have warned that our planet is heading toward a “global tipping point” if the climate crisis continues to get worse. According to CNN, an American news-based pay television channel owned by AT&T's WarnerMedia, a new commentary published in the journal Nature revealed that there is growing evidence suggesting that irreversible changes to the Earth's environmental systems are already taking place. 

Scientists reported that we are now in a “state of planetary emergency” that “to err on the side of danger is not a responsible option.” “A saving grace is that the rate at which damage accumulates from tipping could still be under our control to some extent. The stability and resilience of our planet are in peril. International action – not just words – must reflect this,” the report said. 

Lead author Tim Lenton, professor of the University of Exeter, stated that they are treating the whole climate change problem as a risk management problem. Phil Williamson at the University of East Anglia, who did not contribute to the article, stated that the team is trying to say that we might lose control of the Earth’s climate. 

Understanding Climate Tipping Points

The possibility that multiple earth systems may reach the point of no return, or climate tipping points, is “an existential threat to civilization,” according to scientists. National Geographic, an American pay television network and flagship channel that is owned by National Geographic Partners, reported that the idea of tipping points was introduced two decades ago by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 

Some key components of the climate system that are considered “tipping points” are the extensive thawing of permafrost and the loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet and the Amazon rainforest. This is because they can cross critical thresholds where there’s no turning back. In the past, it was thought that tipping points can only be triggered when global warming is above 9 degrees F (5 degrees C). However, a 2018 IPCC report revealed that it can happen between 1.8 degrees F (1 degree C) and 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C). 

The risk of triggering one of 30 major tipping points increases when every fractional rise in temperature also increases. The report also suggested that the climate is much more sensitive than first thought, emphasizing the impacts of the interaction between a variety of climate change factors. This includes increased bacteria respiration, ice retreat, forest dieback, and the loss or weakening of carbon sinks. All of these factors can combine to form a feedback loop, accelerating climate change. 

According to The Guardian, a daily British newspaper, the report revealed that there’s alarming evidence that part of the West Antarctic ice sheet may be in irreversible retreat, while the massive Greenland ice sheet is melting at an accelerating rate. Aside from that, the Gulf Stream current in the Atlantic, which warms Europe, has slowed by 15% since the mid-20th century. Since 1970, 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been lost. The tipping point could lie in the range of 20% to 40%.

“This article is not meant to be a counsel of despair. If we want to avoid the worst of these bad climate tipping points, we need to activate some positive social and economic tipping points [such as renewable energy] towards what should ultimately be a happier, flourishing, sustainable future for generations to come,” Lenton said.

Nine Climate Tipping Points Now ‘Active’

According to the report, the intervention time left to prevent reaching a point of no return could have shrunk towards zero, while the reaction time to achieve net-zero emissions is three decades at best. Thus, scientists urge the public and governments across the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent key tipping points. The worst-case scenario is that we would have a less habitable planet. 

Science Daily, an American website that aggregates press releases and publishes lightly edited press releases about science, reported that there are now nine active tipping points. This includes the Arctic sea ice, Greenland ice sheet, boreal forests, Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, Amazon rainforest, warm-water corals, west Antarctic ice sheet, and parts of East Antarctica. The report revealed that the collapse of major ice sheets in West Antarctica, Greenland, and parts of East Antarctica would commit the world to around 10 meters of irreversible sea-level rise.

"No amount of economic cost-benefit analysis is going to help us. We need to change our approach to the climate problem,” Lenton said. 

While it is still unclear when most of the tipping points will kick in, the impacts are already happening. For instance, a warmer Arctic has triggered large-scale insect disturbances and an increase in fires. Fortunately, there’s still hope. The rate at which global temperatures progress can be reduced by cutting our emissions. “The stability and resilience of our planet are in peril. International action -- not just words -- must reflect this,” the scientists said. 

While it is still unclear when most of the tipping points will kick in, the impacts are already happening / Photo by: nasaimages via 123RF