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Is “Hothouse Earth” Coming Soon?

A recent peer reviewed article raises the the strong possibility of reaching an irreversible threshold in climate change. The article raises the serious potential for what is called “Hothouse Earth” where an irreversible tipping point of climate change is reached.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America the article notes:

“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 conclusions reached by the article are that, even with some steps being taken  to address the issue of climate change, we may be reaching a tipping point very soon where nothing we do may reverse the cascade of events leading to the impacts of a hothouse climate.

“The present dominant socioeconomic system, however, is based on high-carbon economic growth and exploitative resource use …. Attempts to modify this system have met with some success locally but little success globally in reducing greenhouse gas emissions or building more effective stewardship of the biosphere. Incremental linear changes to the present socioeconomic system are not enough to stabilize the Earth System. Widespread, rapid, and fundamental transformations will likely be required to reduce the risk of crossing the threshold and locking in the Hothouse Earth pathway; these include changes in behavior, technology and innovation, governance, and values…

Our analysis suggests that the Earth System may be approaching a planetary threshold that could lock in a continuing rapid pathway toward much hotter conditions—Hothouse Earth. This pathway would be propelled by strong, intrinsic, biogeophysical feedbacks difficult to influence by human actions, a pathway that could not be reversed, steered, or substantially slowed.”

The article concludes that the time has come for decisive actions to address the issues we face:

“Avoiding this threshold by creating a Stabilized Earth pathway can only be achieved and maintained by a coordinated, deliberate effort by human societies to manage our relationship with the rest of the Earth System, recognizing that humanity is an integral, interacting component of the system. Humanity is now facing the need for critical decisions and actions that could influence our future for centuries, if not millennia…

Our initial analysis here needs to be underpinned by more in-depth, quantitative Earth System analysis and modeling studies to address three critical questions. (i) Is humanity at risk for pushing the system across a planetary threshold and irreversibly down a Hothouse Earth pathway? (ii) What other pathways might be possible in the complex stability landscape of the Earth System, and what risks might they entail? (iii) What planetary stewardship strategies are required to maintain the Earth System in a manageable Stabilized Earth state?”

The entire article provides a detailed discussion of the issues faced by humanity. It is supported by references to supporting information contained in scholarly works  that should leave little doubt as to the urgency of the choices faced by humanity.

Steven Silverberg

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