A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides more evidence for the possibility of the Earth becoming a veritable greenhouse in the next few centuries if our attempts at preventing global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels do not succeed.
If the current trend goes unabated, the natural systems that protect us from the consequences of massive amounts of CO2 and other gases being released into the atmosphere will likely turn against us.
“What we are saying is that when we reach 2 degrees of warming, we may be at a point where we hand over the control mechanism to Planet Earth herself,” said co-author on the paper Professor Johan Rockström from the Stockholm Resilience Centre.
In other words, if any one of the 10 or so “feedback processes” now cushioning the worst effects of carbon and temperature rises tips over and starts pushing large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, the rest could follow suit in quick succession.
Entering the ‘Hothouse Earth’ period would see higher global temperatures than we’ve had for the past 1.2 million years, which might stabilise at around 4-5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial age.
And while this is not likely to hit us with all its might in the near future – it could even take as a long as several centuries – what we do in the coming decades might be decisive. As in – failing to take forceful measures right now will pretty much doom humanity to a miserable future to say the least.
According to the research team, the heat-waves observed around Europe and the UK in recent years could be regarded as evidence that even milder warming – currently at 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels – can lead to serious consequences for millions of people.
The authors emphasise that in order to avoid the worst-case scenario, humanity will require nothing short of a total re-orientation of values, equity, behaviour and technology or, in other words – a complete overhaul of business-as-usual.
Given our history, this sure seems like a tall order, yet it may be the only chance we’ve got.