Climate Change May Be Creating a ‘Hothouse Earth’

Is it already too late to scale back the course of climate change? Possibly so, says a new study – unless we get really serious about making immediate changes.

Everything hinges on exactly how much the Earth warms. If we edge toward a global temperature increase of 2°C, or 3.6° F, the resulting warming could trigger “important tipping elements” that will raise the temperature even further.

Such a temperature increase would kick off a cascading domino effect that could push our planet to even higher temperatures, according to a new study published in the journal ”Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

Scientists from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, the Australian National University and elsewhere came up with their determination after a review of past reports on climate change tipping points. They compared Earth’s current climate to the climate millions of years ago when there were much higher carbon dioxide levels.

Photo credit: PNAS

A figure from the study demonstrating two possible futures for Earth. Photo credit: PNAS

The team of scientists concluded:

This analysis implies that, even if the Paris Accord target of a 1.5 °C to 2.0 °C rise in temperature is met, we cannot exclude the risk that a cascade of feedbacks could push the Earth System irreversibly onto a “Hothouse Earth” pathway. The challenge that humanity faces is to create a “Stabilized Earth” pathway that steers the Earth System away from its current trajectory toward the threshold beyond which is Hothouse Earth.

“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,” study co-author Johan Rockström told BBC News.

“We are the ones in control right now, but once we go past 2 degrees, we see that the Earth system tips over from being a friend to a foe. We totally hand over our fate to an Earth system that starts rolling out of equilibrium.”

If we breach the initial tipping point, expect to see global average temperatures shoot 6 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are now, according to the study. Sea levels would rise 30 to 200 feet higher. Deltaic environments will flood, coastal storm damage will rise and coral reefs will be destroyed.

Even if every nation adhering to the Paris Agreement meets the accord’s goals for carbon emissions, researchers suggest that may not be enough to save us.

James Lovelock, a scientist others call “one of the most innovative and mischievous scientific minds of our time,” told Rolling Stone as long ago as 2007 that he fears it’s already too late to do anything.

Lovelock believes the effects of unchecked climate change will make themselves painfully apparent in short order. Rolling Stone described his dire prediction this way:

By 2020, droughts and other extreme weather will be commonplace. By 2040, the Sahara will be moving into Europe, and Berlin will be as hot as Baghdad. Atlanta will end up a kudzu jungle. Phoenix will become uninhabitable, as will parts of Beijing (desert), Miami (rising seas) and London (floods). Food shortages will drive millions of people north, raising political tensions. “The Chinese have nowhere to go but up into Siberia,” Lovelock says. “How will the Russians feel about that? I fear that war between Russia and China is probably inevitable.” With hardship and mass migrations will come epidemics, which are likely to kill millions. By 2100, Lovelock believes, the Earth’s population will be culled from today’s 6.6 billion to as few as 500 million, with most of the survivors living in the far latitudes – Canada, Iceland, Scandinavia, the Arctic Basin.

Note that first line above — the 2007 prediction about extreme weather and droughts by 2020. Now think about this year’s wild U.S. winter, 2017’s Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma, and the extraordinary western U.S. wildfires spurred by drought.

Was Lovelock correct? We can only hope he’s overstated the problem a little bit.

The new study concludes that citizens of earth must pay careful attention and take immediate action if we hope to avoid spiraling into a “hothouse Earth” scenario. Can we do it? We have to try.

Right now Washington, D.C., seems to lack the political will to make the required effort. Those in charge don’t believe in climate change. They’ve said as much. We can change that, of course, by voting out the unbelievers and replacing them with leaders who will take aggressive action. But we have to do it now, in case it’s not already too late.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Perkins/Unsplash

68 comments

Ann B
Ann B2 months ago

we have all seen this excessive heat this summer and more to come--but the people with power dont want to do anything about it....it all falls back to MONEY!!!!!

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Camilla V
Camilla Vaga2 months ago

thx

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Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson2 months ago

Thank you.

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David C
David C2 months ago

Double Argh!

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Peggy B
Peggy B2 months ago

aRGH

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Peggy B
Peggy B2 months ago

TYFS

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David C
David C2 months ago

sadly it doesn't seem that Australian politicians listen to Australian scientists....similar to the GOP in the US denying science.........

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David C
David C2 months ago

it maybe too late in some ways, but I'm not giving up.....I have young adult children and there are still so many other reasons to try and live 'clean and green'

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hELEN hEARFIELD
hELEN h3 months ago

tyfs

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