Past the Point of No Return

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The article “The Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” written by Steffen, et al. reiterates many of the statements made in previous articles we have discussed. For example, human activity is heavily contributing to climate change, most specifically in CO2 emissions, and that climate change will affect human health, economies, political stability, and governments. By making many of the same points that other authors have made,  Steffen, et al. reinforces the notion that climate change is real and a crisis. Steffen, et al. defines the Anthropocene as a new geological epoch, after the Holocene. This definition, in my mind, shows the strength of belief this team of researchers has in their work, and demonstrates the extreme changes that have occurred on Earth as a result of climate change and the Anthropocene. 

Steffen, et al. does not stick to making the same points as other authors and instead expands tremendously on the effects that climate change has on the Earth, as well as delaying and/ or solving climate change. First off, Steffan et al. brings up three integral concepts: limit cycles and planetary thresholds, biogeophysical feedbacks, and Tipping cascades. These concepts make this article on climate change unique and reveals the science behind definitions and predictions of climate change (this appeals to the science lover in me).

Steffen, et al. uses limit cycles and planetary thresholds to convey the fact that we are on the way towards a “Hothouse Earth” and that drastic changes need to be made to alter the trajectory that the Earth’s climate is going, and to bring back stability by reentering the an interglacial state. Steffen, et al. also uses limit cycles and planetary thresholds to lead into biogeophysical feedbacks. If the Earth is headed towards an interglacial state, and instead is headed towards a “Hothouse Earth,” once this limit is passed, biogeophysical feedbacks will become the more dominant controller over the future of the earth (which I find unsettling).The point here being that if a “Hothouse Earth” is not avoided, and instead the threshold is passed, humans may not be able to lessen the effects or solve climate change. Biogeophysical feedbacks can also lead to further changes on Earth (both unpredictable and often detrimental). This concept conveniently leads into the concept of tipping cascades, the idea that one event, such as the loss of the Greenland ice sheet, can cause changes all around the globe including a transition of the Atlantic ice sheet. Tipping cascades is similar in concept to dominos, one event occurs and causes another which causes another. 

I think the most striking fact that Steffen, et al. brings up is that we are heading towards an Earth (even with an increase of 1 or 2 degrees Celsius) that is hotter than any other time that modern humans have existed. We are heading into the unknown, and as Steffen, et al. brings up, out societies are going to have to build resilience. 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *