Can We Avoid the Tipping Point?

Source: Wikimedia Commons

“Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” by Will Steffen and others is the most direct, present-oriented, and scientific article on climate change we have read in this class so far. Steffen et al. describe multiple potential pathways in which the Earth can go thanks to climate change. 

One such pathway, which Steffen and others call “The Hothouse Earth pathway,” is that the human-created biogeophysical feedback loops will continue to cause a mass extinction of countless species (including humanity, most likely at some point), requiring human stewardship and integration with the Earth if we are ever to hope for these dramatic changes to cease. According to the article, even if the current initiatives to halt the release of GHG emissions are agreed upon and implemented, Earth’s feedback loops aren’t going to listen, and will most likely continue to cycle as if nothing happened. These feedback loops will soon reach a tipping point (assuming they haven’t already), and they are unpredictable, most likely resulting in some form(s) of societal collapse and drastic attempts at adaptation, which just may end in failure. 

Another potential pathway, one which seems less likely than the former at this point, is named the “Stabilized Earth pathway”. This pathway assumes humans have taken initiative to immediately cease GHG emissions, integrate carbon capture and solar radiation technology, and much more. Also, this pathway, as Steffen et al. suggest, can be achieved partially by using carbon sinks and moisture feedbacks in the Earth’s forests. Ultimately, this pathway requires complete systemic change, and even if this happens, humans and plenty of other species will have to adapt to a much warmer climate.

This article, to my surprise, doesn’t give me much hope. If anything, it confirms everything we’ve been thinking this whole time, and it provides more insight not just in the fact that we may very well die, but how we’ll die as well. As this article shows, and as many of us have known for a long time, immediate and systemic change, especially in countries which contribute most to CO2 emissions. I just wish I knew how to bring this about.

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