Friday, January 16, 2015

Climate Change Action in the Face of Tipping Points: Its Now or Never

We have run out of time to act on climate change, if we are to have even the remotest chance of staving off the worst impacts, world leaders must come together and agree on a responsible path forward this year. The science is clear, but now we must muster the political and economic will. In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the AR5 synthesis report and it is the most comprehensive summary of the science of climate change to date. The report urges world leaders to forge a climate agreement in 2015.

According to a Study by University of Hawaii, Geography Professor Camillo Mora, we will be subject to cataclysmic earth changes within a few decades. It is going to get far hotter than the warming we have already seen. Mora's research indicates that more than half the world will be engulfed by climate change by 2047, and in places like Jakarta the heat will hit almost a decade and a half before that. As explained in the report, "greenhouse gas emissions could shift the Earth's climate beyond historical analogs."

A number of phenomenon, either alone or in combination could quickly catapult us past climate tipping points. We have already seen evidence of a tipping point in the form of melting antarctic ice sheets. However, something like Albeido flip (the opposite of the Albeido effect where light is absorbed rather than reflected back into space) is an example of a possible global tipping point.

Any one or a combination of the following could cause us to stumble over irreversible tipping points: Release of methane from permafrost (or polar ocean sediments), retreating sea ice and ice sheets, warming oceans, and even forest fires.

We may already be teetering on the brink of dangerous tipping points. We have seen evidence to suggest that we are at least moving in the direction of irreversible changes. Changes in ocean currents represent such a critical change. In a bit more than a half century we have seen a 30 percent weakening of North Atlantic Thermal Circulation.

We know that we have already passed carbon thresholds. The last time earth had similar levels of atmospheric CO2 global average temperatures were 3 to 4 degrees Celsius above preindustrial averages. The current level of atmospheric carbon exceed rates observed in the geological record over the last 65 million years. We have reached over 400 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 and this is increasing at a rate of 2 ppm per year.

The current trajectory puts us on a coarse to return the earth to the tropical state that existed during the early to mid-Eocene. Far from being paradise, these warmer global temperatures would make farming impossible on vast swaths of agricultural lands, extreme weather would ravage the globe and sea levels may rise by as much as 40 meters.

As explained by Henry Cisneros who served as housing secretary in the Clinton administration and is a former mayor of San Antonio, "with every week that passes, with every month that passes, with every year that passes, the implications get more and more serious. We're moving toward points of no return where the cumulative effect of the damage becomes a spiral downward from which the systems cannot recover"

Even if countries around the world take their emissions reductions work seriously, Mora's research suggests that we will still be struck with cataclysmic climate change by 2069.

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