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Tipping points

Set aside for a moment the fact that our profligate use of coal, oil and gas and rampant destruction of green spaces are heating the planet to a point where human life will become increasingly uncomfortable, if not impossible. Climate change costs are also mounting, and pollution, habitat destruction and consumerism are profoundly affecting global human health and survival.

Other than fear of change or of upsetting the status quo, there’s no rational reason for the slow pace at which the world is tackling the climate emergency. We’d all be healthier, happier and better off economically by quickly employing the many available and emerging solutions, and working on new ones.

A study co-ordinated by the World Meteorological Organization illustrates our predicament and how we might get out of it — but we have no time to lose. UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said the ‘United in Science 2022’ report shows we’re “heading into uncharted territory of destruction” with mounting climate impacts.

Although governments worldwide have agreed to try to keep the planet from heating more than 1.5 C over pre-industrial levels, the report concludes that’s increasingly unlikely – especially as commitments and actions fall far short of what’s needed. It finds a 48 per cent chance that “during at least one year in the next five years, annual mean temperature will temporarily be 1.5 degrees C higher than in 1850-1900.”

It also notes emissions continue to rise and “returned to 2019 pre-pandemic levels after a large, but temporary, absolute drop in emissions due to widespread lockdowns.” And it points to the danger of climate “tipping points” that “could have significant global and regional consequences.”

“A tipping point is when a temperature threshold is passed, leading to unstoppable change in a climate system, even if global heating ends,” the Guardian explains, reporting on another major study that found the world is nearing several ‘disastrous’ tipping points and may have already passed five.

That study identifies nine global and seven regional tipping points, including collapse of the Greenland, west Antarctic and two parts of the east Antarctic ice sheets, partial and total collapse of Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (including the Gulf Stream), Amazon rainforest dieback, permafrost collapse and loss of Arctic winter sea ice. Collapse of Greenland’s ice cap could cause a huge sea level rise, collapse of the Gulf Stream could disrupt rain billions of people depend on for food and abrupt permafrost melting could release methane into the atmosphere, the Guardian reports.

Climate disruption is already causing devastation worldwide, and it will accelerate unless we step up our global game.

Excerpted: ‘A Rapid Green Energy Transition to Save $12 Trillion and Avoid Catastrophic Tipping Points’.

David Suzuki, "Tipping points," The News. 2022-09-29.
Keywords: Environmental sciences , Climate system , Climate change , Climate emergency , Greenland , Heatwaves , Temperature , Antonio Guterres