Hothouse Earth is just around the Corner

Hothouse Earth is just around the Corner

Credit: The Conversation

The natural mechanisms that keep the Earth cool might reverse their working if we don’t control the increment in temperature on an emergency basis.

Climate change due to global warming is making Earth hotter every day and scientists worry that human activity is pushing our planet towards a horrible end at an extremely rapid rate. According to an article published under the title ‘Top 9 Ways the World Could End’ in the journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’, humans will have to experience regular spells of extreme temperatures and long droughts if the current trend continues to flow till 2300.

The scientists told the world that the natural cooling system of the Earth stops working when the threshold temperature is exceeded and this leads the Earth into an incredibly hostile state known as the ‘Hothouse’. Having said that, they are not sure about the threshold and suggests that it could be as minimal as 2o C above the pre-industrial levels. However, the scientists behind this theory believe that an increment of about 5o C in the preindustrial temperatures will be observed. Similarly, sea levels will rise by 60 meters than what they are these days.

The 2o C mark holds quite a lot of significance as 179 countries signed the Paris Agreement to fight global warming which says that all of these nations will work hard to keep the global temperature from rising 2o C. Johan Rockström, the Director of the Stockholm Resilience Center who is also the Co-author of the article, said,

“This paper gives very strong scientific support … that we should avoid coming too close or even reaching 2 degrees Celsius warming.”

Feedback mechanisms of nature like the ability of rainforests to create their own humidity and rain are vital in maintaining balance in the environment. Devastating levels of deforestation leads to a dramatic increase in temperature which affects the efficiency of these mechanisms. Rockström mentioned that the direction of a feedback mechanism changes abruptly when it crosses a tipping point. In the case of a rainforest, it turns itself into a self-dryer which leads to its destruction. Massive amounts of Carbon is released during that process. Hence, global warming is assisted. Some of the other common tipping points include loss of coral reefs and loss of Arctic ice.

Our planet is passing through an interglacial cycle these days which is known as the ‘Holocene Epoch’. Earth has been cycling in and out of an ice age every 100,000 years for the last million years and its latest exit from an ice age was recorded some 12,000 years ago. Having said that, there are some scientists who believe that the climate and environment of today’s age are heavily influenced by human actions and it must be called ‘Anthropocene’ for this reason. According to Rockström, if carbon emissions continue to increase at this pace, we might leave the interglacial cycle pretty soon and enter a new age of ‘Hothouse Earth’.

Human activity has always polluted the environment but we are taking things to a critical level now through our unsustainable policies. Inhumane deforestation, taking out too much fresh water from the Earth, and degrading too much soil are some common examples where humanity itself is destroying its habitat. Natural mechanisms allow the trees, oceans, and soil to store excessive Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere in order to keep things balanced. However, researchers fear that these natural processes might reverse their operation and starts releasing even more carbon into the environment if we reach a specific temperature threshold. Rockström mentioned that in the following words:

“The moment the planet becomes a source of greenhouse gas emissions together with us humans, then as you can imagine, things are accelerating very fast in the wrong direction.”

Rockström told the world that global efforts are needed to manage this deadly issue and richer countries will have to think across borders if they want to minimize carbon emissions on Earth. The very first thing that we need to do is to shift to renewable sources in order to stop these emissions completely by 2050. For this reason, massive economies of the world will have to help their poorer neighbors as they don’t have the resources to reduce these emissions. Rockström also criticized the decision of the United States to pull out of the Paris Agreement by saying,

“That it’s, scientifically speaking, completely unacceptable that a country like the U.S. leaves the Paris Agreement, because now more than ever, we need every country in the world to collectively decarbonize … in order to secure a stable planet.”

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