Climate cascade towards ‘Hothouse Earth’

A new research report referred to in this Guardian article offers in graphic form a catalogue of ten climate change trends and effects that may combine to greatly hasten the heating of Spaceship Earth. Feedback loops are likely to amplify one another leading to effects that will make any efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, of little consequence.,

One of the authors of the Stockholm Resilence Centre research Johann Rockström says there are huge gaps in data and knowledge about how one process might amplify another. Contrary to the Gaia theory, which suggests the Earth has a self-righting tendency, he says the feedbacks could push the planet to a more extreme state. As an example, the authors say the loss of Greenland ice could disrupt the Gulf Stream ocean current, which would raise sea levels and accumulate heat in the Southern Ocean, which would in turn accelerate ice loss from the east Antarctic. Concerns about this possibility were heightened earlier this year by reports that the Gulf Stream was at its weakest level in 1,600 years. Currently, global average temperatures are just over 1C above pre-industrial levels and rising at 0.17C per decade. The Paris climate agreement set actions to keep warming limited to 1.5C-2C by the end of the century, but the authors warn more drastic action may be necessary.

This is the link to the research paper

“Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene”  in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) in the USA.

From the abstract: “Collective human action is required to steer the Earth System away from a potential threshold and stabilize it in a habitable interglacial-like state. Such action entails stewardship of the entire Earth System—biosphere, climate, and societies—and could include decarbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values”

This review includes the following conclusion:

“Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” is a powerful and convincing argument for rapid and radical action. Its weaknesses should not distract us from recognizing it as an important contribution that should inform all serious efforts to understand and respond to the global crisis. By firmly placing climate change in the context of the Anthropocene and Earth System Science, it breaks from the dominant view that global warming is a linear process that can be solved by market reforms. Incremental measures like carbon pricing cannot address the systemic problems that are relentlessly driving Earth’s temperature upward.

If an irrevocable trajectory to Hothouse Earth is even possible — and this paper shows that it is — then decisive counter-measures must be at the top of the agenda for everyone who is concerned about humanity’s future.

Another review by Rex Weyler (Greenpeace) of the Hothouse Earth paper includes this extract:

“In the 1950s, anthropologist/ecologist Gregory Bateson and colleagues coined the term “Double Bind” to describe just such a dilemma: Contradictory demands that are inherently impossible to fulfill. According to Garrett, “seeking global prosperity alongside mitigated climate change” puts human enterprise in just such a “double-bind.”

To slow climate change we must actually reduce carbon emissions, and to achieve this, the Hothouse Earth authors claim, we have to address global “consumption patterns,” and make “rapid progress toward slowing or reversing population growth.” To escape the double bind, human enterprise has to contract, not grow. “The Business-as-Usual approach of industry and their hand-puppet governments,” says Dr. William Rees, “is a prime illustration of one of the few things on Earth that is unlimited: The human capacity for self-delusion.”

Leave a Reply