Climate Change Planetary Boundaries
Most people have noticed some changes in the weather over the past decade; that’s because the world is getting hotter, and weather patterns are changing. These effects and others will only worsen as we move past the planetary boundaries and tipping points of a healthy planet.
Climate Change: More Than the Weather
In short, climate change refers to the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These gases, including methane, hydrofluorocarbons, and nitrogen, prevent heat from being released into space, increasing the temperature of the earth’s systems.
Of course, climate change affects the weather. Changes in air temperature influences wind patterns and rainfall; ocean currents are also changing and make some places warmer or cooler. But climate change also affects habitats, settlements, and other planetary boundaries.
Climate Change: A Planetary Boundary
The nine planetary boundaries were devised by Johan Rockstrom at the Stockholm Resilience Centre. With other scientists, quantitative boundaries were established to determine the thresholds within which humans can live and thrive in harmony with the planet for generations.
Climate change is one of the primary thresholds in the model. At present, the climate change boundary is breached, but not to the same extent as biogeochemical flows or biosphere integrity. However, climate change affects and influences most other thresholds in the model.
Physical Feedback Mechanisms
One devastating effect of global warming is the loss of polar sea ice, which has been disappearing for decades. Contrary to popular belief, melting polar sea ice does not raise sea levels - it’s land ice that does that - but melting sea ice speeds up climate change processes.
This is an example of a physical feedback mechanism. A physical feedback mechanism is a tipping point that changes the natural dynamics of earth systems. Melting sea ice reduces reflection of sunlight and absorbs it instead, accelerating the disintegration of sea ice overall.
There are many other examples of physical feedback mechanisms in the processes of climate change. Scientists have identified 16 tipping points that are likely to be crossed as global warming moves from 1.1 - 3.0, including the loss of the Amazon rainforest and permafrost.
The Impact of Climate Change
Climate change is set to have a devastating impact on the planet. Rising sea levels will displace coastal populations; the rainforests will diminish and become deserts, further increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and changes to permafrost and rain patterns will affect food supplies.
While there is a risk of runaway climate change - an ultimate tipping point from which the planet cannot recover - it is unlikely, according to scientists. The world is on course for a 2-3C rise, but reducing human-caused CO2 emissions in the atmosphere can rebalance natural systems.
Meeting Challenges With Climate Action
The climate of the planet is changing more rapidly than ever before, and the catalyst is human activity, but global carbon emissions continue to rise. The UN climate change conference is an excellent example of international cooperation; now, strict policies are needed for climate action.
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