Seas rising by as much as 60 metres. Average temperatures up to five degrees higher. Ecosystems, society, and economies completely disrupted.
That’s the reality Earth may be facing if we cause our home planet’s average temperatures to increase by just one more degree Celsius.
And the really scary part is that it may be irreversible.
According to ‘Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene’, a study published in the international journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), we are well on the way to a tipping point that “could prevent stabilisation of the climate at intermediate temperature rises and cause continued warming on a ‘Hothouse Earth’ pathway even as human emissions are reduced”.
Essentially, if we cross this threshold, we’re in all likelihood totally boned – like, to the point that large chunks of the planet would be rendered uninhabitable.
Professor Will Steffen from the Australian National University (ANU) headed up the international study and said that the simple act of a rising average global temperature would likely set off a chain reaction of events.
“The real concern is these tipping elements can act like a row of dominoes,” Professor Steffen told the ABC.
“Once one is pushed over, it pushes earth towards another.
“It may be very difficult or impossible to stop the whole row of dominoes from tumbling over.”
While Professor Steffen encouraged all people and international governments to get our act together and work to stop this terrifying future from coming to be our planet’s reality – which could be as soon as 100 years away – current efforts would not be enough to stop us crossing the threshold.
“Even if the Paris Accord [Agreement] target of a 1.5C to 2C rise in temperature is met, we cannot exclude the risk that a cascade of feedbacks could push the Earth system irreversibly onto a ‘hothouse Earth’ pathway,” the study said.
“As yet [these initiatives] are not enough to meet the Paris target.”