Earth Tipping Point Study In Nature Journal Predicts Disturbing And Unpredictable Changes

Condensed by Native Village

Earth will face a catastrophic breakdown if we humans don't get our act together. Earth is headed toward a tipping point marked by extinctions and unpredictable changes.

The scale of destruction has not been seen since the glaciers retreated 12,000 years ago.

"There is a very high possibility that by the end of the century, the Earth is going to be a very different place," said researcher Anthony Barnosky from the University of California, Berkeley. Barnosky joined a group of 17 international scientists to warn that this new planet might not be a pleasant place to live.

"You can envision these state changes as a fast period of adjustment where we get pushed through the eye of the needle," Barnosky said. "As we're going through the eye of the needle, that's when we see political strife, economic strife, war and famine."

Barnosky and his colleagues reviewed research on climate change, ecology and Earth's tipping points. At certain thresholds, putting more pressure on the environment leads to a point of no return. Suddenly, the planet responds in unpredictable ways, triggering major global transitions.

The most recent major transition was the end of the last glacial period. Within
3,000 years, the Earth went from being 30% covered in ice to its present, nearly ice-free condition.

Most extinctions and ecological changes occurred in just 1,600 years. Earth's biodiversity still has not recovered to what it was.

Barnosky said humans are causing changes even faster than the natural ones that pushed back the glaciers and these changes are much bigger:

With a 35% increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide the Industrial Revolution began, global temperatures are rising faster than they did back then.
Likewise, humans have completely transformed 43% of Earth's land surface for cities and agriculture. 
The human population has exploded, putting ever more pressure on existing resources.

"Every change we look at that we have accomplished in the past couple of centuries is actually more than what preceded one of these major state changes in the past," Barnosky said.

The results are difficult to predict, because tipping points take the planet into uncharted territory. Barnosky predicts:

A major loss of species. (When the last glacial period ended, half of the world's large-bodied mammal species disappeared).
Changes at the local level to the makeup of species.
Humans may well be knotting our own noose as we burn through Earth's resources.

"These ecological systems actually give us our life support, our crops, our fisheries, clean water," Barnosky said. As resources shift from one nation to another, political instability can easily follow.

Saving our planet will require international cooperation.  By 2025, humans will be using 50% of Earth's land surface.  By 2050, the human population is expected to reach 9,000,000,000. To sustain ourselves, we'll need more efficient energy production and use, a greater focus on renewable resources, and a need to save species and habitat today for future generations.

"My bottom line is that I want the world in
50 to 100 years to be at least as good as it is now for my children and their children, and I think most people would say the same," Barnosky said. "We're at a crossroads where if we choose to do nothing we really do face these tipping points and a less-good future for our immediate descendents."