A recent lecture by Clive Hamilton at the Royal Society of the Arts laid out the latest scientific understanding of the task humanity faces to avoid catastrophic climate change. And the prognosis is grim.
One of the most striking features of the global warming debate has been how, with each advance in climate science, the news keeps getting worse. Although temporarily slowed by the effects of the 2008 global financial crisis, the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions have been growing much faster than predicted in the 1990s. In addition, since 2005 a number of scientific papers have described the likelihood of the climate system passing significant ‘tipping points’— small perturbations that cause large changes—beyond which the warming process is reinforced by positive feedback mechanisms. The paleoclimate record shows the Earth’s climate often changing abruptly, flipping from one state to another, sometimes within a few years. It now seems almost certain that, if it has not occurred already, within the next several years enough warming will be locked in to the system to set in train feedback processes that will overwhelm any attempts we make to cut back on our carbon emissions. We will be powerless to stop the jump to a new climate on Earth, one much less sympathetic to life.
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