Official: The Environment Is At Tipping Point

Everybody has their own theories about what contributes to climate change. Some people feel that…

Everybody has their own theories about what contributes to climate change. Some people feel that it’s almost entirely down to human activity. Others feel that the climate changes based on an imperceptible cycle, with the planet warming and cooling over several centuries regardless of what humans do. The one thing that almost everything agrees on is that climate change is happening, and it’s having a detrimental impact on the world we call home. Whether or not you believe humans cause it, humans can certainly do something about it – and there’s never been a more critical time to act than right now.

A new study carried out by ecologists at Oregon State University (in conjunction with other experts) has been published in the past few days, and its findings are damning. The study identified thirty-one “planetary signs” as a means of giving the planet a health check and found worrying indicators in exactly half of them. In many cases, tipping points have either been pushed to the limits or exceeded. Those include high-impact factors like ice melts, concentrations of greenhouse gases, and the heat of the oceans. Even more worryingly, things have not improved dramatically even during 2020, when much of the world’s usual mass transportation and commercial industries slowed down. It’s the opinion of the experts that slowing down is no longer enough to reverse the bad trends; drastic reformative action is now required, and it’s required instantly.

Greenhouse gas emissions are almost entirely down to the way humans interact with the planet, whether through mass cattle farming or industrial processes. Harmful gases are emitted into the atmosphere and become trapped there, heating the world as they do so. The environment can tolerate this up to a certain point, but ecosystems begin to collapse when we go beyond that point. It might be helpful to think of it like an online slots game. You can sometimes keep putting money into an online slots game for hours without anything happening, but something will happen eventually. Whether it’s your fiftieth spin or your five hundredth, you’ll eventually get a result, and something will come out of the machine. Crucially, though, the difference is that when you finally get a result out of the online slots at, you’ll be pleased by it. When the environment finally gives us an output in return for all of our input, it will be a disaster. We’ve been gambling with the environment for decades, and we’re getting dangerously close to the worst imaginable kind of jackpot.

The study group took its last readings before publication in April 2021. They found that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that month was 416 parts per million. That’s the highest monthly average in history and goes some way to explaining why all five of the hottest years on record have happened within the past decade. Based on global averages, 2020 was the second warmest year ever recorded. Adding to the problem is the ever-increasing number of cattle kept and farmed as livestock. There are now more than four billion such animals in the world, weighing more than every other living creature combined and emitting disastrous levels of gas. These emissions could be offset if we had enough trees to produce sufficient quantities of oxygen, but despite restrictions, deforestation in the Amazon is accelerating. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has repealed some of his predecessor’s environment-friendly laws, and the result has been the loss of 1.11 million hectares of forest in 2020 alone.

The effects of climate change are no longer hypothetical. They’ve become a reality, and they’re being felt by people all over the world. Scientists in the United Kingdom recently concluded that their country’s weather system has already been disrupted by climate change and that the problem is getting worse. 2020 was within the country’s top ten ever in terms of rainfall, average temperature, and days of sunshine. There has never been another year that’s finished in the top ten in all three categories. Based on a comprehensive study of weather data from the past thirty years, the UK is now almost one full degree Celsius warmer and six per cent on average wetter. Snow – even in the northernmost reaches of the country – is becoming a thing of the past. Leaves have begun to appear on trees earlier in the year than ever before. That fact sounds pleasant in isolation, but if temperatures continue to rise at their current rate, they will become almost Mediterranean within the decade. If the UK develops a climate like the Mediterranean, the Mediterranean itself is likely to become unbearably hot.

Not everything in the report is bad news. There are signs that we might finally be ending our dependency on fossil fuels, with subsidies disappearing and divestment approaching record levels. The good news, though, is heavily outweighed by the bad. It’s estimated five hundred million people rely on coral reefs for either food or income, such as tourism. Coral reefs are endangered by the level of acid in the oceans and the temperature of the water. If they disappear, so will hundreds of marine species. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the situation is an emergency, and emergencies require urgent responses.

The authors of the report are clear about what they think should happen next. They want to see fossil fuels phased out and then, eventually, banned. They’d like to see environmentalism taught as a core subject in schools. More than anything else, though, they want to see an end to what they see as the exploitation of the Earth. Without it, life on our home planet will eventually become unsustainable. It might not happen in our lifetimes or the lifetimes of our children, but our grandchildren and those who come after us will have to deal with the consequences of the actions we’ve taken in the past and continue to take today. It’s possible that other solutions might appear. Future technologies might be capable of reversing environmental damage or sucking harmful gases back out of the atmosphere. The melting ice might even give rise to new green areas where trees will grow and produce much-needed oxygen. All things are still possible, but the time to act is now. We’ve all known that for a long time, but this report, difficult to read as it is, makes it clearer than ever before.