In the journal Nature, an international group of scientists warned that the world is headed towards a tipping point that will be marked with extinctions and changes not seen since the glaciers disappeared 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,” study researcher Anthony Barnosky said. Barnosky is a professor of integrative biology from the University of California, Berkeley.
“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 studied research regarding climate change, Earth’s tipping points and ecology. Barnosky said that at certain areas, when we put more pressure on the environment it leads to a point of no return. Barnosky said that the Earth will respond in unpredictable methods, which would cause major changes. A recent example of such a change is the end of the last glacial period. The Earth changed from being covered in ice up to 30 percent to its current almost ice-free look over a span of just 3,000 years.
Barnosky said that humans are creating changes that are occurring faster than the natural changes that melted the glaciers and that these changes are much bigger now. Since the Industrial Revolution began, the world has seen a 35 percent increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, which has led to a rise in global temperatures. At the end of the last glacial period, 30 percent of the Earth saw land surface changes. Today, humans have changed 43 percent of the land surface on the Earth for agriculture and cities.
“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.
Barnosky said that determining the changes is difficult to do but based on the past, there could be a loss of species at a large level and changes in species at the local level.
“These ecological systems actually give us our life support, our crops, our fisheries, clean water,” Barnosky said.
According to Barnosky, by 2025, the world will be using 50 percent of the land surface of Earth if countries continue to operate under business-as-usual activities. Also, by 2050, the world’s population should hit 9 billion people.
“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.”