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Global WarmingScience

Hellish World, by 2060 or Earlier?

…the limits for human adaptation are likely to be exceeded in many parts of the world, while the limits for adaptation for natural systems would largely be exceeded throughout the world.”

How can we get society to act on the imminent threat of catastrophic global climate change if no one really understands what is in store? Dr Joe Romm of Climate Progress writes:

One of the greatest failings of the climate science community (and the media) is not spelling out as clearly as possible the risks we face on our current emissions path, as well as the plausible worst-case scenario, which includes massive ecosystem collapse. So much of what the public and policymakers think is coming is a combination of

  1. The low end of the expected range of warming and impacts based on aggressive policies to reduce emissions (and no serious carbon-cycle feedbacks)
  2. Analyses of a few selected impacts, but not an integrated examination of multiple impacts
  3. Disinformation pushed by the anti-science, pro-pollution crowd

In fairness, a key reason the scientific community hasn’t studied the high emissions scenarios much until recently because they never thought humanity would be so self-destructive as to ignore their warnings for so long, which has put us on the highest emissions path….

Well, a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, does tell us straight up what we’re in store for (not even under the worst scenario). And, of course, the news isn’t bright. The summarizing portion of this collection of scientific papers on global warming states:

In such a 4°C world, the limits for human adaptation are likely to be exceeded in many parts of the world, while the limits for adaptation for natural systems would largely be exceeded throughout the world.

The Guardian summarizes the report like this:

A 4C rise in the planet’s temperature would see severe droughts across the world and millions of migrants seeking refuge as their food supplies collapse.

And this could all be happening by 2060.

The point is not just how much hotter the world gets, but also how fast it gets hotter, as human society’s ability to adapt to such change is not infinite. Those who are relying on human ingenuity to sole our problems at the last minute would be better off paying attention to the fact that we are basically at the last minute and there is much that needs to be done at an extremely fast rate.

For some more details on this matter, here’s more from the Royal Society’s summarizing paper:

… a 4°C world would be facing enormous adaptation challenges in the agricultural sector, with large areas of cropland becoming unsuitable for cultivation, and declining agricultural yields. This world would also rapidly be losing its ecosystem services, owing to large losses in biodiversity, forests, coastal wetlands, mangroves and saltmarshes, and terrestrial carbon stores, supported by an acidified and potentially dysfunctional marine ecosystem. Drought and desertification would be widespread, with large numbers of people experiencing increased water stress, and others experiencing changes in seasonality of water supply. There would be a need to shift agricultural cropping to new areas, impinging on unmanaged ecosystems and decreasing their resilience; and large-scale adaptation to sea-level rise would be necessary. Human and natural systems would be subject to increasing levels of agricultural pests and diseases, and increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

In such a 4°C world, the limits for human adaptation are likely to be exceeded in many parts of the world, while the limits for adaptation for natural systems would largely be exceeded throughout the world. Hence, the ecosystem services upon which human livelihoods depend would not be preserved. Even though some studies have suggested that adaptation in some areas might still be feasible for human systems, such assessments have generally not taken into account lost ecosystem services.

For much more on all of this, check our: Royal Society special issue details ‘hellish vision’ of 7°F (4°C) world — which we may face in the 2060s!.

Related Story: Top 10 Climate Science News of 2010

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Image Credit: AZRainman via flickr (CC license)




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