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Climate change accelerates, bringing the world ‘dangerously close’ to irreversible harm

Henry Fountain reports:

More devastating fires in California. Persistent drought in the Southwest. Record flooding in Europe and Africa. A heat wave, of all things, in Greenland.

Climate change and its effects are accelerating, with climate related disasters piling up, season after season.

“Things are getting worse,” said Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization, which on Tuesday issued its annual state of the global climate report, concluding a decade of what it called exceptional global heat. “It’s more urgent than ever to proceed with mitigation.”

But reducing greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change will require drastic measures, Dr. Taalas said. “The only solution is to get rid of fossil fuels in power production, industry and transportation,” he said.

Seas are warming and rising faster, putting more cities at risk of tidal flooding or worse. Glaciers are melting at a pace many researchers did not expect for decades. The amount of Arctic sea ice has declined so rapidly that the region may see ice-free summers by the 2030s.

Even the ground itself is warming faster. Permanently frozen ground, or permafrost, is thawing more rapidly, threatening the release of large amounts of long-stored carbon that could in turn make warming even worse, in what scientists call a climate feedback loop.

In a recent commentary in the journal Nature, scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research in Germany and other institutions warned that the acceleration of ice loss and other effects of climate change have brought the world “dangerously close” to abrupt and irreversible changes, or tipping points. Among these, the researchers said, were the collapse of at least part of the West Antarctic ice sheet — which itself could eventually raise sea levels by four feet or more — or the loss of the Amazon rainforest.

“In our view, the consideration of tipping points helps to define that we are in a climate emergency,” they wrote.

The societal toll is accelerating, too, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said in Madrid before the opening this week of the U.N.’s annual climate conference. “Climate-related natural disasters are becoming more frequent, more deadly, more destructive, with growing human and financial costs,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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