Earth on verge of five catastrophic climate tipping points, scientists warn
Many of the gravest threats to humanity are drawing closer, as carbon pollution heats the planet to ever more dangerous levels, scientists have warned.
Five important natural thresholds already risk being crossed, according to the Global Tipping Points report, and three more may be reached in the 2030s if the world heats 1.5C (2.7F) above pre-industrial temperatures.
Triggering these planetary shifts will not cause temperatures to spiral out of control in the coming centuries but will unleash dangerous and sweeping damage to people and nature that cannot be undone.
“Tipping points in the Earth system pose threats of a magnitude never faced by humanity,” said Tim Lenton, from the University of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute. “They can trigger devastating domino effects, including the loss of whole ecosystems and capacity to grow staple crops, with societal impacts including mass displacement, political instability and financial collapse.”
The tipping points at risk include the collapse of big ice sheets in Greenland and the West Antarctic, the widespread thawing of permafrost, the death of coral reefs in warm waters, and the collapse of one oceanic current in the North Atlantic.
Planet tipping points pose 'unprecedented' threat to humanity: report
AFP via Phys.org
Humanity faces an "unprecedented" risk from tipping points that could unleash a domino effect of irreversible catastrophes across the planet, researchers warned Wednesday.
The most comprehensive assessment ever conducted of Earth's invisible tripwires was released as leaders meet for UN climate talks in Dubai with 2023 set to smash all heat records.
While many of the 26 tipping points laid out in the report—such as melting ice sheets—are linked to global warming, other human activities like razing swathes of the Amazon rainforest could also push Earth's ecosystems to the brink.
Five of these are showing signs of tipping—from melting ice sheets threatening catastrophic sea level rise, to mass die-off of tropical coral reefs—the report warned.
Some may have already begun to irrecoverably transform.
Once the world crosses the threshold for just one tipping point, dealing with the immediate humanitarian disaster could distract attention away from stopping the others, creating a "vicious cycle" of mass hunger, displacement and conflict, the report warned.
Tim Lenton, an Earth system scientist at the University of Exeter and lead author of the report, told AFP that these tipping points pose a "threat of a magnitude that is unprecedented for humanity".
Catastrophic change looms as Earth nears climate ‘tipping points’, report says
Climate change has placed the world in danger of breaching numerous planetary “tipping points”, according to a scientific assessment compiled by more than 200 researchers. Crossing those points could lead to irreversible effects on natural systems that are crucial to human livelihoods, write the authors, who add that it’s time to confront these dangers head-on — and accelerate efforts to prevent them.
Some scientists remain wary of over-emphasizing tipping points, because it’s difficult to define the risks and assess their likelihood. But few doubt that the risks are real, or that they are increasing as global temperatures escalate.
“These tipping points pose threats of a magnitude that has never been faced before by humanity,” says Tim Lenton, a climate scientist at the University of Exeter, UK, who led the report with support from the Bezos Earth Fund… […]
Other data released at COP28 make clear the extent of the challenge. Scientists announced on 5 December that this year’s global fossil-fuel emissions are on track to hit a record high of roughly 37 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide — 1.1% more than in 2022 (see ‘Steady rise’) . And Climate Action Tracker, a scientific consortium that monitors climate policies, estimated that nations’ current pledges to cut emissions, as required by the Paris agreement, could still allow global temperatures to climb to 2.5 °C above pre-industrial levels by 2100.
Nearly half of the world’s flowering plants face the threat of extinction, study says
A less colorful world looms on our horizon. Almost half of the world’s flowers are in danger of extinction, according to a recent preprint posted on biorxiv.org.
A group of scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in Richmond, U.K., built a model that uses artificial intelligence, or AI, to guess whether a plant species is threatened. Their goal was to promote more plants to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which tracks the extinction risks for plants and animals and is an important channel for conservation funding.
“We’re trying to raise the profile because we feel plants often get missed in the conversation about more furry and fluffy things,” said botanist Steven Bachman, the study’s lead author. Bachman’s team hopes to expand representation of the oft-overlooked kingdom on the influential list.
Yes, the Climate Crisis May Wipe out Six Billion People
One thing the climate crisis underscores is that Homo sapiens are not primarily a rational species. When forced to make important decisions, particularly decisions affecting our economic security or socio-political status, primitive instinct and raw emotion tend to take the upper hand.
This is not a good thing if the fate of society is at stake. Take “hope” for example. For good evolutionary reasons, humans naturally tend to be hopeful in times of stress. So gently comforting is this word, that some even endow their daughters with its name. But hope can be enervating, flat out debilitating, when it merges with mere wishful thinking — when we hope, for example, that technology alone can save us from climate change. […]
Roger Hallam … can scarcely be held up as a “messiah of hope.” Quite the contrary. Hallam, a co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, has been desperately warning of societal collapse for years.
But on Aug. 15, in a memorable session of the BBC’s HardTalk, Hallam irritated multiple cultural nerves by claiming, on the basis of “hard science,” that six billion people will die as a result of climate change in coming decades.
The 3 Myths Propping Up the Fossil Fuel Industry
Fossil fuels contribute over 75% of global emissions. Every person at the COP28 climate change summit knows we need to rapidly slash the use of fossil fuels to keep global warming anywhere near the goal of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels determined in the Paris meetings of 2015.
Nevertheless, if just 20 of the world’s major fossil-fuel-producing countries stick to their current plans, they will combine to produce double the amount of fossil fuels than those goals allow. And that doesn’t account for the other 175 or so nations in the world. Meanwhile oil-and-gas companies are profiting more than ever, and investing billions annually to keep fossil fuels going.
The reason we are knowingly marching down a path of immense suffering and economic calamity is shockingly simple. The fossil fuel industry has propagated three myths designed to scare governments from doing the right thing—and so far, it has worked. Our leaders must call their bluff and strike a deal to rapidly shift away from fossil fuels.
The first myth: fossil fuels are essential to meet national energy security needs. […]
The second myth: without more oil and gas, we can never meet the world’s growing energy demand. […]
The third myth: carbon-capture technology will make fossil fuels emission-free.
Wind and solar pose climate threat too, oil giant Saudi Arabia argues
Oil-rich Saudi Arabia is urging nations to take action on what it suggests is a growing threat to the Earth’s climate — wind and solar power.
The pitch from the world’s biggest oil player includes a Saudi government document, obtained by POLITICO’s E&E News, expressing concern about the “lifecycle” greenhouse gas emissions of wind, solar and other renewable energy sources, whose popularity has grown as countries look for alternatives to planet-heating fossil fuels.
It comes as the kingdom is stepping up its broader arguments that expensive, largely unproven methods of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans are an essential part of the strategy for countering climate change. In contrast, scientists, environmental activists and representatives of vulnerable island nations say the most urgently needed fix for climate change is to stop producing and burning oil, natural gas and coal.
Other major fossil fuel nations — including the United States — have also expressed support for a technological approach to reducing carbon pollution, in conjunction with shifting toward greener energy sources.
U.N. climate talks head says "no science" backs ending fossil fuels. That's incorrect
The head of United Nations climate talks underway in Dubai insisted incorrectly that there is no science to support phasing out fossil fuels to avoid catastrophic warming.
Sultan al-Jaber, who is also the chief executive of the United Arab Emirates' state-run oil company, made the comments in an online meeting on November 21. That was little over a week before he officially began to preside over annual U.N. climate negotiations, known as COP28, that are being held this year in the UAE. The comments were first reported by The Guardian, which also published a video of the meeting. […]
In the video, Ireland's former president Mary Robinson asks al-Jaber to use his position to push for a global agreement to phase out fossil fuels. Such language was not included in the landmark 2015 Paris climate agreement, and has been repeatedly blocked by petroleum-dependent countries at subsequent negotiations.
That's despite unequivocal, and long-standing, scientific consensus that humanity must transition to renewable energy sources immediately in order to avoid catastrophic warming, including runaway sea level rise, mass extinction of plants and animals and countless lives lost to extreme weather.
In the video, however, al-Jaber responds to Robinson's suggestion with this incorrect statement: "I respect the science, and there is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phase-out of fossil fuel is what's going to achieve 1.5 [degrees Celsius]."
U.S. Supports ‘Largely’ Phasing Out Fossil Fuels, John Kerry Says at Climate Summit
The New York Times
John Kerry, President Biden’s special envoy for climate change, said on Wednesday that the United States supported a phaseout of fossil fuels, his clearest statement yet on America’s position on one of the most intractable issues under debate at the United Nations climate talks in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Mr. Kerry said that “largely” ending the burning of coal, gas and oil was required to limit average global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, which many scientists say is necessary to prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change. The planet has already warmed by 1.2 degrees Celsius.
“We’ve got to do what the science tells us to do, and the science has been clear,” Mr. Kerry told reporters gathered at a news conference at the summit, known as COP28, which began on Nov. 30 and runs until Dec. 12.
But he also said that to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, nations would need to deploy technology to capture and store carbon emissions from industries for which there are no low-carbon or zero-carbon alternatives, like steel and cement manufacturing.
Don’t Fall for Big Oil’s Carbon Capture Deceptions
It’s that time of year again. The political and media circus of the United Nation’s big climate change meeting COP28 is about to begin, this time in in Dubai. And it’s bound to be quite a show.
In the inevitable crescendo of hype and greenwashing that’s coming our way, we’ll doubtless hear a lot about industrial carbon capture technologies that attempt to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The COP 28 host country, the United Arab Emirates, the world’s largest oil companies and even programs in the U.S. Department of Energy are working hard to push this stuff.
Don’t be fooled. It’s mostly a distraction from what we really need to do right now: phase out fossil fuels and deploy more effective climate solutions.
A record number of fossil fuel representatives are at this year's COP28 climate talks
The United Nations climate change talks in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, have broken a record for the largest number of fossil fuel representatives to attend, according to a new analysis.
Nearly four times the number of representatives and employees of fossil fuel companies have registered for access to this year's climate talks, known as COP28, compared to last year's talks in Egypt. There are only 2.5 times more registered attendees this year compared to last year. That's according to a new analysis from the Kick Big Polluters Out Coalition, which is composed of more than 450 groups involved in environmental and climate action.
The analysis counted at least 2,400 fossil fuel representatives and lobbyists at the talks.
Scientists skip COP28 to demand climate action at home
Some scientists-turned-activists have changed tactics during this year’s United Nations climate summit. Rather than staging demonstrations in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, at the meeting itself, they are coordinating protests against governments’ lack of progress reining in greenhouse-gas emissions closer to home — by blocking parts of fossil-fuel operations in their own countries and appealing to local governments.
Although the United Arab Emirates has pledged to allow peaceful protests and “the expression of values” at the 28th annual UN Climate Change Conference (COP28), the country normally bans unauthorized protests and prohibits criticism of its rulers — so some protesters feared for their safety if they went to the summit. Others say that flying to Dubai would have unleashed even more carbon pollution into the atmosphere, for very little in return.
These summits, which have been held since 1995, have been “a massive failure”, says Fernando Racimo, a Copenhagen-based evolutionary biologist and member of activist group Scientist Rebellion, who has helped to organize upcoming protests in Denmark. “Almost 30 years of promises, of pledges, and yet carbon emissions continue to go up to even higher levels. As scientists, we’re recognizing this failure.”
Climate finance: Perhaps the money is there, after all
Some of the numbers discussed here at COP28 in Dubai, around the sums needed for climate action, have seemed impossibly huge. Roughly $300bn a year is needed, for example, to fund climate adaptation in developing nations.
But you know what else is huge? Oil and gas industry profits. These amounted to $4tn last year — enough to cover that adaptation bill more than 10 times over. […]
The objective is to make the case for targeted international taxes to fund green and climate-resilient investment in developing countries — an agenda that has been swirling around among academics and activists for years, with only limited economic impact to date.
“This is about opening a discussion that was a total taboo,” [Laurence Tubiana — the French economist who was a key architect of the 2015 Paris Agreement] said. She highlighted the absurdity of a world where annual fossil fuel subsidies amount to $7tn a year, helping to fund oil and gas industry profits of $4tn — while climate change drives “an enormous loss of wealth and wellbeing in many countries, and no money to pay for that”.
The overlooked climate solution making headway at COP28: Doing more with less
This weekend, 118 countries at the COP28 climate summit pledged to triple the world’s renewable power capacity and double the pace of energy efficiency improvements by 2030. The deal echoed a recent report by the International Energy Agency, or IEA, which named those targets as essential to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Now, delegates are calling for the same commitments to be included in the conference’s final decision, which will summarize the actions countries plan to take to address the climate crisis.
Energy experts told Grist that the pledge is a sign that energy efficiency, a relatively overlooked climate solution, is gaining momentum on the global stage. Compared to tripling renewables, energy efficiency — which the IEA defines as using less energy to achieve the same economic output — received far less attention leading up to this year’s conference. A recent climate deal between the U.S. and China, for example, didn’t mention doubling energy efficiency improvements, while a G20 statement from September only “take[s] note” of the target.
Yet according to the IEA, doubling the annual pace of energy efficiency progress would achieve 50 percent of the emissions reductions needed by 2030. That makes it the single largest measure toward capping warming at 1.5 degrees C. Reaching that goal would require shifting billions of cooking stoves off wood and coal to lower-emission fuels, reducing energy demand and consumption, and setting stricter appliance standards. This last target is especially essential as demand for air conditioning soars globally in the face of record-high heat.
What Is Anyone Really Doing at COP?
The size of COP28 is hard to comprehend, even from the ground. More than 97,000 people have registered, according to the massive spreadsheet of expected participants, enough to populate a small city. […]
Yet all of this earnestness has gotten the world very little. After a couple of days of watching tens of thousands of people go about this business, one might feel like shouting: What is everyone doing here? After nearly 30 years of COPs, we are globally in our worst position ever. The collective impetus toward self-preservation has been at least partly eclipsed by other interests. Emissions and fossil-fuel use are still going up. The United Nations declared this year the hottest on record as the meeting began. This COP in particular risks being overshadowed by its incongruous host: a national-oil-company executive in a petrostate who called an emergency press briefing on the meeting’s fifth day to explain away his two-week-old comment that phasing out fossil fuels would not get the world to its stated goal of keeping warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. (Climate science disagrees.) A few buildings down from that auditorium, the OPEC pavilion—housed in the same building as the Indigenous People’s Pavilion—gave out the organization’s monthly oil-market report to passersby. “Global oil market fundamentals remain strong despite exaggerated negative sentiments,” the cover read. Sunday was “Health Day” at COP, and at the pavilion’s entrance, someone had propped a small chalkboard on an art easel, with the words health and oil written in childlike block letters. I wondered about the art direction: Was it suggesting a connection between children’s health and oil, and, if so, what? A scathing article in the medical journal The Lancet had just called any COP28 agreement that did not include the phaseout of fossil fuels “health-washing” and “an act of negligence.”
Climate change shown to cause methane release from the deep ocean
New research has shown that fire-ice - frozen methane which is trapped as a solid under our oceans - is vulnerable to melting due to climate change and could be released into the sea.
New research has shown that fire-ice - frozen methane which is trapped as a solid under our oceans - is vulnerable to melting due to climate change and could be released into the sea.
An international team of researchers led by Newcastle University found that as frozen methane and ice melts, methane - a potent greenhouse gas - is released and moves from the deepest parts of the continental slope to the edge of the underwater shelf. They even discovered a pocket which had moved 25 miles (40 kilometres).
Publishing in the journal Nature Geoscience, the researchers say this means that much more methane could potentially be vulnerable and released into the atmosphere as a result of climate warming.
Unprecedented drought in the Amazon threatens to release huge stores of carbon
Brazil [is] experiencing an unprecedented drought in the Amazon. Scientists fear it could release of billions of additional tons of carbon into the atmosphere. […]
Philip Fearnside lives in Manaus, a city of around 2 million people in Brazil’s Amazonas state. A professor at the country’s National Institute of Amazonian Research, he explains that right now, the region is suffering from a severe and unprecedented drought:
It’s the lowest water levels at Manaus since data started being recorded in 1902, so 121 years. The trees are dying. There’s a big cannelier tree in my front yard that just died from one day to the next.
The drought also leads to fires, with smoke causing pollution levels in Manaus to soar. Elsewhere, the Amazon river bed is being exposed, making life difficult for people who live and work near the river. Animals are also suffering: in September, 150 river dolphins were found dead in Lake Tefé, where water temperatures had reached 39°C.
Stop pretending that planting trees can justify fossil fuel emissions
Fossil fuel companies are no longer denying the realities of climate change—which many of them reported on privately for decades. Instead, they’re attempting to position themselves as key players in the “low-carbon transition.” And key to that is the companies’ embrace of the mantra of “net-zero” emissions. As we sweat through what a climate scientist has called a “gobsmackingly bananas” heat wave—three record-breaking months from July through September—the claims of net zero emissions are becoming ever more deeply entwined with fossil fuel companies’ public relations strategies.
Net zero is the idea that emissions in one place—an oil refinery or the cars and planes using its products—are balanced out by removal of carbon dioxide in another place. The elegance in that equation, which may make sense in a classroom, gets messy when it turns out that most of those other places intended to balance fossil fuel emissions are trees, which absorb CO2 and are located primarily in tropical forests. […]
Most forest-based offset projects—the heart of net zero claims—played no significant role in decreasing deforestation, a recent study in Science concluded. That study assessed the veracity of emission-reduction claims in 26 offset projects in six countries.
U.S. Meat and Dairy Companies Spend Millions Lobbying Against Climate Legislation
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
U.S. meat and dairy companies act collectively to block climate legislation that might limit production, according to a New York University study published in the journal Climatic Change.
The researchers examined the political influence of the 10 largest meat and dairy companies in the United States. Using a set of 20 questions to assess influence, they found that Tyson and National Beef engage on the issue of climate change more than any of the other 10 largest U.S. livestock companies. But each company has contributed to research that minimizes the link between animal agriculture and climate change and have influenced climate-related policies and discourse.
“The largest meat and dairy companies in the U.S. have spent a considerable amount of time, money, and effort into downplaying the link between animal agriculture and climate change, and into fighting climate policy more generally,” says Oliver Lazarus, who co-authored the study. “Documenting their influence in this area is critical to understanding the failure of the U.S. government to adequately address climate change.”
Antarctica: a continent in crisis
Even the most remote place on Earth is beginning to crumble as the planet’s warming woes continue.
When British Antarctic survey scientist Peter Fretwell spoke at the SCAR biology symposium in Christchurch, New Zealand, in July–August 2023, his words drew gasps of despair that later rippled around the world. SCAR – the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research – represents scientists working on research involving Earth’s great frozen southern continent. The Christchurch gathering was their first face-to-face conference since the COVID pandemic began. Peter, a cartographer renowned for monitoring wildlife at the planet’s remote poles by using high-resolution satellite imagery, was there to present some alarming news – evidence of catastrophic breeding failure in emperor penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula due to record low levels of sea ice.
Sea ice is frozen sea water, and it forms, metres deep, around Antarctica each winter. It floats on top of the ocean, clinging to the continent’s edge while stretching across the water for many kilometres. It retreats in summer, although never completely, and its seasonal fluctuations influence the global climate. It also profoundly and directly affects the Antarctic environment, where it influences ocean circulation, weather and the local climate. The rhythmic coming and going of sea ice is critical to all Antarctic life, from crabeater, Weddell and leopard seals, to humpback whales, Adélie and chinstrap penguins, and Antarctic skuas. But it’s particularly important to emperor penguins because it’s the place where most of them breed.
We’re getting a better idea of AI’s true carbon footprint
MIT Technology Review
Large language models (LLMs) have a dirty secret: they require vast amounts of energy to train and run. What’s more, it’s still a bit of a mystery exactly how big these models’ carbon footprints really are. AI startup Hugging Face believes it’s come up with a new, better way to calculate that more precisely, by estimating emissions produced during the model’s whole life cycle rather than just during training.
It could be a step toward more realistic data from tech companies about the carbon footprint of their AI products at a time when experts are calling for the sector to do a better job of evaluating AI’s environmental impact. Hugging Face’s work is published in a non-peer-reviewed paper. […]
50 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions is the equivalent of around 60 flights between London and New York…
By way of comparison, OpenAI’s GPT-3 and Meta’s OPT were estimated to emit more than 500 and 75 metric tons of carbon dioxide, respectively, during training. GPT-3’s vast emissions can be partly explained by the fact that it was trained on older, less efficient hardware. But it is hard to say what the figures are for certain; there is no standardized way to measure carbon dioxide emissions, and these figures are based on external estimates or, in Meta’s case, limited data the company released. […]
It’s estimated that the global tech sector accounts for 1.8% to 3.9% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. Although only a fraction of those emissions are caused by AI and machine learning, AI’s carbon footprint is still very high for a single field within tech.
Emissions inequality is getting worse – here’s how to end the reign of the ultra-polluters
Climate change is overwhelmingly a problem of wealthy people. The wealthiest 1% of humanity produce over 1,000 times the emissions of the poorest 1%. In fact, these 77 million people are responsible for more climate-changing emissions than the poorest 66% (5 billion people) of humanity.
Since 1990, the personal emissions of the world’s wealthiest have exploded. They are now 77 times larger than the level that would be compatible with a 1.5°C warming limit – a threshold beyond which whole island nations will possibly disappear.
If we are to keep future climate change to under 2°C then we must find a way to massively reduce economic inequality and redistribute both economic power and wealth.
Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute have recently set out the scale of global carbon inequality… The report sets out the vast scale of the disparity between the super-wealthy and the rest, arguing it would take approximately 1,500 years for someone in the bottom 99% to produce as much carbon as a single billionaire does in a year.
Older Voters Are Second Only to Young People in Share of ‘Climate Voters,’ New Study Shows
Inside Climate News
On the front line of the drive for U.S. political action on climate, the youth movement has had a largely unsung partner—one with more experience, greater resources and often, ample time to devote to the cause.
Voters aged 65 and older are second only to those between the ages of 18 and 34 in naming climate and the environment their highest political priorities, according to a new 18-state study by the Boston-based Environmental Voter Project, or EVP.
In some states, these graying green voters add up to a block with potential to swing elections. In New Mexico, for example, more than one-third of older voters prioritize climate, the data show. In Colorado, one in four senior citizens give climate top weight when going to the polls. And in Pennsylvania, a state President Joe Biden won by 1.2 percent, and Arizona, where his victory margin was 0.4 percent, climate voters aged 65 and up make up 5 percent of the electorate.
Put another way: EVP identified 230,000 climate voters 65 or older in Arizona, a state where the presidential race was decided by 10,500 votes in 2020.