A new paper published in Nature warns that the Earth is drawing ever closer to global tipping points that could seriously impact future generations of humanity. Although the idea of â€œglobal tippingâ€ points has been circulating for years, this paper so far provides the most comprehensive look at both past and present data to support its conclusions.
In particular, the authors of the paper suggest that population increase, widespread destruction of ecosystems, and climate change may be pushing the biosphere to the brink of an irreversible shift that could have widespread ramifications on the habitability of the Earth.
They reveal that 43% of Earthâ€™s ice-free surface area has already been altered for farmland, roads, and urban expansion. Drawing on other smaller studies of ecosystem dynamics, the authors suggest that a 50% change in the natural environment presents severe consequences for the resiliency of the ecological web. The authors ask the question: what will happen when 50 percent of the Earthâ€™s landscape is lost?
And with the current trajectory of human development (including a projected population of 9 billion by 2050) it seems likely that more and more of the Earthâ€™s surface area will continue to be degraded.
The authors warn that we could be experiencing the effects of these tipping points within a few generations, possibly earlier.
The publication of the paper in Nature is timely given the upcoming Rio+20 conference at the end of June. Once again world leaders will meet to discuss how to tackle the monumental environmental challenges humanity is currently faced with. Although the Durban talks seemed to achieve some successes, overall action on the world stage is decidedly slow when it comes to addressing the environment.
Image Credit: NASA