Earth Could Be Close To A Tipping Point
We might be close to a tipping for the Earth where the changes to our biodiversity and biosphere might become irreversible. To make sure that humans don't get caught with their pants down, a team of scientists is urging that we take a look at major climate changes in the past to see if we can figure out the intricacies of what parts of the Earth are affected and how.
"It really will be a new world, biologically, at that point," says Anthony Barnosky, lead author of the paper and professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley. "The data suggests that there will be a reduction in biodiversity and severe impacts on much of what we depend on to sustain our quality of life, including, for example, fisheries, agriculture, forest products and clean water. This could happen within just a few generations."
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A major cause of this is the rapidly growing human population.
"We really do have to be thinking about these global scale tipping points, because even the parts of Earth we are not messing with directly could be prone to some very major changes," Barnosky said. "And the root cause, ultimately, is human population growth and how many resources each one of us uses."
Currently, 43 percent of the Earth's land surface is used for agriculture and urban purposes for our seven billion people. A 2004 estimate by the United Nations puts wordwide population at around nine billion by 2050. This will only further stress our environments.
The team of 22 scientists from The Berkeley Initiative in Global Change Biology agrees that it is impossible now to predict how exactly and when this tipping point could occur. Instead, efforts must be made to study past climate changes to better understand our current dilemma. With more knowledge, the scientists hope to mitigate the potentially disastrous effects along with a major loss of biodiversity.
"My view is that humanity is at a crossroads now, where we have to make an active choice," Barnosky said. "One choice is to acknowledge these issues and potential consequences and try to guide the future (in a way we want to). The other choice is just to throw up our hands and say, 'Let's just go on as usual and see what happens.' My guess is, if we take that latter choice, yes, humanity is going to survive, but we are going to see some effects that will seriously degrade the quality of life for our children and grandchildren."