Pulling back from the brink

We are living in a precariously equilibrated earth where the temperature is just right for ecosystems to flourish. The Holocene, which began about 12,000 years ago, is the stable epoch during which Homo sapiens settled and developed agriculture and other technological innovations. These led to social and economic transformations, which have brought the world to this juncture. Human activity, supported by the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, led to an increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are now causing global warming. This time period, the epoch when humans play a dominant role in shaping the earth systems, is being referred to as the Anthropocene. The delicate equilibrium of the biosphere/earth system has to do with processes that amplify or dampen warming. For instance, melting of Greenland ice increases open waters that absorb more sunlight and then increase warming and cause further melting. This is a positive feedback. With the increase in carbon dioxide (CO2), chemical-weathering increases and removes CO2 from the atmosphere over geological time — an example of a negative feedback. When positive feedbacks become stronger than the negative ones, the system may change abruptly and get pushed out of equilibrium. The earth and its systems have shifted between alternative states through long-term processes over its geological history. Now, it appears we are approaching some critical thresholds. Technological solutions alone are insufficient. Fundamental shifts in social values and economic mores are essential. The changes required and ways to make them in an ethical manner are still being debated, with a lot of uncertainty on whether these can be accomplished. Given history and the state of the biosphere, some scientists are not hopeful about avoiding the hothouse path. Others like James Hansen believe that it could still be avoided and the earth could stabilise at a rise below 2º C through infrastructural, societal and institutional transformations. Incremental changes along with increasing contributions from renewables and improvements in energy efficiencies would not be sufficient. There should instead be major changes in technological innovation, behaviour, values and governance. This is an unprecedented challenge for humanity.

Source :  https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/pulling-back-from-the-brink/article24755976.ece

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