Five Climate Tipping Points We’ve Already Seen, and One We’re Hoping For


This week is

Seemingly overnight, hundred-year-old trees in our neighborhood began dying, and with them, the landscape we had taken for granted. Throughout our state, lakes and streams have dried up, as have more than 2000 water wells. Reservoirs continue to empty and economic losses are now near three billion dollars. As tempting as it is to attribute the prolonged drought in our part of the world to natural climate variation, the science says otherwise. Higher than normal temperatures over the past few years are the result of global greenhouse gas emissions and have exacerbated arguably “normal” dry conditions by increasing evaporation and melting snow too early in the spring.

2. Heat waves worldwide are more common and more intense than they used to be. This year, unusual hot spells have killed thousands across India, Pakistan, Japan, China, Europe, the United States, much of South America, and Australia. This weird weather is just what robust climate models predict as an outcome of heating up the globe. Basically, more heat means more energy in the atmosphere, so weather gets more extreme. The new normal in weather extremes–hurricanes, tornadoes, and the like–can be measured in tax-payer dollars as well as in individual suffering: since 2008, there have been about twice as many billion-dollar weather catastrophes in the United States, compared to what was normal for previous time spans of similar length.

3. Vast ecosystems are changing before our eyes, through such processes as rampant wildfire and insect infestations. In the American West, record wildfires have eaten not only entire forests and many homes, but half the entire budget of the U.S. Forest Service–and firefighting costs are projected to consume two-thirds of the Forest Service budget within a decade.

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