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Climate climate Man-Made


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by: Sharai Hoekema
the heat is on  drought and the effects of climate change

Last week, some rather disturbing headlines were tossed around in newspapers all around the world. Whilst in the midst of a series of scorching global heatwaves, an international team of scientists warned in a new publication in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that we are headed for a so-called “Hothouse Earth” scenario.

According to them, even if the carbon emission reductions as set forth in the Paris Agreement are met - pledging to limit global warming to 2°C -, chances are that this domino effect will be put in motion.


The Hothouse Earth refers to a scenario where the earth’s climate eventually stabilises at a global average that lies about 4-5°C above pre-industrial temperatures, causing sea levels to rise as much as 10 to 60 meters compared to their current state. The implications of this change are dire: once the precarious scale of our natural balance tips to the wrong side, abrupt and irreversible chances in our environment will be noticeable.

Blue sea water, ice, #climatechange

Image by: Paul Morris, Unsplash

Most importantly: it will create havoc on the world as we know it today. The permafrost will thaw, the Amazon rainforest will wither, as will the boreal forest. The amount of sea ice will decrease dramatically, along with the snow cover in the northern hemisphere. Along with loss of methane hydrates from the oceans and weakening carbon sinks, this will set a process in motion that, at its worst, will render large areas of the world uninhabitable.

Authors are calling for a fundamental societal change in order to maintain a “Stabilized Earth”, as they call it, where temperatures are not higher than 2°C above pre-industrial levels and stable. Not only does this require a cutback in emission of greenhouse gasses, the authors also propose a solution including the enhancement and creation of new biological carbon stores, in the form of better management of forest, agriculture and soil and conservation of natural biodiversity.

lake, forrest, #climatechange

Image by: Ricardo Chiarini, Unsplash


Just pick up any random newspaper or switch on the television, and it is not hard to find evidence for this theory. The tipping point that these scientists refer to appears to be closer than ever, judging by the sheer number and impact of natural disasters.

The summer of 2018 will enter history books as a record-shattering, drought-plagued season. Left and right, national and local heat records were set. Lisbon hit 44°C, while the Mediterranean city of Perpignan recorded a night temperature of 30°C. The USA’s Death Valley boasted a record-breaking average temperature of 42°C in July. Oman was your typical summer holiday destination, providing an agreeable 50°C temperature. The current year is well on pace to become the 4th hottest on record.

Dries, barren soil, #climatechange

Image by: Brad Helmink, Unsplash

While some might thoroughly enjoy the sunshine and warm summer nights, it is an economical disaster for some industries. The continued drought - already described by some as the worst in the last century - has left farmers and rural communities devastated, as their crops are destroyed and animals dehydrated and malnourished. Most countries issued stern warnings and instructions to prevent any water spillage and losses, causing most to look on helplessly as their lawn colours brown and crops wither away. The upcoming harvest is slated to be an absolute nightmare, with individual farmer’s losses adding up to thousands and thousands of euros.

Besides the agricultural devastation, the drought has also led to a number of natural disasters. Only last month, Greece was hit by some of the worst wildfires the world has seen in the 21st century, claiming at least 90 lives and destroying entire cities. Similarly, other areas in Europe and around the world are struggling to prevent wildfires from breaking out and spreading rapidly across the water-deprived areas. California, for example, already victimised by last year’s wildfires, is currently battling a series of raging wildfires that are expected to burn for the remainder of August, making it the largest ever in their history.

For the upcoming weeks, rain has been predicted, eliciting cheers of many. They should, however, be careful not to get too excited. As the contrast between the warmer and colder air is so stark, rain and thunderstorms will be similarly extreme. Huge storms, including hail and heavy winds, will pose another danger to us. From lingering drought to sudden flood damage: it only serves to underline the importance of acting now, and calling a halt to climate change before it is too late.

Woman with blue umbrella in the rain crossing a street, #climatechange

Image by: Craig Whitehead, Unsplash


Some are questioning the methods used in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences publication, calling for some nuance. After all, the assumed domino effect has not been solidly proven, nor has the assumption been tested that the effect could already become irreversible sooner than we think.

Although - while the exact tipping point can be debated, along with the stance that climate change can entirely be reversed if only we take drastic action - the basic idea goes unchallenged. Climate change is real. Just look at what is happening to the world today. And as long as there still is hope that irreversible damage can be avoided, we should do everything within our power to make that happen.

Cover image by: Carlos Alberto Gomez Iniguez, Unsplash

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