Scientists sounded alarms Tuesday with a pair of studies challenging the idea that climate change is occurring gradually over the century and that its worst effects can be avoided by keeping emissions below a critical threshold.
A National Research Council report says the planet is warming so quickly that the world should expect abrupt and unpredictable consequences in a matter of years or a few decades. Among the changes already underway are the sudden decline in Arctic sea ice and climbing extinction rates, the report found.
Scientists based their findings, in part, on the study of climate history as recorded in tree rings, ocean sediment and ice cores. They found the timeline punctuated by big, sudden changes, including ocean circulation shifts and mass extinctions.
As a result of the burning of fossil fuels, industrial activity and deforestation, the amount of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has soared to levels not seen in millions of years, with global temperatures rising by about 1.5 degrees. The scientists say the accelerating gas levels increase the risk of reaching various “tipping points,” leaving nature and society little time to react.
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