Earths tipping point? Shift change!

  • According to a number of respected biologists the earth is rapidly approaching a critical threshold that will lead to a new and highly uncertain future. It is well established that global biological systems undergo rapid wholesale shifts and these shifts have largely been responsible for past mass extinctions. The authors suggest that once an ecological area experiences 50% disturbance it is inevitable the remaining 50% will undergo similar change. Approximately 43% of the Earth’s land has been converted for agricultural or urban use with 50% of land disturbed predicted to occur in 2025.
  • The effect of environmental change may already be observed. Scientists studying the wetlands of Yellowstone National Park, the US’s largest protected watershed, have observed a massive decline in both wetland area and amphibians. The cause of loss is not internal and therefore can only be due to external environmental forces. This may be a ‘real-time’ example of a tipping point being reached.

For wealthy countries catastrophic environmental shifts are masked using short-term fixes however many countries are not equipped with the flexibility to deal with these issues. The conundrum for policy makers is developing intergovernmental structures with the flexibility to manage environmental change. Scientists call for improved understanding of impacts and better prediction of environmental shifts.

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