An Australian researcher wonders “where on Earth are we going?
The impact of human activity on the Earth is running out of control, and the amount of time in which action can be taken to prevent potentially catastrophic climate change is rapidly dwindling, a leading scientist from the Australian National University told a global scientific climate conference in London yesterday.
Not only is the impact on the Earth’s environment and climate already being seen at all levels, but the damage is accelerating, professor Will Steffen told the opening day of the four-day Planet Under Pressure conference, which has gathered together some 2,800 scientists from around the globe.
“The last 50 years have without doubt seen one of the most rapid transformations of the human relationship with the natural world,” he said. “Many human activities reached takeoff points sometime in the 20th century and sharply accelerated towards the end of the century. We saw a ‘great acceleration.'”
He added, “It is the scale and speed of the great acceleration that is truly remarkable. This has largely happened within one human lifetime.”
The conference has already declared that the Holocene Epoch is now over and that the Anthropocene — in other words, the epoch when the impact of human activity will be clearly seen in the future in the geological record — has already begun.
Steffen said the impact of human activity was already being felt on a planetary level on the carbon, water and nitrogen cycles, citing as an example that people now generate more reactive nitrogen artificially than the planet does naturally.
“Where on Earth are we going?” he asked, pointing to melting ice sheets and vanishing Arctic permafrost, which has the potential to release far more carbon dioxide over coming centuries than is currently produced from burning fossil fuels.
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