A new study suggests that policy makers are extremely underestimating the risks associated with ecological tipping points.
The Guardian reported on Tuesday that the study, published in the journal Science, contends that 45 percent of all potential major environmental transitions are interconnected and could augment one another. The study synthesized existing research on ecosystem changes that, if irreversible, could lead to further damaging effects. The Guardian offers this example of the sort of cascade effect the study is concerned with:
“The deforestation of the Amazon is responsible for multiple ‘cascading effects’—weakening rain systems, forests becoming savannah, and reduced water supplies for cities like São Paulo and crops in the foothills of the Andes. This, in turn, increases the pressure for more land clearance.”
Unfortunately, the study found that only 19 percent of such transitions were totally isolated; 36 percent were unlikely to interact but shared a cause. The rest—45 percent—could possibly incite a one-way domino effect, or a feedback between phenomena that’s mutually reinforced, such as melting ice increasing the greenhouse effect.
A co-author of the report, Garry Peterson, told The Guardian, “We’re surprised at the rate of change in the Earth system. So much is happening at the same time and at a faster speed than we would have thought 20 years ago. That’s a real concern. We’re heading ever faster towards the edge of a cliff.”