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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Aug 14;115(33):8252-8259. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1810141115. Epub 2018 Aug 6.

Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene.

Author information

1
Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, 10691 Stockholm, Sweden; will.steffen@anu.edu.au john@pik-potsdam.de.
2
Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.
3
Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, 10691 Stockholm, Sweden.
4
Center for Macroecology, Evolution, and Climate, University of Copenhagen, Natural History Museum of Denmark, 2100 Copenhagen, Denmark.
5
Earth System Science Group, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, EX4 4QE Exeter, United Kingdom.
6
The Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, The Royal Swedish Academy of Science, SE-10405 Stockholm, Sweden.
7
School of Geography and Development, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721.
8
Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge University, CB2 1ER Cambridge, United Kingdom.
9
Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.
10
Earth and Life Institute, Université catholique de Louvain, 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.
11
Belgian National Fund of Scientific Research, 1000 Brussels, Belgium.
12
Research Domain Earth System Analysis, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, 14473 Potsdam, Germany.
13
Department of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University & Research, 6700AA Wageningen, The Netherlands.
14
Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Potsdam, 14469 Potsdam, Germany.

Abstract

We explore the risk that self-reinforcing feedbacks could push the Earth System toward a planetary threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperature rises and cause continued warming on a "Hothouse Earth" pathway even as human emissions are reduced. Crossing the threshold would lead to a much higher global average temperature than any interglacial in the past 1.2 million years and to sea levels significantly higher than at any time in the Holocene. We examine the evidence that such a threshold might exist and where it might be. If the threshold is crossed, the resulting trajectory would likely cause serious disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies. Collective human action is required to steer the Earth System away from a potential threshold and stabilize it in a habitable interglacial-like state. Such action entails stewardship of the entire Earth System-biosphere, climate, and societies-and could include decarbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values.

KEYWORDS:

Anthropocene; Earth System trajectories; biosphere feedbacks; climate change; tipping elements

PMID:
30082409
DOI:
10.1073/pnas.1810141115
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Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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