Is Humanity’s Impact on Climate Irreversible?

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The damage on the earth’s climate and carbon cycle from human activity will take so much work for it to be reversed according to The Economist article, “Humanity’s immense impact on Earth’s climate and carbon cycle.”

The modern industrial economy is built from fossil fuel consisting of these top 3 sources of energy: oil at 34%, coal 27%, and gas 24%. All the renewables combined accounts of 15%.

Our annual use of fossil fuel extracts 9.5 billion tonnes of carbon from the ground put it back to the atmosphere. In the past or before the 18th-century carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are pretty stable.

The amounts of carbon dioxide that microbes and animals released through respiration are used again by plants, algae, and bacteria through photosynthesis.  The flow of carbon into the atmosphere is also balanced. Land and water sinks absorb the CO2 released into the atmosphere; thus,

a dynamic equilibrium exists.

However, the carbon cycle is not quite perfect, and some surpluses of carbon dioxide that sinks fail to dissolved or used up through photosynthesis are buried into sediments. Over many years these CO2 surpluses have been deposited into the earth’s crust and have built up significantly.

Fast forward to the beginning of the 18th century, and up to the present, there is heavy use of fossil fuels. The carbon that was stashed away for several thousands of years is coming back into the carbon cycle in just a matter of 2 centuries, intensifying the carbon cycle.

Some positive consequences for are the greening of some parts of the globe and the rapid growth of plants. Unfortunately, most outcomes are harmful and maybe irreversible such as a rise in global temperatures and their effect on crops, ice caps, ocean acidification, etc.

Low-carbon, negative emissions, and even carbon capture technologies exist, but these must be done at a scale to make a difference, and the same is true with the expansion of carbon sinks. To achieve the carbon cycle equilibrium similar to the pre-industrial period will take a lot of effort and even time of up to a thousand years, the article says.

If carbon dioxide emissions continue unrestrained, and damages to the earth’s climate have been done, then these will have severe implications on climate mitigation and adaptation measures for addressing climate change consequences.

Read the entire article by clicking on the button below:

Source citation:

Humanity’s immense impact on Earth’s climate and carbon cycle. (2020, May 9). The Economist. Retrieved from

PHOTO CREDIT: By Diagram adapted from U.S. DOE, Biological and Environmental Research Information System. –, Public Domain, Link

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