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Species extinction, water shortages and heat: researchers warn of tipping points

Species extinction, water shortages and heat: researchers warn of tipping points

As of: October 25, 2023 at 12:14 p.m

Lack of water, extinct animal species, extremely high temperatures: researchers identify six tipping points in a new report. Once exceeded, it becomes difficult to take countermeasures. Space debris also plays a role.

From species extinction to water shortages to the dangers of space debris – the so-called major risks threatening the world. The consequences could lead to irreparable damage if humanity does not change its course. This is the message of the report that has now been published “Interconnected Disaster Risks” United Nations University in Bonn.

On the verge of turning points

“By overexploiting our water resources, destroying nature and biodiversity, and polluting both Earth and space, we are dangerously close to the brink of many dangerous tipping points,” Zita Sepesvári, lead author of the report, told DPA.

According to the report, this point is reached when the system is no longer able to mitigate risks and fulfill certain functions. “Our actions are jeopardizing these important buffer capabilities that we urgently rely on,” Sepesvári said. Environmental disasters in recent years such as drought, floods and hurricanes have clearly demonstrated this.

The report identifies six risks:

  • Species extinction increases
  • Groundwater depletion
  • Melting glaciers
  • Space junk
  • Unbearable heat
  • Loss of ability to insure

Species extinction increases

For example, there are consequences for other species if a particular type of animal or plant becomes extinct. For example, gopher tortoises dig holes that more than 350 other species use as hiding places, breeding grounds, or escape in extreme temperatures. The result: If the turtle dies, it also puts other species at risk.

The report also warns that if an ecosystem loses too many well-connected species, it will collapse.

Water sources are missing

The other problem is the depletion of groundwater. More water is being withdrawn from more than half of the world’s major aquifers than can be naturally replenished. This could lead to the loss of water sources, according to the report.

According to the report, this turning point has already been reached in Saudi Arabia. “Also in Germany, agriculture is increasingly dependent on groundwater reserves. We now have to think early about how far we want to go with our use,” said researcher Sipesvare.

Melting glaciers Increasing sharply

According to the report, glaciers around the world are melting at a rate twice as fast as in the past 20 years due to global warming. Glaciers retreat when ice melts faster than new snow can form.

Once the melting peak due to the glacier shrinking has passed dramatically, the amount of meltwater declines – and this has serious consequences for water supplies, which many regions depend on, according to the report. It can produce long periods of drought.

Icelandic glacier “Okjökull” – ice melt from 1986 to present.

Space junk It threatens infrastructure in space

There is also danger in space. “Space has a waste problem,” the report says, “because satellites that are no longer operational are left in Earth’s orbit as space debris.” Since space debris moves at speeds of more than 25,000 kilometers per hour, even a small piece of junk can cause serious damage in the event of a collision. More junk space Care. Therefore, the ISS and operating satellites will have to regularly perform evasive maneuvers.

The report sees the risk of a chain reaction occurring if two large objects collide. This may affect the operation of satellites and associated weather monitoring. “We urgently need to think about regulation here,” Sipesvari said. Otherwise we risk destroying our space infrastructure.

Heat aid only delays the tipping point

Climate change will also bring unbearable heat to more and more areas, according to the report. In some areas, temperatures have already reached such a point that it is difficult for people to stay outside for long periods without assistance.

Only the rich can afford cooling through air conditioning and fans. Additionally, according to the authors, they only delay the point at which the tipping point of “unbearable heat” for humans is reached. It could contribute to global warming if it relies on energy from fossil fuels, Sipsafari said.

In India, the heat was extremely intense in summer, and dirty canals provided cooling

“Acting focuses too much on the present.”

As disasters become more serious, insurance costs rise until they are no longer unaffordable. Once this point is reached, people no longer have an economic safety net. The report concludes that the solutions applied today focus on delaying turning points rather than truly addressing the root causes. “Our actions are too much directed at the present,” Sepesvári criticized. “The choices of future generations are not taken into sufficient consideration.”

The authors mention several possible steps for improvement. Overall, it is necessary to better respect nature’s needs and well-being and see it as a global system of interconnected parts, “of which we humans are only a part.”