There is growing evidence that Earth’s systems are heading towards climate “tipping points” beyond which change becomes abrupt and unstoppable.
There is growing evidence that Earth’s systems are heading towards climate “tipping points” beyond which change becomes abrupt and unstoppable. But another tipping point is already being crossed – humanity’s capacity to adapt to a warmer world.
This season’s uncontrollable bushfires overwhelmed the nation. They left 33 people dead, killed an estimated one billion animals and razed more than 10 million hectares – a land area almost the size of England. The millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide the fires spewed into the atmosphere will accelerate climate change further.
Humans are a highly adaptive species. In the initial phases of global warming in the 20th century, we coped with the changes. But at some point, the pace and extent of global warming will outrun the human capacity to adapt. Already in Australia, there are signs we have reached that point.
For Australia, the first obvious tipping point may come in agriculture. Farmers have gradually adapted to a changing climate for the last two decades, but this can’t go on indefinitely.
Take wine grapes. In the space of just 20 years, a warming climate means grape harvest dates have come back by roughly 40 days. That is, instead of harvesting red grapes at the end of March or early April many growers are now harvesting in mid-February. This is astounding.
The implications for wine quality are profound. Rapid ripening can cause “unbalanced fruit” where high sugar levels are reached before optimum colour and flavour development has been achieved.