The Great Acceleration Death Trap

The Great Acceleration, post WWII humanity forcing the earth system, is charging ahead at exponential speed, including record temps year-after-year-after year-after year and on and on it goes, relentlessly.

Fatally, many parts of the world become uninhabitable with a 2°-4°C increase in temps, too hot for human physiology. Under the circumstances, the human body cannot get rid of bodily heat fast enough. People die. Will worldwide average temps increase by 2°-4° and if so, how fast? Nobody knows for sure, but the outlook is lousy.

We need to understand that we are in a nonlinear exponential phase… we have overwhelming scientific evidence that humanity now faces a new juncture of grand global risk. We have in just five decades transitioned from being a small world on a big planet where we could allow ourselves to have unsustainable economic growth without Earth sending any invoices back to humanity up to now with overwhelming scientific evidence of a new big world on a small planet. We’ve reached the saturation point. We’re hitting the ceiling of the biophysical capacity where we can no longer exclude destabilizing the entire earth system.1

Ergo, the overriding risk is a complete breakdown of the earth system, ecosystem collapse. In that regard, traversing from a linear to an exponentially charged earth system is risky and could be fatal. Here’s how Johan Rockström describes the impact of the new exponential biosphere, speaking from the World Economic Forum in Zurich:

If I take 35 linear steps, I’ll barely reach the coffee stand outside of this room. What happens if I take 35 exponential steps?  I’d reach Copenhagen after 21 steps. Three more steps, I’m in New York. Another two steps and I encircle the entire planet. And, if I add another nine steps to my 35, I reach planet Mars.

In fact, what if the earth system is experiencing negative exponential rise? Answer: It is! For example:

Incremental linear business as usual is no longer an option. We’ve had five decades of negative exponential rise.2

Furthermore, science is starting to get nervous because its starting to see destabilization of critical components that regulate the earth system, for example, (1) recently the entire surface of the Greenland ice sheet was liquid for a period of time; (2) ocean heat is upwelling in the Arctic after absorbing planetary heat at the rate of 95%. These are surprising exponential early warning signals.2

In other-other words, now that “exponential” is on the lips of climate scientists around the world, the timing couldn’t be worse for weak presidential leadership, like Trump. He’s clueless about the status of the planet, doesn’t read, doesn’t listen, and watches a lot of TV! Are those desirable leadership qualities when faced with an exponentially charged climate system?

We are the generation right at the tipping point… We now have ample evidence that Earth is not responding linearly… as we weaken the system, then a small incremental change can lead to abrupt irreversible and potential disastrous shift… Even if we stay within the limits of Paris, we cannot avoid (1) losing the coral reefs on planet earth (2) Arctic sea ice- we lose the system (3) Greenland and Antarctic are in the risk zone within the limits of Paris.2

The Paris agreement of 2015-16 included nearly 200 nations that pledged to hold temps below 2° C, preferably 1.5° C in relation to pre-industrial temps of the late 18th century.

However, major significant early warning signs of tipping points are here now, already plainly evident out in the open for all to see, like the loss of major bios; i.e., major pieces of the biosphere. One of several prime examples is the Amazon Rainforest, which experienced three (3) unprecedented back-to-back-to-back severe droughts (2005 and 2010 and 2016, unheard of in geologic history), wiping out the equivalent of 10 years of carbon uptake for the planet. Even the massive Amazon Rainforest is clocking exponentially.3

According to Kevin Anderson, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change/UK, at 4°C, life can no longer adapt because the ecosystem will be destroyed. Problematically, he claims the Paris agreement that aims to hold temps to under 2°C is horribly flawed, not realistic, dependent upon negative emission technology, which does not work at scale and/or has unintended negative consequences. In the end, Paris is a politically constructed carbon budget to satisfy the masses that, rather than constraining warming as advertised, has the planet headed for 4°C, not 2°C.

The harsh truth is: Less than 20% of global population (OECD countries) account for 75% of the world’s consumption/impact on the earth system. The other 6,000,000,000 people are on the outside looking in, meaning, if society wants a shot at staying under the dreaded 2°C temp increase, wealthy nations must go to zero emissions by 2035.4

The USA doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell with Trump hanging out at the WH.

  1. “Beyond the Anthropocene, Johan Rockström, Stockholm Resilience Centre- Sweden, World Economic Forum, Zurich, February 14, “2017. []
  2. Johan Rockström. [] [] []
  3. Will Steffen, “The Trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration”, Australian National University, 2015. []
  4. Kevin Anderson, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change/UK. []

Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide. He can be contacted at: Read other articles by Robert.