There has been so much news coverage this summer regarding heat waves and climate change that I have not felt the need to reiterate it. But a recent study by a group of European universities deserves special consideration.

We’ve all seen the news about the effects of hotter temperatures – all over the earth. Here are some of the main stories:

  • Record heat wave in Southern California that has broken all records
  • Worst wildfire season in the history of California
  • Hottest summer in recent memory in Europe – has resulted in abnormal wildfires in Sweden and Greece
  • Tons of fish found dead in the Rhine river in Switzerland caused by elevated water temperatures
  • Unprecedented severe drought in NSW in Australia, causing loss of farm animals

Gov. Jerry Brown in California has recently said this might be the “new normal.” But climate scientists have been quick to point out that this might be just the beginning. It is likely to get much worse. The international climate accords were based on encouraging measures that would “cap” the increase in average global temperature at 2 degrees C. But scientists have warned that, if we keep burning all the planet’s fossil fuels, the earth could warm by 4-5 degrees C, which would likely render many areas of the earth uninhabitable and lead to mass extinctions, maybe even our own.

This new study points out that, as the planet warms, human burning of fossil fuels may not end up being the biggest problem. We could reach a “tipping point” in which various effects start to feed on themselves, each new development leading to another one – like a falling set of “dominoes.” There effects include:

  • Thawing of permafrost in the earth
  • Release of methane locked in methane hydrates in the ocean floor
  • Reduction in land and ocean carbon “sinks” (mostly plants)
  • Loss of polar ice caps and other ice sheets

They point out that it may already be too late to prevent reaching the tipping point. As one researcher pointed out, “In the context of the summer of 2018, this is definitely not a case of crying wolf, raising a false alarm: the wolves are now in sight.”