The Feedback Loops Of Our Climate Emergency

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This was first published in the Western Advocate on November 26, 2022.

It’s good to consider global factors effecting climate change. They impact us locally. A good place to start is the website ‘Climate Emergency: Feedback Loops’.

With feedback loops, warming begets warming until tipping points are passed and the climate falls into new catastrophic realities. It is still hoped that work being done to transition to renewables and repair the environment, now and to 2030, will alleviate these tipping points.

The website is very clear about what needs to be done: cut global warming emissions (especially carbon and methane), stop deforestation, and regreen the earth. These three must run together for the rest of this century to reverse dangerous warming.

The website shows four short videos summarising each of the four major global feedback loops. These loops relate to forests, permafrost, the atmosphere, and ‘the albedo effect’.

The forests of the earth are a massive carbon sink. They make oxygen of carbon dioxide. They cool the earth. So as forests decrease, warming increases causing droughts and fires, and massive insect population increases (because of this warming) that disease the forests. More heat in the atmosphere then leads to increased temperatures and more forest die-back: a feedback loop.

A quarter of the northern hemisphere is permafrost (billions of tonnes of plant and animal matter). As the earth warms permafrost thaws. In this thawing are microbes beyond count. As they came alive, they eat the plant and animal matter, giving off massive amounts of carbon and methane. These gases then increase atmospheric temperatures, which increase permafrost thawing: a feedback loop.

As fossil fuel emissions increase, so does air temperature. This results in more water evaporating from the oceans. Water vapor makes up about 60% of all heat trapping gas found in the atmosphere. As the atmosphere absorbs evaporation as more water vapor, atmospheric temperature increases even more, causing excessive rainfall and cyclones: a feedback loop.

The earth’s poles reflect into space around 85% of the sun’s rays. This ‘albedo effect’ prevents the earth from overheating. However, as fossil fuel emissions increase, atmospheric temperature increases and the poles melt. Less ice means less reflection and more ocean absorbing the sun’s heat. This increase’s temperatures further: a feedback loop.       

These loops affect each other. These are only the major ones. We have maybe ten years to stop this feedback before climate tips over.