"The human magnitude of climate change looks more like a meteorite strike than a gradual change," said one of the researchers behind the study.
Smoking Earth

LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images

Humanity now has a number to represent the damage it’s doing to the Earth.

Researchers have developed the “Anthropocene Equation” and worked out that humans are causing the climate to change 170 times faster than it would have via natural forces alone.

Human forces “have driven exceptionally rapid rates of change in the Earth system” over the past six decades, the authors write in the paper, published in The Anthropocene Review. “Human activities now rival the great forces of nature in driving changes to the Earth system.”

This rapid change has caused the Earth to enter a new climate era known as the Anthropocene period, the first time in the planet’s 4.5 billion-year history that astronomical and geophysical factors have not been the deciding factors in climate change.

The Anthropocene Equation was created to try to figure out the extent of the influence that human activity has had on the planet.

The team created the equation “by homing in on the rate of change of Earth’s life support system: the atmosphere, oceans, forests and wetlands, waterways and ice sheets and fabulous diversity of life,” wrote Owen Gaffney, one of the researchers who helped developed it, in the New Scientist, adding:

“For four billion years the rate of change of the Earth system has been a complex function of astronomical and geophysical forces plus internal dynamics: Earth’s orbit around the sun, gravitational interactions with other planets, the sun’s heat output, colliding continents, volcanos and evolution, among others. In the equation, astronomical and geophysical forces tend to zero because of their slow nature or rarity, as do internal dynamics, for now. All these forces still exert pressure, but currently on orders of magnitude less than human impact.”

Will Steffen, a climate change expert and researcher at the Australian National University who also helped developed the equation, told the Guardian that astronomical and geophysical forces typically drive a rate of change of .018 degrees Fahrenheit each century.

Greenhouse gas emissions, however, “have increased the rate of temperature rise to [3.06 degrees Fahrenheit] per century, dwarfing the natural background rate,” he added.

“We are not saying the astronomical forces of our solar system or geological processes have disappeared, but in terms of their impact in such a short period of time they are now negligible compared with our own influence,” Steffen said.

“What we do is give a very specific number to show how humans are affecting the earth over a short timeframe. It shows that while other forces operate over millions of years, we as humans are having an impact at the same strength as the many of these other forces, but in the timeframe of just a couple of centuries.”

Ultimately, this research concluded that unless humanity reduces the amount of change they’re causing to the climate, the increase in temperature will “trigger societal collapse.”


Next, check out how China is growing a vertical forest to gobble up CO2, before finding out why Ireland is becoming the first country to stop funding fossil fuels entirely.

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