Aerial image of rainforest stretching to the horizon behind a small village.

Hothouse Earth: How the Rainforest is turning on us.

Wildfires in the Arctic Circle. 91 people killed in Greece. Japan declares a natural disaster with multiple cities breaking 40ºC. Towns and houses in California turned to ash. 

It’s not been the normal news reports. But it might be soon.

New research published by the Stockholm Resilience Centre shows that this level of destruction is potentially just the tip of the melting iceberg. A global temperature rise of around 2ºC means risking what scientists call “Hothouse Earth” conditions.

When this happens, systems like the Arctic Sea ice and tropical rainforests lose their ability to deflect heat and store carbon. Instead they start to release it. It’s the beginning of a vicious circle that could end up with a much hotter Earth: 4-5ºC higher than today. But that doesn’t just mean extreme weather. It spells disaster for our species.

“Earth will become uninhabitable if “Hothouse Earth” becomes the reality. We are the ones in control right now, but once we go past two degrees, we see that the Earth system tips over from being a friend to a foe.”

– Johan Rockström, co-author

Johan’s research is a call to arms. If we want to avoid these catastrophic conditions, we need to act now. Protecting forests is a huge piece of the puzzle. Along with reducing emissions, the study calls for improved forest managements and biodiversity conservation.

Members of the Ashaninka community including adults and children stand together in front of houses, a mist hangs in the air and rainforest can be seen in the background

If we don’t look after rainforest today, it will turn on us: becoming another source of warming carbon dioxide emissions rather than a lifesaving storage facility.

Cool Earth’s work on the frontline of the fight against climate change is the best place to start. There’s never been a better time to support us.

Further reading

Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene, 2018