Planet Earth has entered an era that has no precedent. Scientists often point to the many human-driven changes that are modifying the global environment. But it is now apparent that these changes are cumulative and interacting and could accelerate the Earth into a different state with implications for its habitability.
This striking message comes from global change scientists around the world as they prepare to meet in Amsterdam in July for one of the biggest and most international conferences ever held in this growing field of science.
Coming just two days before the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol Talks in Bonn, the conference will present the latest scientific understanding of our home planet and how it is changing through natural and human forces.
Scientists warn that global warming is only one of the potential implications of global change. The Earths environment is now experiencing a completely new combination of pressures and it is unclear whether the planet will be able to absorb them, says Dr Will Steffen, Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, IGBP (one of the organisers of the conference).
A critical question to be addressed is whether such rapid changes occurring simultaneously could shift the Earth into different modes of operation that may have significant impacts for human life, says Dr Steffen.
Plenary speaker, Professor Tom Pedersen, Chair of IGBP-PAGES (Past Global Changes), warns that humans have a false sense of security about the apparently stable conditions on Earth, based on a narrow perspective of life on Earth for the last 10,000 years.
We are living within a sheltered period of only about 10,000 years in which conditions have been comparatively stable. Paleo (past) records spanning many hundreds of thousands of years tell us that abrupt changes in conditions on Earth have occurred before. There is no reason why they will not occur again in the future.