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  • This research really got started with people thinking about,

  • are there tipping points - places where you push a system and push a system and push a system

  • and then it breaks -

  • in our climate,

  • our ecosystems and even our planet's chemistry.

  • And surprisingly, or maybe sadly, we're finding that it's true in all of those situations, that

  • there are kind of thresholds

  • that we shouldn't cross.

  • One particularly frightening example is what could happen in the oceans.

  • Part of the greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide, we put in the air, of course,

  • causes global warming,

  • but a little bit of that carbon dioxide actually dissolves in the oceans, making them more acidic -

  • so-called ocean acidification.

  • Well, if oceans' pH, how acidic they get, if they go lower and lower and lower,

  • at a certain threshold,

  • coral reefs can't survive anymore. You can't make coral reefs

  • and a whole bunch of life in the oceans could just kind of disappear.

  • So that's a really important tipping point in the oceans. We can't let the oceans get

  • more acidic than about here, or we'll have some serious problems.

  • Imagine you're driving at night over a mesa in a jeep

  • and you don't have a map and you don't have any headlights. That's essentially what

  • we're doing. We're driving at full speed all over there. We know there are some cliffs out there,

  • but we're not too worried about where they are right now.

  • Well, you could argue that, already, one of our tires is off the edge.

  • Do we want to keep driving or do we want to start to have a map?

  • Maybe we should turn the lights on and see where we're going.

  • This paper is really the first attempt to kind of draw that map of where is it safe for

  • humanity to operate? Where can we take our environment without going off the edge

  • of the cliff and causing us to have a different planet than we've ever seen in all of human history.

  • Why we should care about this is because it's a disruption from everything we've ever known as a civilization.

  • Our entire history for 10,000 years has been in one kind of climate,

  • one with certain kinds of climate and weather patterns, with certain kinds of ecosystems,

  • with certain ways rivers work, and so on.

  • If that fundamentally unravels within the next generation,

  • everything that we've done - how we build our cities, where we build our cities,

  • where and how we farm,

  • how we get our water, where we put our waste, how we get our raw materials -

  • that could all change. We're talking trillions and trillions of dollars of economic disruption,

  • let alone what it does to safety, hazards, national security and so on. This isn't just about

  • hugging trees and hoping they stay here. This is about keeping the planet we know intact

  • for future generations.

This research really got started with people thinking about,

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