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Earth Is at The Tipping Point
By JEFFREY KLUGER, TIME
The climate is crashing and global warming is to blame. Why the crisis hit so soon -- and what we can do about it.
No one can say exactly what it looks like when a planet takes ill, but it probably looks a lot like Earth. Never mind what you've heard about global warming as a slow-motion emergency that would take decades to play out. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the crisis is upon us.
It certainly looked that way last week as the atmospheric bomb that was Cyclone Larry -- a Category 5 storm with wind bursts that reached 180 m.p.h. -- exploded through northeastern Australia. It certainly looked that way last year as curtains of fire and dust turned the skies of Indonesia orange, thanks to drought-fueled blazes sweeping the island nation. It certainly looks that way as sections of ice the size of small states calve from the disintegrating Arctic and Antarctic. And it certainly looks that way as the sodden wreckage of New Orleans continues to molder, while the waters of the Atlantic gather themselves for a new hurricane season just two months away. Disasters have always been with us and surely always will be. But when they hit this hard and come this fast -- when the emergency becomes commonplace -- something has gone grievously wrong. That something is global warming.
The image of Earth as organism -- famously dubbed Gaia by environmentalist James Lovelock -- has probably been overworked, but that's not to say the planet can't behave like a living thing, and these days, it's a living thing fighting a fever. From heat waves to storms to floods to fires to massive glacial melts, the global climate seems to be crashing around us. Scientists have been calling this shot for decades. This is precisely what they have been warning would happen if we continued pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, trapping the heat that flows in from the sun and raising global temperatures.