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The Need to Avoid Positive Feedback Loops

When discussing the greatest threats humans face as a species, concepts and activities like overpopulation, biodiversity, deforestation, terrorism, and sustenance shortages are focal points.

There is only one concept however, that truly encapsulates many of the world’s problems, and that is human induced climate change. The general science of anthropogenic climate change is well documented, but the methods and drivers are very complex with many variables and obstacles to tackle. While there may be a divide in the American political environment regarding the reality of climate change, over 97% of published climate scientists agree that not only is it happening, but it's human influenced.

Climate change is induced and expedited by many things. One thing that makes it an even more severe threat is the positive feedback loops embedded within. These feedback loops entail carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses entering the atmosphere and heating up the planet. By doing so, this allows other methods of greenhouse gasses to enter the atmosphere. The effects of these feedback loops include melting permafrost, which releases trapped methane into the atmosphere, and may lead to people using more electricity to keep their homes cool in warming weather.

Scientists have been aware of these feedback loops for some time, and are witnessing the effects unfold now. A prime example of a positive feedback loop in that atmosphere is the water cycle.

1. As more and more heat-trapping greenhouse gasses are emitted, the atmosphere warms up.

2. This warmer air leads to more water evaporating from our oceans, rivers, lakes, and land, and entering the atmosphere.

3. Warmer air also holds more water vapor, and water vapor itself traps heat.

4. The extra water vapor in the already warmer air retains even more heat, amplifying the initial warming.

5. Even more warming leads to even more water evaporating, starting the cycle over again. And again.

Other cycles include permafrost melt that releases methane into the atmosphere that has otherwise been trapped for millenia. With a much higher heat trapping capability and a global warming potential from 25 up to 84 times that of carbon dioxide over a decade, methane tends to be greatly overshadowed as a threat to the planet. Another easy example of a positive feedback loop is cooling our homes. As heat waves become more common, and average temperatures increase, the need to keep the air conditioning on goes up which uses more electricity. The majority of electricity in the United States is still produced via coal and natural gas, which increases carbon emissions further. There are many positive feedback loops that make the severity of anthropogenic climate change exponentially grow.

How do we counter these feedback loops? It all begins with decreasing carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. With a decrease of nonrenewables, comes a decrease in global average temperature rise, keeping permafrost in place, the water cycle stable, and heat waves less common. The best methods at stopping these positive feedback loops are to make sustainable decisions, increase education, and make the switch to renewables


  1. "How feedback loops are making the climate crisis worse" Climate Reality Project.,and%20natural%20sources%20and%20impact

  2. "Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming"

  3. "Electricity in the United States is produced (generated) with diverse energy sources and technologies" EIA.

  4. "Executive Summary" EPA.

  5. "7 threats facing our planet" Global Citizen.

  6. "A new politics for climate change"

  7. "Submarine Permafrost Has Been Overlooked as a Major Source of Greenhouse Gasses, Scientists Warn" Yale.


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