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Can things get so bad that we can no longer fix them?

The devastating effects of climate change on Earth could become so overwhelming that they undermine humanity’s capacity to tackle climate change’s root causes, researchers warned Wednesday. They are calling it a “doom loop.” The self-reinforcing dynamic, outlined in a report jointly published Wednesday by two British think tanks, warns of a spiral effect: Governments risk expending so much money and attention on merely coping with the impacts of climate change that they neglect efforts to reduce global emissions, exacerbating the crisis. “We’re pointing to a potential situation where the symptom of the climate and ecological crisis — the storms, the potential food crises, and things like this — start to distract us from the root causes,” report author Laurie Laybourn, an associate fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research think tank, said in an interview. “You get a feedback that starts to run out of control.”

We are not there yet and we can alter the path.

The report’s authors do not believe that climate change has already triggered a global “doom loop” that is irreversible, but warn that in some places the dynamic could begin to take hold. “We could get to the point where societies are faced with relentless disasters and crises, and all the other problems that the climate and ecological crisis is bringing, and will increasingly distract them from delivering decarbonization,” said Laybourn. One example of the doom loop is economic. As African nations spend increasing sums on simply mitigating escalating climate change crises, they have less money to invest in reducing long term emissions targets, Laybourn said. According to the African Development Bank, the impact of climate change is already costing the entire continent between 5 and 15 percent of its annual GDP growth, per capita. “Those costs just become even more insurmountable,” Laybourn said. “In that situation, you are eroding the ability of countries across Africa and other parts of the world to be able to deliver more prosperous — and of course sustainable — conditions.” It could make it more difficult for African nations to raise the $1.6 trillion they have agreed to spend between 2022 and 2030 toward meeting their climate action pledges. Climate change made the economically devastating floods across West Africa last summer around 80 times more probable to occur, according to an analysis in November.

We need to tackle the root causes but for us it is the states industries.

Around the world, a report published in 2022 in the journal Nature found that each additional ton of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere cost the equivalent of $185, when the economic toll of deadly heat waves, crop-killing droughts and rising seas linked to climate change is taken into account. These costs add up quickly, the authors behind Wednesday’s report say, and will deplete governments of the economic resources they need to tackle climate change’s root causes. Humanity has already unleashed more than a trillion tons of carbon dioxide since the start of the Industrial Revolution, driving up global temperatures by more than a degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit). Within the next decade, global average temperatures could reach 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels — a threshold scientists say is critical to avoid irreversible changes. It is still technically possible, and even economically viable, for nations to curb carbon pollution on the scale that’s required, according to the United Nations-assembled panel of 278 top climate experts. However, the authors of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2022 report warn that “it cannot be achieved through incremental change.”

Europe can be hit by more refugees from climate disasters.

In Europe, Laybourn warned that climate change could force more and more refugees to flee increasingly uninhabitable homelands, triggering political backlashes in wealthier host nations — and further distracting voters from climate change, which he says is the issue’s root cause. By the year 2100, extreme heat events will make parts of Asia and Africa uninhabitable for up to 600 million people, the United Nations and Red Cross warned in October. “This doom dynamic could manifest itself in things like a more nativist politics,” Laybourn said. In “a more ecologically destabilized world, it’s more conflicted, with more people on the move.”

Even if we enter a doom loop there is hope.

However, even if humanity begins to enter a “doom loop,” it isn’t doomed, researchers say. Laybourn believes that it is still possible for humanity to extricate itself from it — because societies, he believes, ultimately do have control over how they respond to destabilizing crises. “The psychological element of this is the fundamental quantity,” Laybourn said, pointing to the way in which individuals dramatically relearned everyday habits in the face of the covid-19 pandemic, over a short period of time, potentially saving many lives. “Throughout history, in moments of destabilization — you can see the doom dynamic. You can also see a virtuous circle as well, where certain events, shocks, create positive social movements,” he said. “It can happen in astonishingly short periods of time.”

Fior us, it means facing up to the cost of oil and gas and then figuring out what we can do.

We may fall into a doom loop