Climate Change Tipping Points Appear to Be Accumulating

IN A PARTICULARLY SCARY SUMMARY, climate change commentator Michael Klare assembles a lineup of emerging “tipping points” that combine to produce the very real possibility of an explosive uptick in climate danger far sooner than anticipated.

Global-Climate-ChangeKlare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, points out that current thinking focuses on a linear progression of climatological shift. In other words, it depends on things getting progressively but steadily worse. But there are many indications that Nature isn’t going to behave quite so mathematically predictably. Rather, there is increasing evidence that tipping points in which sudden increases in the pace of climate change occur in short periods of time are beginning to occur.

Among the more concerning:

disruption of the North Atlantic Current. Part of what Klare calls the “global conveyor belt,” this oceanic flow keeps Europe far warmer than it would naturally be. It is being disrupted by the melting Greenland ice sheet, which shows signs of accelerating. This could shut down this conveyor belt — known to climate scientists as Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC — resulting in huge changes in Europe and along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. You could say this would result in the climate running amok, but that’s probably not a favorite pun in scientific circles. 😀

unexpectedly rapid warming in the Arctic. This region has experienced more warming than any other on the planet’ this raises many red flags because “the impact of climate change there is already so obvious.” One side effect of this warming is the accelerated melting of the permafrost layer, which is doubly concerning because this geologic artifact contains more than twice the carbon already present in the atmosphere. This, as Klare points out, “could prove to be more than a tipping point.  It could be a planetary catastrophe” in its own right.

the coming disappearance of coral reefs. These colorful reefs are absolutely essential parts of the ecosystem of marine life. Worldwide, upwards of 25% of all marine species depend directly on the coral reefs, creating a widespread ripple effect on affected other species. Coral has always been known to be highly sensitive to shifts in temperature and acidity of its environment, both of which are undergoing significant change as a result of ice melting and current shifting. Already, scientists estimate that more than half of the world’s coral has died just in the last 30 years. This news ought to strike terror into the hearts of all homo sapiens.

drying out of the Amazon. Already devastated by greed in the form of deforestation, the attendant results of climate change have produced severe drought in this ordinarily very wet region of the world, resulting in more and more deaths of trees. When the Amazon forest disappears and the biodeversity it supports along with it, the canopy of leaves that crown it will no longer be an effective absorbent of carbon dioxide.

Taken together — and these are but a few snapshots of similar kinds of “singularities” that appear to be beginning all over the planet — these “tipping points” suggest that the need for action is even more urgent than thought. Here’s how Klare summarizes the situation:

[These trends]  are sufficiently advanced to tell us that we need to look at climate change in a new way: not as a slow, linear process to which we can adapt over time, but as a non-linear set of events involving dramatic and irreversible changes to the global ecosphere.

The difference is critical: linear change gives us the luxury of time to devise and implement curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, and to construct protective measures such as sea walls.  Non-linear change puts a crimp on time and confronts us with the possibility of relatively sudden, devastating climate shifts against which no defensive measures can protect us.

As I’ve often written, it is no longer a question of averting or avoiding the effects of climate change; they are part of the everyday reality of nearly everyone on the planet even if they are not yet always detectable by our senses. But if we are to avoid the most serious consequences — up to and including the extinction of our species on this planet — we must act now, we must act boldly and decisively, and we must set aside all other concerns and issues to come together as a planet in our common humanity.

Nothing — nothing at all — is more important.

Comments are closed.