(Please Note: These pages are greatly expanded, including extensive footnotes, in the new book: Climageddon.)
The global climate system or its key subsystem processes can quickly move from one fairly stable state of dynamic balance and equilibrium into a new transitional state of instability and greater unpredictability. Eventually the global climate will settle at a new, but different, stable state of dynamic equilibrium and balance, but it will be at a new level and range (a dynamic equilibrium is not static or unchanging; it varies within a range of some climate quality, e.g., average temperature, average humidity). The preceding suggests that a useful and accurate definition for climate destabilization would be:
“A transitional state of escalating global climate instability. This state is characterized by greater unpredictability, which lasts until the global climate eventually finds a new and different stable state of dynamic equilibrium and balance at some different level of temperature and other climate qualities from what it has held for hundreds or thousands of years." —Alexei Turchin, The Structure of the Global Catastrophe
The Three Degrees of Climate Destabilization
Climate destabilization can be said to come in in three degrees. The three degrees defined below help individuals and organizations better understand the relative boundary ranges and levels of threat that is occurring or will occur based on measured increases in global warming. The temperature, carbon ppm, and loss or cost levels described below for each degree of climate destabilization are not hard and rigid boundaries, but boundary ranges designed to help you think about a set of related consequence intensities closely associated with that degree of climate destabilization. The temperature, carbon, cost and loss boundary levels below may be modified by future research.
The three degrees and definitions for climate destabilization are:
1. Catastrophic climate destabilization is associated with a measurement of carbon 400-450 ppm. At the estimated current 1.2 Celsius (2.2° Fahrenheit) of temperature increase, we are already in the beginning stages of catastrophic climate destabilization. The eventual temperature range associated with catastrophic climate destabilization will be an increase in average global temperature of about 2.7° Celsius (4.9° Fahrenheit). When global warming-caused storms, floods, seasonal disruption, wildfires, and droughts begin to cost a nation 30 to 100 billion dollars per incident to repair, we will have reached the level of catastrophic climate destabilization. We are already in this phase of climate destabilization. Hurricane Sandy in New York cost the United States between 50 and 60 billion dollars to repair.
2. Irreversible climate destabilization is associated with a measurement beginning around carbon 425 ppm and going up to about carbon 550-600 ppm. The eventual temperature range associated with triggering irreversible climate destabilization is an increase in average global temperature of 2.2°-2.7° Celsius (4°-4.9° Fahrenheit) to 4° Celsius (7.2° Fahrenheit).
Irreversible climate destabilization occurs when we have moved away from the relatively stable dynamic equilibrium of temperature and other key weather conditions, which we have experienced during the hundreds of thousands of years of our previous cyclical Ice Ages. Once a new dynamic equilibrium finally stabilizes for the climate in these carbon ppm ranges, we will have crossed from catastrophic climate destabilization into irreversible climate destabilization.
Irreversible climate destabilization is a new average global temperature range and a set of destabilizing climate consequences we most likely will never recover from—or that could take hundreds or even thousands of years to correct or re-balance. Irreversible climate destabilization will eventually cost the nations of the world hundreds of trillions of dollars.
3. Extinction-level climate destabilization. Extinction-level climate destabilization as defined here is associated with beginning around the measurement of carbon parts per million in the atmosphere in the range of 600 ppm or more. The eventual temperature range associated with extinction-level climate destabilization is an increase in average global temperature of 5° to 6° Celsius (9° to 10.8° Fahrenheit).
Extinction-level climate destabilization is also defined as the eventual extinction of approximately up to half or more of the species on earth and most, if not all, of humanity. This occurs when the climate destabilizes to a level where the human species and/or other critical human support species can no longer successfully exist. Extinction-level climate destabilization has occurred several times previously during Earth's evolution.
Extinction-level climate destabilization will cost the nations of the world hundreds of trillions of dollars and potentially billions of lives—maybe the survival of the human species itself. There is a possibility that extinction-level climate destabilization may never correct or re-balance itself to some new equilibrium level. If the climate were able to correct or re-balance itself from this level of destabilization, it could take hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years.
To make matters worse, every time we enter a new level of climate destabilization, the frequency, severity, and scale of global warming consequences will increase and everything becomes more unpredictable.
Today’s climate destabilization can become a fatal threat to our future
Our global climate has held many different, relatively stable states over its 4.5-billion-year history.For hundreds of thousands of years, our planet’s climate has moved within a fairly stable range of dynamic equilibrium, known as the cycle ofIce Ages. This is an alternating pattern of an Ice Age, followed by a period of receding ice.
Humanity has flourished since the last Ice Age because of the warmer, agriculture-friendly temperatures and lack of glacial ice cover. As our current global climate moves into a human-caused destabilization period (from its previously stable state of the Ice Age to non-Ice Age cyclical periods) and into a new state of dynamic equilibrium, many rapid changes are occurring. These changes are characterized, in part, by droughts, floods, wildfires, superstorms, and the changing of previously established seasonal weather patterns. These changes are now also occurring with increasing unpredictability as well as with greater magnitude and frequency because of our continually escalating temperature.
We are already experiencing major changes in rainfall and snowfall, with either too much or too little at one time. These transitional conditions will remain unstable or worsen until we have completed the transition to a new, more stable, climate temperature equilibrium and range.
The long-term “good” news is that unless we hit irreversible global warming, sooner or later a destabilized global climate will seek to establish equilibrium at some new level of temperature and other climate quality states. A stable climate is generally always better than an unstable climate when it comes to our overall global climate. But . . . any new equilibrium we eventually arrive at may not be friendly to us as humans.
Fueled by increasing population and human-caused global warming, we have already radically increased the destabilization of our climate and our average global temperature. The climate destabilization process is already increasing the rates of reef collapse, desertification, deforestation, coastline loss, wildfires, droughts, superstorms, floods, productive soil degradation, growing season changes, water pollution, and species extinction.
It is possible we may soon tip the climate into a new, fairly stable equilibrium quite unlike the 12,000-year Ice Age cycles we have been experiencing for hundreds of thousands of years.The very bad news is that billions of humans could soon be suffering and dying because this climate destabilization will also destabilize our global financial, political, agricultural, and social systems.