A climate tipping point is a somewhat ill-defined concept of a point when the global climate changes from one stable state to another stable state, in a similar manner to a wine glass tipping over. After the tipping point has been passed, a transition to a new state occurs. The tipping event may be irreversible, comparable to wine spilling from the glass: standing up the glass will not put the wine back. (From Wikipedia)
What are global warming's key climate tipping points
There are many climate tipping points. The major climate tipping points can create global catastrophe, or even the extinction of humanity when they are crossed. The key climate tipping points are:
- The total amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. Water vapor in the atmosphere increases with more heat evaporating water from oceans, lakes, and rivers. This repeating heat and evaporation process then creates more water vapor and then more heat in an endless, heat-increasing positive feedback loop. At some point, the heat increasing positive feedback loop triggers a tipping point, and the process goes from a linear progression into an exponential progression.
The melting loss of white polar and glacial ice that reflects Earth-heating solar heat back into space in what is called the Albedo effect. At some point in the Albedo effect process, a positive feedback loop triggers a tipping point and the process goes from a linear progression into an exponential progression.
- The releases of methane from the warming and decaying of the permafrost and tundra near the polar areas. At some point in the increasing methane release process, a positive feedback loop triggers a tipping point and the process goes from a linear progression into an exponential progression. (Methane produces 20 to 100 times the greenhouse heat-holding effect in the atmosphere that carbon does for anywhere from three years to decades before it decays back into simple carbon again).
The die-offs of the carbon-eating and oxygen-producing sea plankton because of the growing warming, carbonization, and acidification of the oceans. At some point in the rising die-offs of the carbon-eating and oxygen-producing sea plankton, a positive feedback loop triggers a tipping point and the process goes from a linear progression into an exponential progression.
- The loss of the atmospheric carbon-eating forests because of heat, drought, and wildfires. At some point in the increasing loss of the atmospheric carbon-eating forests, a positive feedback loop triggers a tipping point and the process goes from a linear progression into an exponential progression.
Because of the escalating temperature, the soils that normally absorb carbon begin releasing it back into the atmosphere from their previously stored or inherent carbon. At some point in the increasing release of carbon by the soils, a positive feedback loop triggers a tipping point and the process goes from a linear progression into an exponential progression.
- The ever-increasing atmospheric heat now being captured by the oceans and being sent to lower levels of the ocean will eventually reach a tipping point at some date in future. These masses of deep warm water can suddenly rise to the surface again, releasing their heat to the atmosphere to radically increase global temperature in an exponential progression.
The global warming effect on major ocean currents that help to stabilize our weather and seasons. Research is now being conducted on how this factor might affect things like the critical North Atlantic current. If the North Atlantic current were slowed down or diverted from its presently established pathway, it would create very significant changes in weather patterns, which would affect growing seasons, rain, snowfall, and temperature—all of which have strong effects on crop yields.
- The global warming-caused pandemic potential. When ice, glaciers, permafrost, or frozen tundra tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of years old melts, the melting releases bacteria and viruses that are still alive and that have never been seen by the human species in its total history. This means as global warming continues to escalate, we could be unleashing the ultimate global pandemic. We also could be releasing so many different types of bacteria and viruses at one time that even our best scientists could not keep up with creating and distributing sufficient global qualities of vaccines needed in time to contain new disease outbreaks or a growing global pandemic.
At a specific level of rising ocean temperature, it will thaw and release the gigatons of frozen methane hydrate crystals trapped along the continental shelves of our oceans. A sudden and dramatic release of carbon into the atmosphere from methane hydrate crystals has been predicted to be what could become the next great planetary extinction event. An extinction of this scale would decimate populations so completely that either there will be no survivors or as few as 200 million living close to the poles. Scientists have theorized this massive methane release has occurred once before millions of years ago and was the most probable cause of one of the five previous great mass extinction events of our planetary history. It was called the PETM extinction event.
- The total weight of all melting ice and rising seas as a wildcard tipping point. Although research is sparse in this area, it has been suggested that, as massive amounts of ice melt off areas where the ice is sitting on land masses and sea level rises, the unweighting and weighting of land masses and the oceans and their respective tectonic plates could potentially cause significant shifts and movement in the tectonic plates of the planet. This could cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions at a scale we have not seen on the planet for ages. If the shifting of these tectonic plates causes numerous or massive volcanic eruptions around the planet, we could go into a sudden but temporary volcanic winter. If the shifting of tectonic plates triggers a super volcano-like eruption, the years that the sun would be blocked could kill off most of the human population.
(Please note that the processes of many climate tipping points have been defined. Quite a few climate tipping points have time or process step ranges projected for them, but much more climate tipping point research is yet to be done.)
Factors vital to know about the dangers of crossing climate tipping points
a) One of the most dangerous things about tipping points is that climate tipping points can cause sudden and unpredictable severe changes or complete system collapses. Once a tipping point is crossed, what was previously progressing in a steady and linear way (1, 2. 3 ,4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) now often starts progressing exponentially (2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024.)
Notably, one of the hardest things for individuals to do is visualize real-life scenarios of the difference between a linear and an exponential progression. Using the example above, in just the 10 linear steps, the last linear progression number of 10 is about 100 times less than the last and 10th step in the exponential progression.
(To help you better visualize what “exponentially” means in a sudden rise of average global temperature, it is highly recommended to view this YouTube video on the nature of exponential progressions. It has been watched 5 million times. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-QA2rkpBSY)
b) Climate tipping points (described in detail in the next section below) can have inherent momentum and/or inertia factors within their processes, causing either a time accelerator in going over a tipping point or a time delay in preventing going over a tipping point. For example, the momentum or inertia factors in climate tipping points of ocean heat capture are derived from the increasing atmospheric temperature taken up by the oceans. Oceans both take up and release atmospheric heat very slowly, and there is a time lag because of this building momentum or building inertia issue.
This means that any changes we make now to reduce atmospheric carbon pollution may not have any significant effect because of the inherent momentum or inertia previously developed in one or more of the various climate tipping point system or subsystem areas. Most unfortunately, this also means that because of the inherent pre-existing momentum within one or more of the climate tipping points, we may have already crossed one or more of the most serious climate tipping points, but we do not even know it yet.
c) As average global temperature continues to rise, we will eventually cross one or more of the climate tipping points, and we could even cross all of these tipping points.
d) Even if the inherent current momentum is not strong enough for any climate condition or process to cross one or more of the climate tipping points, if we keep using the IPCC’s inadequate climate data and continue the ever-increasing fossil fuel carbon and methane pollution of our atmosphere, we are eventually going to cross critical climate tipping points that have not been included in the 2014 IPCC’s average global temperature prediction scenarios.
e) Crossing any one of the climate tipping points below may by itself be capable of throwing the planet into irreversible or even extinction-level global warming and consequent climate destabilization.
f) Climate tipping points within the global climate system or within its subsystems can also unpredictably whipsaw back-and-forth onto each other or back and forth within the master climate system or its subsystems to create new positive feedback loops and a multiplier effect. This can cause the interconnected bad climate consequences between the climate and its subsystems to keep getting worse, often in exponential progressions. Crossed tipping points whipsawing back and forth into other climate subsystems and multiplying each other’s negative effects also helps create the “perfect storm of perfect storms.”
When escalating global warming crosses one or more of the important climate tipping points you create the perfect storm of perfect storms
This perfect storm of perfect storms will eventually and assuredly destabilize the global economy. As the global economy destabilizes, it will then destabilize the global political landscape of functioning nations. As the climate, the global economy, and the political landscape of functioning nations destabilize, it will soon destabilize all of the normal social aspects of our individual lives, businesses, and organizations.
This perfect storm of perfect storms will also expand to amplify, whipsaw, and multiply almost all of our other current global challenges such as overpopulation, poverty, national and regional conflicts, existing economic instabilities, etc. onto each other in another positive feedback loop. This then not only magnifies our other global challenges, but it also makes them individually and collectively much harder--if not impossible--to resolve in a constantly deteriorating environment.
Finally, in a perfect storm of perfect storms environmental collapse, failing economies and failing nations all will collectively whipsaw off of each other, causing completely unexpected and unpredictable negative consequences due to the unseen interconnections and interdependencies of today's complex globalized societies. This perfect storm of perfect storms of escalating global warming and crossed global warming tipping points colliding with our current global challenges and systems, has the potential to wreak a continually expanding havoc upon humanity at a level that has never been seen before in human history.
When all or most of the factors of the perfect storm of perfect storms occur --- it is what we call the Climageddon scenario...
"Once someone understands the consequences of global warming, the global warming tipping points, how the tipping points work to intensify climate destabilization as well as how close we are to going over one or more of the global warming tipping points, they finally get that our current global warming emergency is truly the single greatest threat to the future of humanity other than immediate global thermonuclear war." Lawrence Wollersheim
See an animation demonstrating what happens when we cross some of the climate tipping points listed above, click here.
See an amazing and funny video on why we can’t take the chance of letting escalating global warming go unfixed, click here.
See the current state of global warming and our state of emergency on graphs
See more about the climate tipping points positive feedback loop
See the full definition of climate destabilization