"You cannot be called an alarmist if there really is something to be alarmed about." Unknown
- If you do not clearly understand what global warming (aka climate change,) is or how it works, we strongly advise you click here first to learn about it.
- If you do not understand why global warming has already become irreversible for at least the next 50 years, click here and then continue with the rest of this document.
It is critically important to know that no calculations for any of the global warming tipping points occurring (as described below,) were ever included in any of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement solutions. This means that the Paris Climate Agreement is based on everything working perfectly all of the time with our climate as we continue to add massively more carbon and methane to our atmosphere which will according to the immutable laws of physics send our temperatures soaring with according to the Paris climate agreement, no tipping point ever being crossed.
We all know how everything always goes perfectly as planned all of the time so there's nothing really to worry about here or, is there?
Why global warming tipping points are important to your future:
- If we can determine where the global warming tipping points are, we can better predict future catastrophes and prepare for them, as well as locate other interconnected tipping points.
- Positive feedback loops—endless, self-reinforcing cycles, which tipping points help create—can speed a global warming process to jump from a gradual, linear progression to a very steep, exponential or falling off a cliff progression.
What is a global warming tipping point?
Tipping points do not occur only within the climate. They can and will occur in almost any area of life, causing large and unexpected changes. Knowing when they're coming is essential if you do not want to be blindsided by catastrophic global warming consequences.
This document contains everything you need to know about global-warming-related tipping points. Because of the complexity of tipping points and their initiating processes, this document may be more challenging, but you do not have to understand everything about tipping points perfectly!.
By the time you finish this, you will have gleaned enough about the critical and dangerous role of global warming tipping points to understand their high potential impacts both on your present day-to-day life and your future. To make this document a bit more manageable, the most complex science has been placed just before the end along with a humorous 11-minute animation link to help you visualize important tipping points and principles.
The simple definition of a global warming tipping point is:
The point where some process or new stimulus causes a sudden and significant change in the status of the ongoing process or system, causing it to jump from one state to a new, significantly different state. This sudden change is not only significant; it is often extreme!
As an example of a sudden and significant change, imagine a wine glass tipping over and going from the state of being full to empty. After the wine glass tipping point has been passed, a transition to a new state quickly occurs.
Like the falling of the wine glass, tipping points can often lead to the sudden collapse of a process. If you think about a tipping point on a graph causing a steep slope change, you will understand why knowing when tipping points will occur is so important. (See the Tipping Points Have Points of No Return graph below for what a tipping point does to the slope of a graph line.)
Tipping points are often also irreversible, comparable to wine spilling from the glass. No matter how hard you try, standing up the wine glass will not put the wine back into it. Similarly, many global warming tipping points are also irreversible or almost irreversible in any time frame relative to a human lifespan!
For example, the West Antarctic ice shelf appears to have passed its tipping point and is now in an irreversible melting process. Once escalating global warming is finally ended, it may take tens of thousands of years to restore that ice shelf—if it ever could even happen.
Points of no return
Before a tipping point is reached, there is another key milestone in the process. It is the point of irreversible process momentum toward that tipping point, or what is commonly known as the point of no return. In simple mechanical systems like in the wine glass example, the point of no return can occur very close to the actual tipping point. Even though the point of no return may be close to its tipping point, the two are separate parts of the tipping point process.
In complex climate, human, biological or geological systems, the point of no return can occur long before the actual tipping point. This is because global warming and our climate are complex adaptive systems. The developmental processes that eventually trigger a tipping point usually involve many factors and many processes beyond a single mechanical balance point or a simple mechanical falling process as in the wine glass spilling example. (If you're curious, at the end of this document you will find a section that provides more information about the complex qualities and nature of complex adaptive systems).
In the wine glass example, the point of no return is the moment of directional motion and momentum where the forward-falling glass is no longer able to teeter backward and maintain or return to its original upright position and stability. In the wine glass tipping scenario, the point of no return is quite visible. Once it falls past this last balancing point of still reversible direction and momentum and crosses its point of no return, it can no longer stop itself from falling further and crossing the wine glass’s last balancing point, thus irreversibly tipping and spilling the wine out of the glass.
By contrast, global warming points of no return tend to be largely invisible—i.e., irreversible fates are set in motion before we know they are happening. However, if you can determine the point of no return for any global warming tipping point, you can “buy” yourself critical forecasting capabilities that can give you some warning for approximately when that tipping point will be crossed. Being aware of global warming process points of no return will be extremely useful in preparing for and predicting global warming tipping points and catastrophes.
"Tipping points are so dangerous because if you pass them, the climate is out of humanity's control: if an ice sheet disintegrates and starts to slide into the ocean there's nothing we can do about that." —James Hansen
Contrary to what many people believe, tipping points are not just rare high-impact events. Knowing global warming, climate, human and biological tipping points as well as how and when they will occur will be the key to creating all future planning as global warming escalates, and our global climate continues to destabilize.
The following are two examples of catastrophic tipping points of no return whose unconscionable consequences will last for centuries to thousands of years:
1. At the current carbon level within our atmosphere (measured in parts per million (ppm,) which is caused in significant part by burning fossil fuels, we will continue crossing more of the 11 critical global warming tipping points (mentioned below) as the carbon level continues to rise. Once we cross the carbon 500 ppm level, (we are at about 413 ppm as of Sept 2018,) as soon as 2042-2067 or earlier, ALL ice and ALL glaciers on Earth will go into complete meltdown!
Crossing the carbon 500 ppm threshold has, in fact, happened repeatedly in Earth's geological history. When this has occurred, the sea level inevitably rose to the 70 meters (230 feet) range. At our current annual carbon ppm emission rates, we will reach this catastrophic carbon 500 ppm range. (Please also see the CO2 carbon graph near the bottom of this page and that carbon section for more information on the exponential rise of carbon in the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning.)
If we cross that final battle line by passing the atmospheric carbon level of 500 parts per million (ppm), our average global temperature will soar to 4°C (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit). At 4°C, a large portion of humanity (hundreds of millions to billions) will die of starvation (or of increased heat's other related consequences) and, governments and society will collapse in many areas of the world between the 35th parallel north and the 35th parallel south.
Even though it will take many centuries for the seas to rise 230 feet, there will still be sea level rise spurts within those centuries where sea level rise 10 feet or more in just a few decades as it has also done repeatedly in Earth's past.
Take a moment to visualize the seas eventually rising 230 feet and what this will mean to the generations that follow us. Take a moment to visualize massive crop failures around the world because of the increased heat and the consequent mass suffering of slow starvation if we pass the carbon 500 ppm level.
2. Unfortunately, this is not even the worst case problems we will soon be facing on the slippery steep slope of carbon 500 ppm. If we cross the carbon 500 ppm battle line, it is also highly probable we will quickly reach carbon 600 ppm level within another 25-30 years.
This new carbon 600 ppm level will raise the average global temperature to 5°C (9 degrees Fahrenheit) and bring about additional massive methane releases from ocean coastal shelves and permafrost. Because methane is 86 times more potent than carbon as a greenhouse gas, this will once again rapidly spike average global temperatures and bring about the extinction of most of humanity and the end of civilization as we know it. Several past mass extinction events possibly linked in this way to ocean coastal shelves suddenly releasing methane clathrate are the Permian-Triassic extinction event and the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum.
When we reach carbon 500 ppm in about another 20 years or carbon 600 ppm about 25 to 30 years after that as soon as 2077-2097 or earlier, we will greatly accelerate the process of crossing more global warming tipping points. This will further spike average global temperature. At 5°C and above, a large portion of humanity (7 billion plus,) will die of starvation (or of increased heat's other related consequences) and, governments and society will collapse in many areas of the world now expanded between the 45th parallel north and the 45th parallel south. As we reach the carbon 500 ppm and carbon 600 ppm levels, we will also cross into the later and most dangerous phases of the Climageddon Scenario end-of-the-world climate model (described in the new Climageddon book.) with all of its related unconscionable consequences.
Take a moment and think about the reality that at carbon 600 ppm as soon as 2077-2097 or earlier, we trigger the final processes that will bring about the extinction of 70 to 90% of humanity if not more. At this carbon level, civilization will also collapse and the unlucky survivors will enter into an ecological and climate hell and social dark age that will make the survivors wish they were dead.
As if the above was not bad enough, there are several additional factors that need to be considered in the nightmare global warming Climageddon Scenario, which is fueled by crossing one or more of the tipping points mentioned on this page:
1. At the minimum, the relative time frame for removing (sequestering) the carbon particles we are currently adding to our atmosphere is centuries to thousands of years. This means that long, long after we stop polluting our atmosphere with fossil fuels, the two carbon 500 and 600 ppm consequence levels discussed above and many of the other 20 most deadly consequences of those actions and global warming will last for many, many generations, and both we and future generations will suffer dearly for our failures to address and resolve this emergency now.
2. Because of the laws of physics concerning adding additional atmospheric greenhouse gases like carbon, global temperature will continue to rise as we continue adding more carbon and other greenhouses gas particles into the atmosphere from our fossil fuel use. Adding the additional three or more carbon ppm per year as we are doing now is based only on the current population. It does not include any additional amounts for the added carbon ppm amounts to compensate for the additional fossil fuel energy use of the human population soaring from 7 billion today to 14 billion people by around 2050 or, that many more people from the developing world will by 2050 move into the middle class demanding the same high carbon fossil fuel use comforts of the developed world! When you add all of the additional carbon that will be burned from these two factors to our current average annual increase of three carbon ppm per year at our current population level, the future looks considerably worse and predicted consequences will arrive even sooner.
3. The steady rise of methane in the atmosphere from new releases of methane from increased fracking, melting permafrost, and leaking natural gas lines. Methane is about 86 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon to increase global warming. There is also a concerted effort by the fracking industry to keep the ominous growing total methane release amounts hidden from the public. When you add in the effects of methane for raising our temperature along with the effects of carbon, we are probably already well above our current carbon 411 ppm.
The 11 major global warming tipping points within the climate, human, and biological systems
There are many global warming system and subsystem tipping points within the climate, human, and biological systems. The key process that directly or indirectly causes the global warming tipping points to be crossed is increasing heat, as is implied in the term global warming.
When global warming tipping points are crossed, one or more of them can trigger processes leading to:
- sudden large-scale catastrophes in climate, human, and biological systems,
- irreversible global warming,
- irreversible climate destabilization, and/or
- extinction-level climate destabilization.
The major Global warming tipping points within interacting climate, human, and biological systems are:
The total amount of melting ice. Increased heat melts more sea ice, ice shelves, and glaciers, resulting in more water flowing into our oceans and increasing sea levels. This process repeats with each increase in temperature in an endless, self-reinforcing cycle—a positive feedback loop. At some point, this positive feedback loop triggers a tipping point, and the increased heat and ice melting process can go from a gradual linear progression (1, 2, 3 ,4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) to a far steeper exponential progression (2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1,024, 2,048, 4,096, 8,192, 16,384).
The albedo effect. The whiteness of polar ice reflects heat away from the planet. This is called the albedo effect. As the polar ice melts, significant areas darken and therefore absorb more heat rather than reflecting it outward. At some point in this melting process, a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop occurs, which again reduces the albedo effect’s total heat-reflecting capabilities. This in turn further increases global warming. As before, this self-reinforcing cycle of loss of reflectivity and increasing heat will eventually move from a gradual linear progression to a steep exponential heat increasing progression.
The release of methane from the warming of polar permafrost and tundra. As temperature continues to increase, a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop triggers a permafrost and tundra methane release tipping point, leading eventually to the exponential progression mentioned before. This could be a very critical tipping point because methane produces 20 to 100 times the heat-creating effect in the atmosphere as compared to carbon dioxide. This increased methane within our atmosphere will also remain there from three years to decades before it decays back into simple carbon. To emphasize how dangerous this is for our future, in February 2013, scientists using radiometric dating techniques on Russian cave formations to measure melting rates warned that a 1.5° Celsius (2.7° Fahrenheit) global rise in temperature compared to pre-industrial levels was enough to start a general permafrost melt. (From David Spratt’s Climate Reality Check). We are almost at 1.5° Celsius right now, and even higher temperatures are inevitable.
The total amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. Water vapor is the gaseous state of water. It is the most important natural greenhouse gas. When it condenses onto a surface, a net warming occurs on that surface. In the atmosphere, water vapor increases as heat increases. Increased heat evaporates more water from oceans, lakes, and rivers, which creates more water vapor and heat in an endless self-reinforcing cycle—another positive feedback loop. At some point, this positive feedback loop triggers a tipping point, and the process goes from a gradual linear heat producing progression into a steeper exponential progression. The result is that the average global temperature increases even faster.
The die-offs of carbon-eating and oxygen-producing sea plankton because of the warming, carbonization, and acidification of the oceans. As this continues to intensify, it also creates a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop, which triggers a tipping point, and the die-off process goes from a gradual linear progression into a steeper exponential progression. This results in sudden and rapidly increasing die-offs in the ocean fish populations that live on this plankton, as well as sudden and rapidly increasing drop-offs in the ocean’s oxygen-producing capabilities. (Oxygen-producing plankton are critical to our future. They produce 50% - 80% of the world’s total oxygen supply).
The ever-increasing atmospheric heat captured and stored by the oceans and sent to lower levels of the ocean. These captured and stored masses of deep warm water can suddenly rise to the surface again. This will release a massive amount of additional heat directly into the atmosphere and quickly spike average global temperature.
- The loss of the atmospheric carbon-eating forests because of heat, drought, wildfires, and timber-harvesting or agriculture-related clearcutting. As temperatures rise and droughts, heat, forest fires and clearcutting kill trees, we lose our essential carbon-eating forests, which increases the carbon and heat in the atmosphere. This process eventually triggers a tipping point and the forests’ loss of carbon-eating capabilities goes from a gradual linear progression into a steep exponential progression of forest loss and escalating carbon in the atmosphere. This results in a sudden additional spike upward in average global temperature.
Soils that normally absorb carbon begin releasing it back into the atmosphere from their previously stored or inherent carbon because of the escalating heat. This increasing heat-induced release of carbon by the soils creates a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop. This triggers a soil carbon release tipping point and the process goes into a more exponential progression. This also results in a rapid increase in average global temperature.
The changes in major ocean currents that help to stabilize our weather and seasons. Research is now expanding on how increasing heat will affect currents like the North Atlantic current. Because of global warming, 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 vital crop yields.
The global warming-caused pandemic potential. When ancient ice, glaciers, permafrost, or frozen tundra melts, it releases still-living bacteria and viruses never seen before. This means we could soon be unleashing the ultimate global pandemic. So many different types of new bacteria and viruses could be released at once that even our best scientists would not be able to create and distribute the vaccines needed in time to contain disease outbreaks or a growing global pandemic.
- Total weight of rising seas and melting ice shifting. Although research is sparse in this area, it has been posited that the total massive weight change from all ice melt areas (where ice covers land masses) as well as the heating, expanding and shifting weight effect on seas caused by global warming can move existing tectonic plates. This plate motion could cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions at an unprecedented scale. If the shifting of these tectonic plates causes numerous or massive volcanic eruptions around the planet, we could also go into a volcanic winter. If the shifting of tectonic plates triggers a supervolcano-like eruption, the years that the sun would be blocked could kill off most of the human population.
There are many other known and unknown tipping points in both climate and biological systems not mentioned above. The 11 above are only the ones that are the most important and the ones we know the most about.
When you are thinking about the collective an individual impacts of the above 11 tipping points, you must also add in their impact on human social, economic and political systems and the tipping points within those unique systems. For example, as we continue to cross more of the 11 tipping points mentioned above, we will first experience the severe system crashes which normally occur when the tipping point is crossed and then our social, economic and political human systems will begin experiencing extreme stress. This will then also push them over there own internal tipping points.
One way this could happen is as follows. As crops fail from droughts, rain bombs, and extreme temperatures, food prices will skyrocket, populations will riot and then, law and order will break down as more people die. Eventually, the weaker countries will collapse under the weight of these internal climate catastrophes and resource conflicts.
Next, as the weaker nations collapse they will create more desperate climagees (climate migrants rushing into the stronger nations.) As this happens, the strongest nations will also experience a breakdown in law and order and, in the later phases of the Climageddon Scenario, they too will experience complete social and political breakdown.
Why understanding global warming tipping points is critical to your future
To demonstrate why understanding tipping points is so important, it is necessary to also understand the many dangers found within the complex interactions, processes, and consequences of the global warming tipping points. When you understand these additional dangers, you will also understand how the phases of the Climageddon Scenario build upon each other.
Overview of the biggest dangers of global warming tipping points:
Exponential expansion: Once a tipping point is crossed, its consequences will cease progressing in a steady, gradual, and linear way (1, 2. 3 ,4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) and will typically shift into a steep, nonlinear, exponential progression (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 in results between a linear and an exponential progression. Using the sample above, in just the 10 linear steps, the last linear progression number noted is 10. That is about 100 times less than the last and 10th step of the above sample exponential
Crossed tipping points create more crossed tipping points: As average global temperature continues to rise, we will cross more of the global warming tipping points. When any interconnected or interdependent global warming tipping point within the system or subsystems is crossed, it makes it significantly more likely that more tipping points will inevitably also be crossed in other interconnected or interdependent systems or subsystems. Once this domino-like process starts, we could eventually cross many of the global warming tipping points. (See the lighted match Keystone Tipping Point illustration below).
Colliding multiple tipping points can accelerate us into the last phases of the Climageddon Scenario: Colliding crossed multiple tipping points means that each tipping point’s vulnerability is also subject to the powerful triggering influence of other crossed tipping points. Tipping points crashing into other interconnected or interdependent areas can quickly trigger other tipping points, creating a cascading meltdown across both climate and human system tipping points. Crossing more global warming tipping points may collectively be enough to throw us into irreversible climate destabilization or even extinction-level climate destabilization. (See Climageddon Scenario.)
Crossed global warming tipping points will accelerate the crossing of vulnerable human and biological system tipping points: Crossed global warming tipping points within the numerous global warming climate systems or subsystems can also unpredictably collide back and forth to create a system-wide, cascading chain reaction of numerous self-reinforcing positive feedback loops. Once this cascading meltdown process begins, crossing more tipping points occurs at a faster and faster rate and it will eventually accelerate crossing over into our many vulnerable human and biological system tipping points (economy, politics, society, war, and conflict, etc.).
Quick collapse and slow recovery: The greatest dangers of crossing tipping points are that they can suddenly cause severe, unpredictable, and irreversible changes, even complete system collapses. In most cases, if the system or subsystem crashes or collapses, recovery from these crashes or collapses is very slow and difficult, if not impossible!
If recovery is possible, not only will it be slow and difficult, but there is also the higher likelihood that it will not be adequate to restore the original stability, range, or level of the collapsed system (or subsystem). This difficult recovery leads instead to some new stability range—a level that will likely be significantly different. After we cross one or more tipping points, this could mean that when our temperature eventually restabilizes, it could be at a range or level either unfriendly to life as we know it, or completely incompatible.
Crossed tipping points can have both linear cause-and-effect relationships as well as dangerous and currently unpredictable nonlinear cause-and-effect relationships. These nonlinear relationships can occur between global warming tipping points and human and biological system tipping points (economy, politics, mass species die-offs, war, and conflict) as well as within and between any other part of the climate system and its subsystems. The presence of counter-intuitive, nonlinear tipping point and system relationships mean that causes and effects within climate and global warming systems and subsystems are sometimes not logically connected, clear or predictable. This means that within a complex adaptive system like global warming and the climate, an area that happens to be a part of its system or its subsystems can create an effect in some other completely different system or subsystem where there seems to be no apparent cause and effect relationship between the two systems or subsystems. The huge danger here is that if a global warming tipping point triggers a nonlinear reaction in another climate or human system or subsystem, we could quickly find ourselves caught in a catastrophic situation without ever being able to predict it or prepare for it.
A complex adaptive system such as the climate reacts with its subsystems in both predictable and unpredictable ways. In the illustration above, an action X in system A causes the obvious linear effect Y in system B, but it can also cause a seemingly unconnected nonlinear XY reaction in system C. It is this nonlinear unpredictability in other interconnected and interdependent systems which also should cause us great concern as we add more fossil fuel carbon to the atmosphere.
Hidden points of no return can occur long before tipping points are crossed: A major factor working against the resolution of the global warming emergency is that with each degree of temperature increase, developmental momentum within the processes of that particular global warming area will push relevant tipping points toward their points of no return, which makes crossing of such tipping points inevitable.
In the case of global warming systems and subsystems, these points of no return are often hidden, sometimes occurring long before the actual tipping point is crossed. Generally, they are even less researched and understood. Unfortunately, if we want to avoid the global warming tipping points, we not only have to do more research on the actual tipping points, but we also have to do more research on these points of no return.
A good example of the dangers of crossing any point of no return is found within the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Recent research has shown that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has already entered the irreversible collapse process. This was caused first by warmer water and, secondly, by the melting of its ice shelves from above and below because of warmer air temperatures.
At some point, as the warmer water and the warmer air melted the massive ice sheet, the ice sheet’s point of no return was crossed. This then set up the final scenario leading to the tipping point of irreversible melting.
This crossed tipping point is a huge problem because this particular ice sheet and its shelves contain enough ice to raise sea levels by another 10-13 feet (roughly 3-4 meters). Even worse, these ice sheets and shelves act as essential flying buttresses, keeping the rest of Antarctica’s massive ice stores locked on land instead of sliding off and melting into the sea and passing their own point of no return, which, if it occurred, would spike sea levels massively higher.
Invisible momentum and inertia factors: It's important to understand the technical meaning of momentum and inertia to understand their important relationship to global warming tipping points. In classical mechanics, momentum is the product of the mass and velocity of an object. For example, a heavy truck moving rapidly has momentum—it takes a large or prolonged force (generally an engine and fuel) to get the truck up to speed, and it also takes a large or prolonged force to bring it to a stop afterwards (brakes). If the truck were lighter or moving more slowly, it would have less momentum and it would take less force to get it moving or to stop it.
Inertia is defined as the resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion (this includes changes to its speed, direction, or state of rest). It is the tendency of objects to keep moving in a straight line at constant velocity or to stay in the state they are in.
Global warming tipping points can have inherent momentum and/or inertia factors within their processes. These two factors can cause either a time accelerator—pushing a process over a tipping point faster, or a time delay—helping to prevent a process from going over a tipping point.
Including both momentum and inertia factors is critical to the accurate prediction of global warming, climate, human, and biological systems outcomes. For example, the momentum or inertia factors in global warming tipping points for ocean heat capture or release are regulated by atmospheric heat. Oceans take up and release atmospheric heat very slowly, and they pass that heat to deep ocean layers slowly. There is an inertia-related time lag due to that slow absorption rate. This is due to the ocean’s pre-existing water temperature. It also has inertia-related time lag as it seeks to maintain its current temperature by changing slowly.
There is also a momentum factor for how the ocean eventually releases its previously captured atmospheric heat back into the atmosphere, which would once again spike average global temperatures. It appears that once deep warm water is released, it builds its own momentum, eventually rising to the surface and then quickly releasing its heat. Once a certain temperature or set of conditions is triggered, nothing will stop this inherent momentum from the rising of the warmer water from deep ocean layers.
- Crossing multiple tipping points will lead to the later phases of the Climageddon Scenario. In addition to increasing unpredictability and leading us into the later phases of the Climageddon Scenario, crossing multiple tipping points can create a dramatic acceleration of consequence time frames. It will drastically increase the scale, severity, and frequency of the consequences within the related global warming systems and subsystems involved.
Now that you understand what the main tipping points are and their dangers to our future, there are other essential facts about tipping points important to know.
What is a keystone tipping point
There is a uniquely important type of tipping point relevant to global warming and the climate. It is called a keystone tipping point.
If you have seen a Roman architectural arch, you already know a little about what a keystone is. It is the central, usually triangular-shaped stone at the top center of the arch. It is also the critical supporting stone that holds all the other stones in place and maintains the integrity and strength of the arch.
If you pull a keystone out of a Roman arch, the whole arch immediately crumbles and completely falls in on itself. Like the keystone in the Roman arch, if we cross any keystone global warming tipping point, all dependent or interconnected global warming systems and subsystems can also begin collapsing faster than we can be prepared for or recover from. If we cross any currently unknown or known keystone tipping point, every projected time frame relating to global warming consequences would suddenly and radically change for the worse. Consequences that were predicted to be many decades away could now become just one or two decades away or less.
You're probably curious about which of the previously mentioned global warming tipping points are keystone tipping points. The difficult truth is that increasing heat itself, as well as all of the previously mentioned tipping points (except the pandemic tipping point caused by melting ice and permafrost), could become keystone tipping points. The painful truth is that if the conditions surrounding any global warming tipping point worsen enough, it could act as and become a keystone tipping point, which could ignite a cascading meltdown and triggering of multiple other tipping points, leading to sudden and catastrophic results.
A keystone tipping point will also be the most likely trigger and/or deepen the irreversible global warming process
Irreversible global warming (aka runaway climate change or the runaway greenhouse effect) is defined by its processes and what will happen after we cross any keystone tipping point (or we cross multiple important tipping points, which will cumulatively act like a keystone tipping point). The crossed irreversible global warming tipping point then causes the global climate to dramatically change—this is the climate destabilization process in action. But, keep in mind that irreversible climate destabilization and irreversible global warming are different things. Irreversible global warming can also be caused by many other factors working together as discussed here.
Warning signs that a tipping point may soon be crossed
Many times, just before a tipping point is crossed and crashes, it experiences a period of increasing oscillations, “flipping” more rapidly from one state to another. Not only does it oscillate from one state to another, but the severity of the oscillations also increases. Finally, the frequency of the oscillation swings also begins to accelerate in close time proximity.
We are already seeing these pre-tipping-point oscillation warnings occurring in our more frequent and severe weather swings over larger and larger areas—going from cold to warm, summer- to winter-like conditions, and from droughts to deluges. Whenever you see this type of intensified oscillation pattern occurring, whether it's in climate or biological systems or the stock market, it is the harbinger of big changes.
In general, the further up the local, regional, national, or global climate that climate, human, or biological systems or subsystems are:
- tipping points are being crossed, or
- extreme weather problems are expanding,
the more trouble we are in! If the global climate is oscillating more frequently and severely, we are in a a lot more trouble than if it is only our local climate that is oscillating similarly. Additionally,smaller systems and subsystems will move to a state of chaos more readily than larger systems and subsystems due to smaller systems and subsystems usually having less inertia to resist the change.
Which global warming tipping points will most likely be crossed first
While it is difficult to set specific dates for crossing a tipping point, in general, the melting of sea and glacial ice around the world—particularly in the polar regions—appears to be the tipping point area of greatest immediacy and concern. There are a few key reasons for this:
- At the far north and far south, global warming has seen double the temperature increases as compared to increased temperatures elsewhere on the planet.
- Ice melting directly or indirectly links to other critical tipping points: the albedo effect, methane releases from melting permafrost and tundra, changes in ocean currents, deep and surface level ocean temperature increases, die-offs in ocean life, and potential pandemics caused by ancient viruses and bacteria being released from the permafrost.
This melting-ice-related cluster of interconnected and interdependent tipping points of itself can usher in the end of humanity or hell on Earth. The next group of tipping points to monitor would be the total global water vapor levels and the carbon-releasing and carbon-eating condition of trees and soils. The last and slowest developing risk will be from increased earthquakes and volcanoes due to changing glacier-related weight over the Earth's tectonic plates.
More detailed time estimates on when we will cross more climate, human and biological systems tipping points will be found in the Climageddon Scenario in Chapter 6. Estimates for exactly when we will cross the many global warming tipping points will continuously evolve as new research is released.
In general, if temperatures continue rising, the time frames in which we will be crossing more tipping points will get shorter. (There is an easy way to educate yourself about this as new global warming research comes out that can and will affect you, your business, and nation. If you have not done so already, sign up for the Global Warming blog RSS feed by clicking here. By doing so, you will automatically receive a weekly or biweekly email with the latest headline news on national and international global warming reduction successes and losses).
A carbon level we should be most concerned about
Above and beyond keystone tipping points, there is another important danger level. It exists as a collection of crossed tipping points.
"Monthly Keeling Curving CO2 Widget” courtesy of Show. Earth56
A dangerous collective juncture of several crossed tipping points from different areas of the climate system interacting with each other is highly probable once we reach the carbon 425-450 ppm level. This danger level aligns with climate researcher James Hansen’s statements that even a carbon 450 ppm level (which will occur in about 10-15 years at present carbon pollution rates) would eventually correspond to an average global temperature increase of 6° Celsius (10.8° Fahrenheit) in this century and the end of human civilization as we’ve come to know it.57
Which global warming tipping points are likely to be crossed the soonest
New research and evidence suggest that more systems and subsystems within the interconnected and interdependent climate system may be heading toward global warming tipping points or experiencing worrisome qualitative change toward their points of no return. These global warming-related climate systems include:
- accelerating ice mass loss from Antarctic ice shelves and the vulnerability of East Antarctic glaciers;
- the vulnerability of Arctic permafrost, exemplified in part by the proliferation of Siberian methane craters;
- rapid thinning of Arctic sea-ice;
- declining carbon efficiency of the Amazon forests and other carbon sinks (oceans, soils etc;) and
- the slowing of the major sea current known as the Atlantic conveyor, likely as a result of global warming.
“... will not prevent our ‘crossing into the zone of irreversible thresholds’ in our polar and mountain glacier regions, and that crossing these boundaries may result in processes that cannot be halted unless temperatures return to levels below pre-industrial.”
And in a similar vein, the Climate Reality Check stated:
“To put it most bluntly, only a new ‘Little Ice Age’ may re-establish some of today’s mountain glaciers and their reliable water resources for millions of people; or halt melting polar ice sheets that, once started, irrevocably would set the world on course to an ultimate sea-level rise of between 4–10 metres or more...some of these cryosphere thresholds, including potential fisheries and ecosystem loss from polar ocean acidification, cannot be reversed at all.” —From David Spratt’s Climate Reality Check.59
Crossing global warming tipping points is not going to happen far off in the future. It is happening now!
How global warming tipping points are unfolding
What we do know is that:
- We are already crossing important tipping points in the Arctic and Antarctic regions.
- As we approach the carbon 425 to 450 ppm levels, crossing more tipping points and points of no return in global warming systems and subsystems will accelerate.
- Unknowingly, we may have already crossed multiple global warming tipping points or points of no return.
- In general, with each new global warming tipping point crossed, the momentum increases toward more global warming tipping points being crossed in other climate, human, and biological systems and subsystems. This is a tipping point momentum we allow to happen at our extreme peril.
What we do not know:
- At this time, no exact sequential order has been researched to show when each global warming tipping point will be crossed.
- Which specific global warming tipping point will act as the keystone tipping point that will trigger other tipping points, deepen the irreversible global warming process and set off the full blown end-of-the-world Climageddon Scenario.
Our exponential exposure and vulnerability as we cross more global warming tipping points
Crossing any global warming tipping point creates an extreme vulnerability and exposure because the danger is neither singular nor constant. It is not a singular threat because at a minimum, many tipping points and points of no return reside within the climate, human, and biological systems and subsystems—any of which could be crossed and feed back into other interconnected systems or subsystems, triggering a cascading meltdown of more crossed global warming tipping points across more and more systems.
There is not just the threat of a single keystone tipping point. There are potentially many tipping points that, if collectively crossed, could act like a keystone tipping point and lead to the final phases of the Climageddon Scenario. Crossing tipping points is also not a linear steady threat. With each rising degree of average global temperature, the threat, vulnerability, and exposure boils and rises exponentially! See boiling pot illustration below.
Our estimated risk level for going over more global warming tipping points
To better evaluate risk, let’s first put the scope and intensity of the irreversible global warming risk in a comparative context. From the standpoint of total cumulative harm to be wreaked, consider that a 40% risk for a series of global warming millennial superstorms costing $1 trillion each actually presents a comparatively smaller risk of harm than a 1/100th of 1% risk of irreversible global warming with its end-of-the-world consequences. Yes, this means that a 40% risk of millennial superstorms poses far less of a risk of destructive consequences than a 1/100th of 1% risk of irreversible global warming.
We’ve already experienced global warming-related extreme storms and know the damage and havoc they leave in their wake. What we are seeing now pales in comparison to irreversible global warming’s full potential for global destruction and chaos. This helps put the enormity of risk into a comparative perspective, which helps drive home how utterly serious and urgent the global warming emergency is.
To further help quantify this global warming tipping point risk level, now consider that one of our most respected climate scientists, Michael Mann, has estimated the current risk level for going over a global warming tipping point at not 1/100th of 1%, not 1%, but at approximately 10%!60 If one of our best climate scientists has set a 10% risk level for us crossing more global warming tipping points, how should you begin to think about this level of risk to your future? (Keep in mind that any global warming tipping point also has the potential to become a keystone tipping point).
It’s reasonable to suppose the nations of the world would not allow even a fraction of 1% of a risk level for global thermonuclear war to go less than 100% managed and controlled. So how should we be managing our tipping point risks? How can we rationally continue to allow a 10% risk level of crossing more global warming tipping points to still go unmanaged when it can quickly lead directly to the extinction of humanity and the end of civilization?
Because of the difficulty of quantifying known and unknown factors involved within developing points of no return and tipping points themselves, the risk of going over more global warming tipping points is likely much higher than 10%.
Understanding the many unique dangers of global warming and crossing its tipping points is critical to your future quality of life. Once you understand tipping point risks are real and how they work, you are hopefully more likely to use the information in this docuent for managing them.
More about irreversible global warming, climate destabilization and tipping points
Global warming causes climate destabilization, but climate destabilization can also cause global warming. These processes can work both ways. For example, already destabilized burned forests and acidified oceans can’t absorb as much carbon. Because they cannot absorb as much carbon, more carbon stays in the atmosphere, causing more global warming heat.
There are also hopeful transition points between the processes of deepening irreversible global warming and the levels of climate destabilization. Climate destabilization transforms into irreversible warming only if there is a cascading meltdown of many tipping points, or a keystone tipping point is crossed.
Tipping points and the worst level of irreversible global warming—extinction level global warming
Astronomers use the expression runaway greenhouse effect or runaway global warming to define the worst scenario of extinction-level global warming. Runaway global warming occurs as the climate crosses a final critical or keystone tipping point and deviates and destabilizes catastrophically and permanently from its original state. This is what scientists think happened on Venus about 4 billion years ago. Solar winds blew all its water vapor and atmosphere off into space.
We currently do not know what tipping point level of greenhouse gases have to be present in our atmosphere before Earth could suffer the same runaway greenhouse effect and extinction-level global warming, which will cause our water and atmosphere to boil and burn off like the Venus event. In Earth's distant past, carbon levels have exceeded 1200 ppm without losing our atmosphere, but with the acceleration of carbon entering the atmosphere, there is no telling when we may reach or exceed those levels.
One more tipping point shocker
You will be shocked by how dangerously global warming tipping points are being mishandled and consequently hidden by the world’s recognized authority on the climate. Click here for more information on this.
A humorous 11-minute tipping point animation
Once you have finished this document, take 11 minutes to watch Wake Up, Freak Out - Then Get a Grip.61 Pay particular attention to the animation's excellent explanation of the various critical global warming tipping points. This video has been viewed over 1 million times and has been translated into 22 different languages. One note: this video gives temperature degrees in Celsius. A rough Fahrenheit temperature conversion is double the Celsius amount. Near its end, the video presents a somewhat polarized viewpoint. Though the informational and tipping point content is good, the Job One for Humanity organization that is publishing this document puts a higher priority on collaborative approaches in lieu of polarized ones.
A deeper perspective into the science of exponential progressions
We are facing an exponentially rising threat. If you are not fully grasping the critical difference between linear progressions and exponential progressions, it is highly recommended to view this YouTube video62 on the nature of exponential progressions. It has been watched 5 million times. It should help you better visualize what “exponential” means in relation to the potential of the coming drastic rise in the magnitude at every level of coming global warming consequences.
Deeper tipping point and climate science
The following two deeper science perspective sections are not required reading. They can be helpful if you are further exploring the validity of the premises forwarded in this document and the other documents on this website.
A deeper perspective on climate science when seen as a complex system that is adaptive
The following presents some basics of systems theory and complex systems that are adaptive (also known as complex adaptive systems) for those who want a deeper understanding of:
- the nature of the global climate,
- the processes of climate destabilization,
- how human, climate and biological systems might react, and
- global warming as a complex adaptive system.
Envisioning how complex adaptive systems interact with each other through their many interconnections, interdependencies, nonlinear processes, and contexts, relationships and transformations is indeed challenging.
To illustrate this challenge, imagine each global warming subsystem within the master climate system as a tangle of cooked spaghetti. Now imagine several such tangles of spaghetti interconnected by most of their strands. Sorting out what the connections are would be quite the challenge, yes?
Although that's not the best image for the overall complexity and interconnectedness of global warming, the climate, and our human and biological systems and subsystems, it will at least open the door to envisioning the research and prediction challenges climate scientists face. In spite of this inherent complexity, it is well worth the extra effort to understand the context and principles behind these relationships, processes and transformations within global warming processes, the climate, and our human and biological systems and subsystems.
To better grasp the nature of this “spaghetti,” it is useful to understand global warming, the climate and human and biological systems as complex adaptive systems.
Complex adaptive systems by nature:
- Are complex (multifaceted, multilayered, etc.)
- Are self-organizing (can organize themselves into new states or make changes without involvement or actions from outside the system. Self-organization occurs in response to some change in the environment or mutation. This also dramatically increases the unpredictability potentials of the system).
Evolve and adapt (they can respond with both reactive and adaptive changes as needed to maintain internal balance and system integrity and stability).
Contain elements of spontaneous emergence (something coming into being that was not predicted or completely unpredictable).
Can contain tipping points (points of sudden significant change or collapse).
Can contain points of no return (where the momentum of some process will sooner or later trigger the tipping point).
Contain linear and nonlinear cause-and-effect relationships between the various parts of the system and its subsystems.
- Can change rapidly and are highly unpredictable.
In summary, complex adaptive systems, like global warming, the climate, and our human and biological systems, are highly unpredictable, self-organizing, and often include spontaneous or nonlinear unexpected outcomes. Sometimes they also contain high-impact, nonlinear relationships and tipping points, causing radical, sudden, and completely unforeseen consequences.
The presence of these often counter-intuitive, linear and nonlinear relationships and processes as described above means that causes and effects within climate, global warming human and biological systems and subsystems are sometimes not logically connected, clear, or predictable. Within a complex adaptive system like global warming, the climate, and our human and biological systems, one area can affect a completely different system or subsystem where there seems to be no apparent, direct or connected cause and effect relationship between these numerous interacting and interrelated systems or subsystems.
A big-picture perspective on the challenge before us
The escalating global warming crisis has become the greatest adaptive challenge and evolutionary adventure in human history. Paradoxically, while it is the greatest current challenge, if you step back and look at this crisis from the long evolutionary sweep of human history, this crisis is just another evolutionary challenge like the many we have overcome in the past.
The following Great Bottleneck story should help you better frame the difficult challenge in front of us.
The human species has almost gone extinct at least once before. This occurred about 72,000 years ago. This incident has been called the Great Evolutionary Bottleneck.
A supervolcano called Toba erupted and blocked the sun for about 6 years. It also covered the earth with 6 inches of ash. Because of this supervolcano eruption and the resultant volcanic ash blocking the sunlight, global temperature was dramatically lowered. This volcano-related temperature lowering occurred on top of an already existing Ice Age.
Under the cold and darkened skies, humanity as a whole was reduced to as few as 1,000 mating pairs. Some research suggests even fewer survivors. Maybe as few as 200 mating pairs were all that survived of humanity.
This supervolcano eruption has been called an evolutionary bottleneck because during this time the total early global human population fell from an estimated 18-26,000 individuals with reproductive capabilities to 1,000 or fewer reproducing pairs. That was roughly a 90% reduction in total global population. If some other catastrophe had also occurred at the same time, humanity itself might have gone extinct.
Up until now, the Toba eruption has been the single greatest adaptive challenge to the survival of the whole of the human species. Unfortunately, today we are facing a new and far greater adaptive challenge.
This second great bottleneck is different, yet in some ways similar to the first great evolutionary bottleneck. This second bottleneck contains a global warming threat opposite to that of the colder temperatures of the first great evolutionary bottleneck. Unlike the first great bottleneck, which was caused by nature, the second is human-caused due to increasing carbon and methane atmospheric pollution and the steadily rising average global temperature.
This increasing global warming is causing a destabilization of our climate from its previously fairly stable temperature range level. This increasing destabilization will lead to some higher temperature range that may not be suitable for the survival of a majority of the 7 billion-plus people alive today. It may not be suitable for preserving any of the human species over time.
This means that together as a single human species, we are facing a new great adaptive challenge in the form of the second great evolutionary bottleneck. If we are going to come through this second evolutionary bottleneck, more will need to be done faster with more people cooperating on greater levels than has ever been achieved in human history.
Whenever you feel overwhelmed by the global warming challenge in front of us, never forget that humanity made it through the first great evolutionary bottleneck with far less cooperation, technology, and resources. Yes, today’s challenge will still be more difficult than any humanity has previously overcome. But, in the process of overcoming it, we will not only ensure our own future, but our effort will also provide each of us, both young and old, the opportunity to participate in the greatest evolutionary adventure in human history. Participating in such a challenge and adventure will create a deeply meaningful and purpose-filled life.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr., American civil rights leader
- Crossed tipping points can cause sudden and unpredictable severe changes and immediate or complete system crash or collapse.
- Crossing global warming tipping points is not as rare as the fossil fuel industry would like you to believe. We have already crossed several global warming tipping points and it is likely we will cross more.
- In general, when a tipping point is crossed, unpredictability increases along with the speed of change. Our ability to control the disruption of a tipping point and reverse it drops radically as the system tumbles towards collapse.
- Once a point of no return is crossed, it is just a matter of time before its tipping point is crossed.
- Because the climate and global warming are complex adaptive systems, when any global warming tipping point is crossed, it makes it significantly more likely that more tipping points will also be crossed in interconnected or interdependent systems or subsystems.
- Because of inherent pre-existing momentum or inertia factors within one or more of the global warming tipping points, and the possibility that points of no return have already been crossed, we may have already crossed more of the global warming tipping points and be inevitably locked into crossing even more tipping points no matter what we do.
- At this point, at the least what we must do is prevent our crossing any keystone tipping point, which would deepen irreversible global warming and the later stages of the Climageddon Scenario.
- Any global warming remedial plan based on everything going perfectly will become the perfect plan for failure.
- The most important process that directly or indirectly causes global warming tipping points to be crossed is increasing heat.
- Humanity successfully survived the first great evolutionary bottleneck. We have many more advantages today, which should be of help in getting us through the current emergency we are facing.
What You Can Do!
All of the preceding, and far more information about the escalating warming emergency can be found in the Climageddon book. Get your copy now! Each purchase of Climageddon helps support the Job One for Humanity nonprofit organization and our Job One plan to help you and the world survive global warming.
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57 Hansen, James, et al. "Target atmospheric CO2: Where should humanity aim?"The Open Atmospheric Science Journal 2, no. 1 (2008): 217-231. DOI: 10.2174/1874282300802010217
58 International Cryosphere Climate Initiative. Thresholds and Closing Windows.ICCI.org. December 2015. http://iccinet.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/ICCI_thresholds_v6b_151203_high_res.pdf
59 David Spratt. "Climate Reality Check." Breakthrough - National Centre for Climate Restoration. March 2016.http://media.wix.com/ugd/148cb0_4868352168ba49d89358a8a01bc5f80f.pdf
60 Micheal E. Mann. "The fat tail of climate change risk." Huffington Post. September 11, 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-e-mann/the-fat-tail-of-climate-change-risk_b_8116264.html (In this article, professor Mann uses the terminology “fat tail” to describe global warming tipping point events.)