So what is a ‘Tipping Point’?

The climate has varied considerably over historic time but in recent geological history (more than 1 million years) has always been between certain limits, and while in this range most climate situations have already existed.  When and if climate exceeds these boundaries then a whole new range of impacts may happen which could rapidly move climate into another (stable) range wherever that is and it could be extremely different from where we now are.

Should we worry?

Well, right now humanity can determine how much greenhouse gas it will emit and over what time it will emit it, though whether we have the combined will to manage the situation is frankly doubtful. At the moment we cannot cause the gases to be absorbed back out of the atmosphere, but if nothing were emitted – based on historical data – the planet would naturally slowly return the carbon to the surface.

The problem is that if we go past the ‘Tipping Point’ the climate takes control and almost certainly there wouldn’t be anything humanity can do about it.  But much more importantly, the rate of greenhouse gas emissions may be vastly more than everything we currently emit!  It would be likely to be climate mayhem and we would simply be spectators.  So we need to more than worry.

What is going on with climate right now?

We are all aware how much controversy this is about whether there is global worming; if there is – whether or not it is either man made of we are largely responsible, and where our climate is going.  The climate scientists will not appreciate this much, but the climate models have been extremely disruptive because the predictions made from them just keep changing.  Now if the models had any validity, the conclusions would be constant over time – which they most certainly are not.  If you wish to read more on this please refer to an article I published in March 08 see Hyperlink.  Also please note these Briefs form part of a series on Climate that will culminate in a book being published through this site which will endeavour to explain the climate issue for everybody, and it will give full predictions as well as some timescales.

Having shown that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, there are several links missing in understanding what is happening:

  • Increasing CO2 is not the whole story.  As temperature changes, there are changes on the surface of the planet that cause either more CO2 to be released or more to be absorbed.  So increasing CO2 cannot be used in isolation to define the temperature rise that will finally result.
  • The climate does not respond instantly to rising greenhouse gases.  It tries to but there are many things on the planet that delay the full impact so it takes some time in human terms before rising CO2 will manifest itself in the stable temperature increase it actually causes.  We can consider a big one – and it is called ICE.

It doesn’t take much of a temperature increase to start melting the boundaries of the ice, but there is a huge amount of ‘cold’ locked up in all the ice on the planet as much of it is very cold indeed.  Antarctica is generally at about minus 40° with parts at minus 55°.  So turning that into water at 10° uses a lot of heat, but the problem is that it takes lots of heat energy to change the state of a material – so a great deal of heat is required to turn ice at 0° into water still at 0°, and all that heat has to be provided when a large slab of ice falls into the sea and melts.  If the ice didn’t have to be melted and warmed then that heat would be heating the atmosphere, and we would see the impact of the rising CO2 extremely quickly.  And the more rapidly rising temperature would more rapidly be melting the ice.

So all the ice on the planet is acting as a (long term) damper and causing humanity to misunderstand what the climate is trying to do and will ultimately do.