Will change be Gradual or Abrupt?
We do not know with any certainty how quickly global warming will reach the tipping point. Most scientists, who are rightly conservative in their assessments, would prefer to see it happening some time next century. This provides the hope that we may have the time to do something about it before then.
However, the evidence for rapid and immediate change is there, so we have to be aware that there is a plausible risk that we will have reached the point of no return within a few years – or that we may have already arrived.
This is the point when greenhouse gasses stored in the trees, in the ocean and the soil are released. Up to now they have kept in store many more times the CO2 than we are putting out. There is a point where they can store no more and start to become a source of CO2, giving up what they have held for thousands of years. This process has already begun!
James Lovelock, the English scientist who coined the Gaia concept, believes that the earth will jump to at least 10 degrees within the next ten years or so. The Earth will then be hotter than at any time since the Eocene Age 55 million years ago, when crocodiles swam in the Arctic Ocean.
"There's no realization of how quickly and irreversibly the planet is changing," Lovelock says. "Maybe 200 million people will be able to survive by migrating to the Arctic. Even if we took extraordinary steps, it would take the world 1,000 years to recover." See his new book The Revenge of Gaia.
There have been at least eight abrupt climate change events documented in the geological record The question is not Will this really happen? But rather: When will this happen? What will the impacts be? And, how can we best prepare for it?
Evolution v. catastrophe
The gradualist view assumes that agriculture will continue to thrive and growing seasons will lengthen. Northern Europe, Russia, and North America will prosper agriculturally while southern Europe, Africa, and Central and South America will suffer from increased dryness, heat, water shortages, and reduced production. Overall, under many of the typical climate scenarios, global food production increases.
The research of the past few years shows that this view has become
a dangerous self-deception.
Ocean, land, and atmosphere scientists at some of the world’s most prestigious organizations have uncovered new evidence over the past decade suggesting that the plausibility of severe and rapid climate change is higher than most of the scientific community and perhaps all of the political community is prepared for. See Footnotes #2.
Paleoclimatic evidence suggests that such an abrupt climate change could begin in the near future and could happen very quickly indeed. Ice cores have shown that there have been sudden weather changes in the past of 5-10 degrees and that these catastrophic changes have occurred in less than ten years.
Weather-related events have an enormous impact on society, as they influence food supply, conditions in cities and communities, as well as access to clean water and energy. With over 400 million people living in drier, subtropical, often over-populated and economically poor regions today, climate change and its follow-on effects pose a severe risk to political, economic, and social stability.
In less prosperous regions, where countries lack the resources and capabilities required to adapt quickly to more severe conditions, the problem is very likely to be exacerbated. For some countries, climate change could become such a challenge that desperate peoples emigrate in mass to seek better lives in other regions.
The latest US Navy survey suggests
there will be no sea ice left in the Arctic summer by 2016.
Is this the date we have to look forward to?
In December 2005 James Lovelock wrote in The Independent that the world has already passed the point of no return for climate change, and civilisation as we know it is now unlikely to survive. In a profoundly pessimistic assessment he suggests that efforts to counter global warming cannot succeed. The world and human society face disaster to a worse extent, and on a faster timescale, than almost anybody realises. He writes: "Before this century is over, billions of us will die, and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable."
I do not agree with this - though the point of no-return is close. Without hope
nothing can be accomplished.