The Climate Crisis and the Tipping Point

One of the main reasons that climate change is a climate crisis is the tipping point. This is a point in time at which human-caused climate change results in nature releasing its own huge store of greenhouse gases. At this point, we lose any control or ability to slow or stop the climate crisis - we are just along for the ride.

One of the best examples of this is arctic permafrost. Vast amounts of carbon are stored in the permafrost. Once the temperatures rise enough to melt the permafrost, these stores of carbon will be released to the atmosphere, greatly increasing atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases. We can start this process, but we can't stop it once it gets going. And it is already very close to starting, as the graphic below shows.

Permafrost meltingPermafrost melting

There are many other natural processes through which the tipping point could be reached: melting sea ice and glaciers reflect less sunlight, heating the earth faster, and the carbon stored in the ocean are even larger than in permafrost, but we don't know as much about when they will be released.

An article in the Washington Post, "Debate on Climate Shifts to Issue of Irreparable Change -
Some Experts on Global Warming Foresee 'Tipping Point' When It Is Too Late to Act
" from early 2006 is a good introduction to the issue, though it is out-of-date. Recent research in many fields of climate change show that the process is moving faster than previously expected, such as the melting of the ice sheets and glaciers in Greenland. Climatologists are not yet certain of the exact date when the tipping point will be reached, it is a complex issue. A more technical description of the issue can be read at the Realclimate website, which is run by active climatologists. See also this NASA article on the "Dangerous Point" we are approaching.

But it is only the details that remain to be resolved. Ground-breaking climatologist James Hansen has been talking about the tipping point for decades, and he thinks it is no more than ten years away. This is why we have a climate crisis. And why we need a society-wide and economy-wide mobilization to respond. Those who say that it will be easier to adapt to climate change than to prevent or limit it are just burying their heads in the sand.