Sunday, February 25, 2018

Tipping Points and the Leaking Roof: There is No Better Time to Act than Now.

Sept. 3: 17th Street Canal breach
Levee Breach in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina 2005

Tipping points are an important concept in climate change. There are thresholds of warming that, once passed, create changes that are not readily undone. Some of these cannot be undone in years, some in decades and some in centuries or millennia.

One type of shorter term tipping point is inherent in the limitations of our infrastructure. We have constructed our roads, bridges and buildings to withstand a certain range of conditions. When we cross the upper threshold of what they can withstand, suddenly, we experience destruction. The levees overcome during Hurricane Katrina is an example of infrastructure overwhelmed and then resulting floodwaters doing devastating damage all at once. We are crossing infrastructure tipping points left and right.

Arctic Sea Ice Minimum Ties Second Lowest on Record
Arctic Ice Melt 2017, NASA
Longer term tipping points are more scary and their threshold points are less easily identified. An example of this is that as we warm the Arctic, we may warm it enough to release huge amounts of methane that will quickly speed warming (this tipping point is also a positive feedback-warming reinforcing more warming). Exactly how much warming will put us past that point is not certain.
Complicate all of this with the fact that warming is delayed. We are experiencing the warming locked in decades ago, now. What we are doing now is committing us to warming in the future. Knowing just how much carbon emissions we can withstand is a bit like shooting a target blindfolded and dizzy.
There are many tipping points. We’ve passed some and others are in front of us.
As each day passes, we face a steeper and steeper climb.
It’s like a leaky roof. If you replace the roof before it starts to wear badly, it’s best.
If you wait until there are peeling tiles and moss growing, you may have to replace some of the sheeting.
If you wait until water starts to seep in, you have damage to the ceiling Sheetrock to repair.
If you wait until the water is flowing, you will have a lot more to repair.
It’s a long time until the house becomes condemned.
Unfortunately, the term, “tipping point,” while useful, can be fear-inducing without commensurate action-engaging. 

We cannot worry about "passing the tipping points" so much as fixing the leaking roof.  The sooner the better.

No comments:

Post a Comment