Addiction to Fossil Fuels, Barry W. Brook, Climate Change, Climate Tipping Points, Collapse of Industrial Civilization, Does the terrestrial biosphere have planetary tipping points?, Ecological Overshoot, Environmental Collapse, Extinction of Man, James Hansen, Mass Die Off, Michael E. Mann, Paul R. Ehrlich
I would like to believe that planetary tipping points do not exist and that the activities of 9 billion humans cannot “break the planet”, rendering it uninhabitable for future generations, but on just an intuitive level I feel this is wishful thinking. So it was with some surprise that I saw the following article:
A group of international ecological scientists led by the University of Adelaide have rejected a doomsday-like scenario of sudden, irreversible change to the Earth’s ecology.
In a paper in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, the scientists from Australia, US and UK argue that global-scale ecological tipping points are unlikely and that ecological change over large areas seem to follow a more gradual, smooth pattern…
…A tipping point occurs when an ecosystem attribute such as species abundance or carbon sequestration responds rapidly and possibly irreversibly to a human pressure like land-use change or climate change.
Many local and regional-level ecosystems, such as lakes and grasslands, are known to behave this way. A planetary tipping point, the authors suggest, could theoretically occur if ecosystems across Earth respond in similar ways to the same human pressures, or if there are strong connections between continents that allow for rapid diffusion of impacts across the planet.
“These criteria, however, are very unlikely to be met in the real world,” says Professor Brook. “First, ecosystems on different continents are not strongly connected. Second, the responses of ecosystems to human pressures like climate change or land-use change depend on local circumstances and will therefore differ between localities.”
The scientists examined four principal drivers of terrestrial ecosystem change ? climate change, land-use change, habitat fragmentation and biodiversity loss ? and found they were unlikely to induce global tipping points.
Co-author Associate Professor Erle Ellis, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, says: “As much as four fifths of the biosphere is today characterised by ecosystems that locally, over centuries and millennia, have undergone human-driven regime shifts of one or more kinds. Recognising this reality and seeking appropriate conservation efforts at local and regional levels might be a more fruitful way forward for ecology and global change science.
I would have to disagree that ecosystems on different continents are not connected. The health of one ecosystem affects other ecosystems globally. For example, the loss of the Arctic and its albedo effect has global repercussions for climate patterns such as is discussed here:
…A difference in temperatures between the Arctic and areas to the south is usually the main driver of the wave flows, which typically stretch 2,500 and 4,000 km (1,550-2,500 miles) from crest to crest.
But a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, blamed on human activities led by use of fossil fuels, is heating the Arctic faster than other regions and slowing the mechanism that drives the waves, the study suggested…
In a recent article by Tom Zeller Jr. entitled ‘Tipping Points: Can Humanity Break The Planet?‘, we get to hear what a couple of noted scientists think about this new paper downplaying planetary tipping points:
Being a human, I care not whether planet Earth will survive humanity, but whether we humans will survive the environmental onslaught of our own activities. Of course the Earth will continue on without us, but that’s an empty consolation for the human species whose time in history will soon be forgotten on a planet left uninhabitable for our children. So do planetary tipping points exist or can humans do whatever they like with no real world effect to the global biosphere? I guess we’ll soon find out. Keep in mind that there is no precedent in the past 2.5 million years for the kind of rapid, human-induced global warming the Earth has been undergoing since the onset of the industrial revolution. We are in uncharted territory.
The key thing is “ecological” word, though. Climate tipping points may and very likely will be global (among other varieties), but ecological ones indeed cannot be global. Deep underwater, underground, mountain peaks, under-ice antarctic lakes, near-geothermal, in-cave and other well isolated ecosystems, as well as some semi-artificial ecosystems of greenhouses, fish farms, and significant part of industrial agriculture, – are either too isolated and (or) too controlled to be any significantly affected by otherwise “would be globa” ecological tipping points. Unlike climate, which takes place in a single and vast “air ocean”, where everything is connected, – ecosystems exist in a large number of locations quite separated from the rest of the world. Separation of on-land meta-ecosystems of continents is also significant indeed.
mr. Hansen, mr. Ehrlich and others talk about other types of tipping points – not ecological, but climate global tipping points, in particular. The latter is perfectly true – global climate tipping points did happen in the past, one is happening right now (methane emissions from arctic continental shelves in last few years is nothing but the beginning of one big global tipping point, no matter how fast or ultra-fast it’d be). But, i fail to see how climate global tipping points’ existance dismisses the bits presented from the paper – bits which talk about _ecological_ tipping points. There is a definite difference. And yes, of course, global climate tipping points will affect ecosystems worldwide, and massively so. But not all ecosystems will be significantly – or even noticeably in some cases, – affected (see above), and most importantly, ecosystems in distant locations will be affected in very differing ways (not saying there won’t be same and similar things, – in most cases there will be; but in the same time, some other effects of climate change will differ much from place to place). Thus, global climate tipping point does not produce equally global and equally tipping global _ecological_ tipping point. Heck, some unaerobic bacteria near geothermal vents very deep udnerwater – and ecosystem in which they thrive, – may even not notice nearly _any_ global climate tipping point, isolated from the climate itself by a few miles of water column (which stops pretty much _all_ sunlight, all near-surface heat etc from reaching through).
Ecology studies ecosystems, and ecosystems are always local. There is no “Earth ecosystem” – despite the fact there is Earth’s biosphere. What paper does is merely a technical correction on term usage, in this regard. It is a shame some folks would try to use it to “refute” global warming, and in the same time it is a shame some others would try to state the paper tries to do so – because as far as i can tell from bits and pieces of the paper presented in this above post, neither is the case.
The global die-off of forests seems to be a tipping point induced by climate change and affecting all different types of forest and jungle ecosystems. The global die-off of coral reefs is another.
Biodiversity loss is on a global scale which can be said to have induced a tipping point leading to the 6th mass extinction.
In the long run, I don’t think there will be any isolated pockets of nature not affected to some degree by man’s activities.
The article says the scientists “examined four principal drivers of terrestrial ecosystem change – climate change, land-use change, habitat fragmentation and biodiversity loss – and found they were unlikely to induce global tipping points.”
If we’re reading this wrong, I wish the authors of the study would explain themselves better.
“The first law of humanity is not to kill your children.”
~ Hans Joachim Schellnhuber
IMO, financial collapse and warfare can happen suddenly, while ecological collapse is well underway and will be complete within a century or so. A century, when considered over geological time is just as sudden as pressing the doomsday button that launches all of the ICBMs and it won’t be isolated to any one continent. When the Chinese, desperate for more energy, shoddily build a hundred or so nuclear plants in areas susceptible to earthquakes, we could see a sudden ecological catastrophe for the entire earth.
Isn’t it true that we’re already destined to lose all of the coastal cities and development worldwide if sea levels rise to levels consonant with current levels of carbon dioxide? It may take a few centuries, but I’m sure we’ll spend what energy we have remaining decommissioning coastal nuclear plants and building sea walls. Ah, well, as the old Irish blessing goes:
May the sea rise up to meet you,
May the wind blow your house down,
May the sun bake your continent dry,
And the rain wash away your fields,
And until we meet again,
May the Lord hold you,
In the palm of his Hand,
And not squeeze the life out of you.
With the following tipping points having been crossed now, we’re on a course for near term extinction of not only humanity but of practically all life on the planet. Near term can be in the range of 1 to 3 decades AT MOST, not centuries. Meanwhile NO ONE is doing ANYTHING to change what we’re doing that drives it all!
Methane hydrates are bubbling out the Arctic Ocean (Science, March 2010)
Warm Atlantic water is defrosting the Arctic as it shoots through the Fram Strait (Science, January 2011)
Siberian methane vents have increased in size from less than a meter across in the summer of 2010 to about a kilometer across in 2011 (Tellus, February 2011)
Drought in the Amazon triggered the release of more carbon than the United States in 2010 (Science, February 2011)
Peat in the world’s boreal forests is decomposing at an astonishing rate (Nature Communications, November 2011)
Methane is being released from the Antarctic, too (Nature, August 2012)
Russian forest and bog fires are growing (NASA, August 2012)
Cracking of glaciers accelerates in the presence of increased carbon dioxide (Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, October 2012)
Exposure to sunlight increases bacterial conversion of exposed soil carbon, thus accelerating thawing of the permafrost (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 2013)
These are taken from http://guymcpherson.com/2013/01/climate-change-summary-and-update/
i left off the last one because Shell won’t be drilling this year in the Arctic (press release yesterday March 5, 2013)
There are more feedback loops than that, but one notable CO2 emitter is the loss of top predators (increasing CO2 emissions by 93%) which I recently posted:
It appears we are unravelling the chain of life beyond repair. Without global coordinated action, our fate is sealed.
Achim Wolf said:
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Scientists warn of a rapid collapse of the Earth’s ecosystem.
The ecological balance is under threat: climate change, population growth and environmental degradation could lead even in this century an irreversible collapse of the global ecosystem.
The cardinal reason is the sudden development of human population that threatens to devour all our resources.
Since 21 August there is therefore a petition at change.org for the introduction of global birth-controls, also in HINDI!
If you want to support this or publish it on your website, here is the link:
Please continue to spread the link or the petition as possible to all interested people, organisations etc.
Thank you and best regards
Achim Wolf, Germany