3.11 Tipping points

A tipping point is a concept of a point in time when the global climate changes from one stable state to another. This may happen in a relatively short time, maybe even within a decade. A tipping point occurs when e.g. a glass of water is tipping over, and a quick transformation to another state occurs. The tipping event is as a rule of thumb irreversible, like the spilled water  cannot easily be put back into the glass.

Examples of tipping points associated with global warming are the slowing down of the Gulf Stream and that the warming of the Arctic could destabilize methane trapped in ocean sediments and permafrost, in turn leading to a rapid release of a large amount of methane.


Huge amounts of freshwater from rapidly melting Greenland glaciers added to the surface waters of the North Atlantic, may disturb the “Gulf stream”

There are good reasons for optimism. But there are also signs that we are in a hurry. We risk passing one or more tipping points and getting a runaway climate change

“The deceit behind the attempts to discredit evidence of climate change reveals matters of importance. This deceit has a clear purpose: to confuse the public about the status of knowledge of global climate change, thus delaying effective action to mitigate climate change. The danger is that delay will cause tipping points to be passed, such that large climate impacts become inevitable, including the loss of all Arctic sea ice, destabilization of the West Antarctic ice sheet with disastrous sea level rise later this century, and extermination of a large fraction of animal and plant species.

Make no doubt, however, if tipping points are passed, if we, in effect, destroy Creation, passing on to our children, grandchildren, and the unborn a situation out of their control, the contrarians who work to deny and confuse will not be the principal culprits. The contrarians will be remembered as court jesters. There is no point to joust with court jesters. They will always be present. They will continue to entertain even if the Titanic begins to take on water. Their role and consequence is only as a diversion from what is important. The real deal is this: the ‘royalty’ controlling the court, the ones with the power, the ones with the ability to make a difference, with the ability to change our course, the ones who will live in infamy if we pass the tipping points, are the captains of industry, CEOs in fossil fuel companies such as EXXON/Mobil, automobile manufacturers, utilities, all of the leaders who have placed short-term profit above the fate of the planet and the well-being of our children. The court jesters are their jesters, occasionally paid for services, and more substantively supported by the captains’ disinformation campaigns.” http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/20070816_realdeal.pdf

Dr James Hansen, director, NASA Goddard Institute

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Rapid ice sheet decline

Rainforests drying up

Rapid sea level rise

Ocean currents change

Reduced oxygen production

Giant holes in Siberia


Home Chapter 3 3. Impacts
3.1 More water vapor
3.2 Sea level rise
3.3 Polar sea ice
3.4 Air pollution
3.5 Acidification
3.6 Health
3.7 Extreme weather
3.8 Economy
3.9 Refugees and conflicts
3.10 Glaciers
3.11 Tipping points
3.12 Biodiversity
3.13 Water
Chapter 4 4. Ecosystems