Is There Really A ‘Tipping Point’ And Are We Facing An Existential Crisis?

17th October 2016 / Global

By Graham Vanbergen – Over the years, deep down, I was never really that sure about global warming and climate change. The former describes the earth’s temperatures, the latter its supposed effects. The statistics, opinions and propaganda in the long standing debate raging since around 1975 have been quite convincing on both sides and therefore, like many, I’ve been more confused than convinced.

It is a known fact that people who believe there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about global warming tend to be less certain that global warming is happening and less supportive of climate policy.

To that end there have been many studies into public opinion on climate change and how it is formed. Edward Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University says: “It is no accident that so many Americans misunderstand the widespread scientific agreement about human-caused climate change. A well-financed disinformation campaign deliberately created a myth about there being lack of agreement. The climate science community should take all reasonable measures to put this myth to rest.”

It is here that I start to head down the road of believing in the climate change story. Not because of Maibach or his organisation either. It starts with the assumption that; make no mistake, extreme neoliberal capitalism and globalisation funded by multi-national corporations and their servile governments are good reason to distrust the causes of that well funded disinformation campaign in the first place.

Sceptical Science lists 193 ‘climate myths’ and counters each one with “what the science says” – a compendium of global warming denials and climate change rebuttals. It has an interesting little widget on its home page that counts the amount of Hiroshima atomic bombs of heat accumulated since 1985 and works out it is nearly 2.5 billion times of that the one devastating blow to humanity that ushered in the nuclear age and saw 75,000 innocent civilians incinerated in a few minutes in Japan 1945. It concludes that “depending on exactly how you measure the expert consensus, it’s somewhere between 90% and 100% that (scientists) agree humans are responsible for climate change.” It finalises another report by saying “those who oppose taking action to curb climate change have engaged in a misinformation campaign to deny the existence of the expert consensus. They’ve been largely successful, as the public badly underestimate the expert consensus, in what we call the “consensus gap.” Only 16% of Americans realize that the consensus is above 90%.”

To highlight what is happening on planet earth a stunningly matter-of-fact and largely depressing, guilt ridden article entitled “Obituary: Great Barrier Reef (25 Million BC-2016)” published by “Outside”, lays bare human intervention into the natural order of things. Rowan Jacobson reports that climate change and ocean acidification has killed off one of the most spectacular features on our planet.

Rowan informs us that the “world’s largest living structure, and the only one visible from space was 1,400 miles long, with 2,900 individual reefs and 1,050 islands. In total area, it was larger than the United Kingdom, and it contained more biodiversity than all of Europe combined. It harbored 1,625 species of fish, 3,000 species of mollusk, 450 species of coral, 220 species of birds, and 30 species of whales and dolphins.” The Great Barrier Reef has officially just died.


National Coral Bleaching Taskforce. Map of the Great Barrier Reef showing results of aerial surveys for 911 reefs.

National Coral Bleaching Taskforce. Map of the Great Barrier Reef showing results of aerial surveys for 911 reefs.

The reef was born 25 million years ago but In 1981, the same year that UNESCO designated the reef a World Heritage Site and called it “the most impressive marine area in the world,” it experienced its first mass-bleaching incident. As the oceans absorbed more carbon from the atmosphere, they became more acidic, and that acid was beginning to dissolve the living reef itself.

Australia’s Department of the Environment made a catastrophic decision in the 1980’s, a commercial one that included huge mining operations that led in part to the whole northern section being “trashed” and now “looks like a war zone” said Charlie Veron, longtime chief scientist for the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

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Rowan ends the obituary with the words “The Great Barrier Reef was predeceased by the South Pacific’s Coral Triangle, the Florida Reef off the Florida Keys, and most other coral reefs on earth. It is survived by the remnants of the Belize Barrier Reef and some deepwater corals.” It is obvious that The Great Barrier Reef cannot be saved.

What this article does is describe the point we have reached in terms of climate change on planet earth. This event, it seems is just one of many.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration released its updated global temperature data for July this year, and a stunning new record was broken. Scientists have been able to read global temperatures for nearly 150 years for which there is hard data but with other sophisticated  systems of climate data, they can read through the millennia and beyond. It appears that there has never been another month as warm as that one. “Scientific extrapolation of recent research has also shown us that July witnessed Earth’s warmest absolute temperatures since human civilisation began.”

What is interesting is that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the governing agreement for global climate negotiations have had submissions by observers that “dangerous” climate change was witnessed for perhaps the first time earlier this year during a “mass global coral bleaching event” – it turns out that the Great Barrier Reef was just one of many. The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration has also estimated that more than half a billion people worldwide depend on healthy coral reefs for food and livelihood, and their loss would “greatly affect coastal communities as well as the entire balance of the oceanic food chain.”

Recent studies have estimated that these ecosystems provide us with over $100 trillion in services every year, most of which we take for granted — like pollination of crops, purification of water, and production of medicinal compounds. Without a healthy, thriving natural world it is safe to say the entire global economy would collapse.

One new study suggests that 2/3 of the Earth’s land (44% as intact natural ecosystems and 22% as agro-ecological buffers) must be protected to sustain the biosphere. Otherwise an ecosystem collapse could occur much sooner than thought.

One new study suggests that 2/3 of the Earth’s land (44% as intact natural ecosystems and 22% as agro-ecological buffers) must be protected to sustain the biosphere. Otherwise an ecosystem collapse could occur much sooner than thought.

But I believe that the truth is actually worse than we are  being led to believe. What we are now witnessing is the perfect storm of human intervention into the entire ecosystem. Climate change is not a big enough label to describe the real problem mainly because it is generally only the poor in developing nations that are adversely affected by both its current effects and methods to combat it. Recent studies have estimated that these ecosystems provide us with over $100 trillion in services every year, most of which we take for granted — like pollination of crops, purification of water, and production of medicinal compounds. Without a healthy, thriving natural world it is safe to say the entire global economy would simply collapse.

To characterise what I am eluding to is best described by Robert Burrowes, a contributor to TruePublica who wrote a recent piece entitled “A Nonviolent Strategy to End the Climate Catastrophe.” He summarises the current situation thus: “Consider our synergistic and devastating assaults on the environment through military violence (often leaving vast areas uninhabitable), rainforest destruction, industrial farming, mining, commercial fishing and the spreading radioactive contamination from Fukushima. We are also systematically destroying the limited supply of fresh water on the planet which means that water scarcity is becoming a frequent reality for many people and the collapse of hydrological systems is now likely by 2020. Human activity drives 200 species of life (plants, birds, animals, fish, amphibians, insects, reptiles) to extinction each day and 80% of the world’s forests and over 90% of the large fish in the ocean are already gone. Despite this readily available information, governments continue to prioritize spending $US2,000,000,000 each day on military violence, the sole purpose of which is to terrorize and kill fellow human beings.”

If you’re still on the fence, there’s worse to come, if that’s possible.

Scientists have gathered in Geneva and are reporting their findings back to the United Nations, which will not be ready until 2018. They have already agreed that we’ve reached a new, increasingly urgent phase of global warming or climate change. It has become apparent after a surge of millennial-scale floods, and record-strong cyclones  and ecosystem collapses that “earth’s biodiversity is under attack” as James Dyke from the University of Southampton put it.

“We would need to travel back over 65 million years to find rates of species loss as high as we are witnessing today” Dyke concludes.

With what is now likely to be reported as the warmest year on record, the planet seems to have reached its absolute breaking point or now commonly known as “the tipping point”.

Dyke continues: “New research that I have been involved in suggests that biodiversity has a value that has been overlooked, but could be vitally important. Our study, published in the journal Ecology, shows that crucial information about the overall health or resilience of ecosystems may be lurking in data about supposedly inconsequential species. In fact, the presence or absence of some of the rarest species may be giving us important clues as to how near an ecosystem is to a potential collapse.” Dyke’s conclusions are not optimistic.

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21 or CMP 11 was held in Paris, December 2015. The sum of all countries’ emissions reductions pledges in Paris, according to one analysis, would limit global warming to between 2.6 degrees and 3.1 degrees Celsius, which represents an overshoot of up to 110 percent of what is required – a catastrophic incompatibility for human existence. And don’t forget, they are only pledges, there are no contractural obligations to help mankind on its survival trajectory. Contrary to COP21, Britain leads the way in going in totally the wrong direction by forcing fracking upon its reluctant and protesting citizens and reducing important tax breaks for the sustainable energy sector, an awful example for other countries to cite for their own excuses. After all GDP is everything – right?

Since then, we’ve just heard of the deal signed at Rwanda’s capital, Kigali to reduce greenhouse gases far more powerful than carbon dioxide that has been agreed by about 150 countries. The agreement divides countries into three groups with different deadlines to reduce factory-made hydrofluorocarbon gases, which are used in fridges, air-conditioning, some inhalers and insulating foam. All a bit late and as a strategy for saving humanity, not much.

The phrase “tipping point” passed its own tipping point and caught fire after author Malcolm Gladwell’s so-named 2000 book. It’s now frequently used in discussions about climate change. Scientists actually prefer to call it the ‘critical threshold’, another piece of terminology that serves largely to confuse us even more.

The National Academy of Sciences report says: “Climate change has increased concern over possible large and rapid changes in the physical climate system, which includes Earth’s atmosphere, land surfaces, and oceans. Some of these changes could occur within a few decades or even years, leaving little time for society and ecosystems to adapt.” In another report, the National Research Council extends this idea of abrupt climate change, stating that even steady, gradual change in the physical climate system can have abrupt impacts elsewhere – in human infrastructure and ecosystems for example, if ‘critical thresholds’ are crossed.

For all of the what is written here, the tipping point for me has been reached. I now firmly believe that the effects of human activity on the planet will leave our children fighting for their future survival in their lifetime, and I don’t just mean the one dimensional effects of a changing climate. Territorial and resource tensions will increase, the international brawl for basics such as food, water and energy will turn the world into a battleground.

The destruction of the the Middle East is about the west not only wanting to secure long-term energy supplies but also about denying their competitors access to it’s huge reserves. This is why Russia, Iran and China are getting involved, they don’t want to be locked out. Trade agreements such as TTIP and CETA between the two biggest economies in the world, the USA and EU, are about securing markets and blocking out those same competitors. Nothing of this geo-political chess game amongst the power players is about a human collaboration project to secure our future viability, which our children will eventually despise us all for.

America’s dominance over the world is being challenged, possibly with horrific consequences, extreme neoliberal capitalism is eating itself from the inside out evidenced by wave after wave of global economic disasters, both are causing the approaching calamity of climate change and ecosystem collapse because political attention is diverted. Government’s are already fighting over the waning supply of global resources such as ‘food security’, minerals and new markets to exploit in political, strategic, economic and tactical terms. They won’t collaborate because that means sharing the same resources.

Famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking agrees by generalising the coming failure of humanity: “It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. One way or another, life on Earth will likely become uninhabitable for mankind in the future. We need to start seriously thinking about how we will free ourselves from the constraints of this dying planet.”


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