Tipping Points- The Climate Casino

In regards to the climate, the study of tipping points is essentially the study of how climate change might result in larger instabilities in our ecosystems.


A tipping points occurs when a system experiences sharp discontinuity in its behavior.

Nordhaus, 53

We are actively experiencing symptoms of approaching tipping points… the recent megafires on the West Coast of the United States, due to widespread dry land, are included.

Image result for west coast fires

These massive fires are not isolated events- they are evidence of a drying, warming planet that is becoming increasingly vulnerable to similar natural disasters. We can expect more frequent and severe fires, storms, hurricane seasons, etc. in the very near future.

Nordhaus explains tipping points in terms of equilibria that are shaped by the placement of various stresses on a system: many stressors begin in the place of an original, normal equilibrium- too many stressors moving down the line past this equilibrium can cause a new, bad equilibrium

See the source image

Climate Tipping Points include:

  • collapsing of large ice sheets
  • large changes in ocean circulation
  • loops where warming in one part of the environment causes more warming elsewhere
  • progressive warming

An event that captures all of the above stages is the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GIS) – records show that it’s been melting for the last 20 years, currently at 0.75 mm per year of sea level rise equivalent (SLRe). http://www.antarcticglaciers.org/glaciers-and-climate/estimating-glacier-contribution-to-sea-level-rise/. Once the ice sheet gains a substantial warms above its norm, a majority of its ice will probably melt away.