Hype levels in the blogosphere about the cryosphere and biosphere reached their highest point in recorded history, just before the annual United Nations annual climate conference, COP25, kicked off in Madrid this week. Getting the world to dance to an eco-globalist tune is no easy gig, even when you have been at it for a quarter of a century. This time, however, the mood – early-onset 2020 blues as climate reparations fail to materialise on schedule – is more desperate.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Emboldened by a year of street activism and the rise of Greta Thunberg and her schoolie squadrons, the “climate-protection” racketeers and their media cheer squads are trying new tactics to sway public opinion: promote speculation as fact and stamp out any sign of heresy against the alarmist orthodoxy, all in the name of “scientific precision”.
It’s time to act: We will use language that recognises the severity of the crisis we’re in. In May 2019, the Guardian updated its style guide to introduce terms that more accurately describe the environmental crises facing the world, using “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” and “global heating” instead of “climate change” and “global warming”. We want to ensure that we are being scientifically precise, while also communicating clearly with readers on the urgency of this issue. — The Guardian’s WE BELIEVE Climate Pledge
The Guardian is right. Climatespeak is all about language and the black art of persuasion. (The paper’s ‘we believe’ Climate Pledge eerily resembles the Catholic Climate Covenant’s St Francis Pledge: “I pledge to pray, live, and advocate Laudato Si and zero carbon (dioxide) emissions, so help me Gaia” – but that’s another story.)
Yet something is needed to keep the climate-emergency scare running at this time of the year. What about the gift that keeps on giving: “climate tipping points”? Surely the perfect present for any alarmist, from anxious woke to full-blown apoplectic Climate Rebellion acolyte. So, dear reader, come tiptoe through the TPs with me.
First, consider ABC RN’s latest contribution to this scaremongering genre. Here is The World Today’s take , as presented last week, on a “particularly alarming report”: “Ice melt, Great Barrier Reef near climate change ‘point of no return’” (The World Today, November 28, 2019).
In a report published today in the journal Nature, scientists suggest that some of the signals that indicate that Earth has reached a “point of no return” may already have been reached. The scientists say that the melting ice sheets in Antarctica have reached a “tipping point” – where the melting will get exponentially worse.
And they warn that ‘tipping points’ are still not widely understood.
TPs are indeed “still not widely understood” – by the experts, the media or the public — but don’t let that cramp the hyperbole. As revealed in the transcript below, ABC RN’s two selected experts for this segment — Emeritus Professor Will Steffen, a climate scientist at the Australian National University, and Dr Sue Cook, of the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania – did not let uncertainty hold them back.
The Nature paper that was the hook for the segment has seven authors, Professor Steffen one of them, and it goes for the big headline. Its title: “Climate tipping points — too risky to bet against: the growing threat of abrupt and irreversible climate changes must compel political and economic action on emissions.”
Is there empirical evidence to support such a claim, or are the paper’s activist-scientists using “risk management” rhetoric under the Nature imprimatur? Dig deeper and you will discover, as I did, that this is a propaganda piece timed to coincide with COP25, one built on a shaky foundation: data-poor modelling and apocalyptic anxiety.
Its purpose is clear: “… consideration of tipping points helps to define that we are in a climate emergency and strengthens this year’s chorus of calls for urgent climate action — from schoolchildren to scientists, cities and countries.” In today’s post-normal world of climate catastrophism, merely considering TPs is sufficient to provoke a global panic, certainly and inevitably in the MSM. Note too that the polemic was not what Nature calls an “original research article”, but a comment commissioned by the journal.
Eleanor Hall, ABC RN: Now to a particularly alarming report on climate change published today in the journal Nature. In it, scientists suggest that some of the signals that indicate the Earth has reached a point of no return may already have been reached. The scientists say that the melting ice sheets in Antarctica have reached a tipping point where the melting will get exponentially worse. And they warn that tipping points are still not widely understood. Isobel Roe has our report.
Isobel Roe, ABC RN: The concept of a tipping point in climate is best explained with an analogy, according to Australian National University climate scientist, Will Steffen.
Professor Steffen, ANU: A good analogy that most people would understand is a kayak, when you’re paddling out on reasonably flat water. When you tip it little bit, it comes back, then it comes back. It’s stable. But if you tip it just a little bit more it goes all the way over.
Isobel Roe, ABC RN: It’s a concept that’s been debated by climate experts for twenty years. Today, Will Steffen is one of a group of scientists which has released a paper in the journal Nature warning that tipping points for many key climate indicators are closer than first thought. Others may already be happening. Will Steffen worries the Great Barrier Reef is one.
Professor Steffen, ANU: The latest information is they are not being restored by the larvae of the remaining coral, so we could have crossed a tipping point for half the Great Barrier Reef. It may not come back. We don’t know for sure, but there’s a real worry that we’ve pushed that way too far (1.30min.)
Isobel Roe, ABC RN: The research also warns that Antarctic [Arctic] sea ice melt may have already reached its tipping point.
Professor Steffen, ANU: That’s the ice that floats over the North Pole and the surrounding sea. And it has its own inbuilt tipping mechanism, which is true for many of these [tipping points]. Basically as that melts, as it gets warmer up there and it melts in the summer that exposes more ocean water. So it’s warming more than it otherwise would and [eventually] gets to a point where that process is unstoppable (2.0min.)
Isobel Roe, ABC RN: Dr Sue Cook studies the movement of Antarctic ice sheets at the University of Tasmania. She explains the process of melting ice shelves.
Dr Cook, UTAS: If you start retreating from the edge, you start exposing thicker and thicker ice, which will move faster outwards towards the edge. And so you get kind of an accelerating positive feedback process.”
Isobel Roe, ABC RN: And do you think that point has been reached yet?
Dr Cook, UTAS: We’re not entirely sure. There are a number of complicating factors, but what we’re definitely seeing at the moment is rather rapid retreat in West Antarctica, which is one of the regions where this process can happen. So we think it already has reached a tipping point in that region.”
Isobel Roe, ABC RN: The paper also says reducing greenhouse gas emissions can slow the process. The research paper joins thousands of others with the same warning. Emeritus Professor Will Steffen admits he is often concerned that the influx of information can be overwhelming, but he thinks the message is starting to get through.
Professor Steffen, ANU: We’ve had the student strikes for climate change. Extinction Rebellion has come up very recently. They’re moving very vigorously towards getting action on this, so it’s possible we could be approaching a social tipping point as well.
The world’s media, of course, is more like Professor Steffen’s kayak than the climate. If you excite it just a little it goes into sensational and seemingly irreversible alarmist overdrive.
More than half of the climate tipping points identified a decade ago are now “active,” a group of leading scientists have warned.
This threatens the loss of the Amazon rainforest and the great ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland, which are currently undergoing measurable and unprecedented changes much earlier than expected.
This “cascade” of changes sparked by global warming could threaten the existence of human civilisations.
Evidence is mounting that these events are more likely and more interconnected than was previously thought, leading to a possible domino effect. — Science Daily
The ABC constantly reminds its audience that it operates “without bias and agenda”. It seems reasonable, therefore, to expect it’s reporters to at least have read the aforementioned Nature paper before trumpeting an impending global TP catastrophe. For it is obvious – at least to me — its authors are making highly speculative claims that wither into mere assertion and scaremongering under even low-level scrutiny. Consider the following thought-bubbles:
Ice collapse: We think that several cryosphere tipping points are dangerously close, but mitigating greenhouse-gas emissions could still slow down the inevitable accumulation of impacts and help us to adapt.
The latest data show that part of the East Antarctic ice sheet — the Wilkes Basin — might be similarly unstable. Modelling work suggests that it could add another 3–4 m to sea level on timescales beyond a century. Thus, we might already have committed future generations to living with sea-level rises of around 10 m over thousands of years.
Act now: In our view, the evidence from tipping points alone suggests that we are in a state of planetary emergency: both the risk and urgency of the situation are acute … the stability and resilience of our planet is in peril. International action — not just words — must reflect this.
Such claims are risible when juxtaposed against their following qualifications:
# Researchers need more observational data to establish whether ice sheets are reaching a tipping point, and require better models constrained by past and present data to resolve how soon and how fast the ice sheets could collapse.
# Researchers need to improve their understanding of these observed changes in major ecosystems, as well as where future tipping points might lie. Existing carbon stores and potential releases of CO2 and methane need better quantification.
# Some early results from the latest climate models — run for the IPCC’s sixth assessment report, due in 2021 — indicate a much larger climate sensitivity (defined as the temperature response to doubling of atmospheric CO2) than in previous models. [MK: How convenient.] Many more results are pending and further investigation is required, but to us, these preliminary results hint that a global tipping point is possible.
# To address these issues, we need models that capture a richer suite of couplings and feedbacks in the Earth system, and we need more data — present and past — and better ways to use them. Improving the ability of models to capture known past abrupt climate changes and ‘hothouse’ climate states should increase confidence in their ability to forecast these.
Yet the authors — and millions like them – have the chutzpah to demand wholesale societal upheaval and a restructuring of the global energy system in a single decade, based on nothing more substantial than unspecified “preliminary results” from dodgy models with no verifiable “forecasting” ability, models that merely “hint“ a global tipping point is possible.
If only they had read the many things the IPCC admits it doesn’t know. Extraordinary claims, said Carl Sagan, require extraordinary evidence. Where is it?
The only certainty about TPs and their spruikers: when there is such doubt about the future behaviour of a complex natural process like the climate, try sleight of hand. Assert that more computer games will confirm your preferred scenario. Either that or evoke the precautionary principle.
If anything is “in peril” today, it is the “stability and resilience” of science itself.
In any case, the authors are clearly very attached to their storyline, even while conceding “however limited our understanding might still be”.
Some scientists counter that the possibility of global tipping remains highly speculative. It is our position that, given its huge impact and irreversible nature, any serious risk assessment must consider the evidence, however limited our understanding might still be. To err on the side of danger is not a responsible option.
If damaging tipping cascades can occur and a global tipping point cannot be ruled out, then this is an existential threat to civilization. No amount of economic cost–benefit analysis is going to help us. We need to change our approach to the climate problem.
Some scientists do indeed have a different perspective. They baulk at the notion that if humankind does not reduce the level of carbon dioxide emissions, the only factor which it can possibly manage, there will be total destruction of the ‘climate system’. We will get the fabled “runaway’ climate change” and all the disasters fertile imaginations can conjure. This is all to do with alarm, not science, for they admit they do not know the time scale.
Scores of TPs have been forecast since Jeremiah and other end-of-the-world prophets. They came and went without the predicted disasters happening. When TPs fail to tip, their promulgators are unrepentant. Like cargo cult priests, they craftily move the date to a new TP.
In The World Today archives there is another interview on TPs . On September 26, 2019, two posts appeared under the heading: “Climate change threat from the sea”:
# IPCC warns sea level rise could have catastrophic effects (4mins 46secs)
# Oceans may already be at warming tipping point, expert warns (5 mins 11 secs)
The latest IPCC warning about the “catastrophic impact of climate change,” the site’s homepage declared, “concentrates on oceans and coastlines — and one expert says it may already be too late.” One expert is sufficient when the end-game is alarmism. In this instance it was Professor Matthew England, Deputy Director of the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre, and a contributing author on two earlier IPCC Assessment Reports.
Professor England, “one of the world’s top oceanographers and climate scientists, warns we may be reaching a tipping point on that now,” related Ms Hall, the program anchor. “He says the IPCC warning of ‘catastrophic’ sea level rise is very unusual for a conservative organisation, and must be taken seriously.” It was a “very confronting finding”.
Professor England baulked, however, at Ms Hall’s TP suggestion, like a wary horse in a steeplechase. It was a hurdle too far on the day: “We don’t know how close we are to these tipping points,” he admitted. They apparently can be “discovered” only when we have passed them. In other words, they are unpredictable. Oops!
Eleanor Hall: One scientist calls the Arctic sea ice decline unprecedented in at least a 1,000 years. Are we getting closer to some of the feared tipping points for climate change at the Earth’s poles?
Professor England: Yes, potentially, [but] We don’t know how close we are to these tipping points. Unfortunately, they are only discovered once we’ve passed them.
Eleanor Hall: So you’re saying that even scientists are often not aware of when we’re approaching a tipping point?
Professor England: Yes. Tipping points come about due to the non-linearity of the [climate] system. What I mean by that is you get a small change triggering a larger impact. You can get breaking up of an ice sheet and a rate of sea-level rise that we are [initially] comfortable to adapt to. At the moment, we have had only 15 cm of sea-level rise over the last 30 to 40 years. That has already caused a lot of damage to the coast. But 15cm is a very tiny fraction of the five metres being forecast by 2300. (3.55min.)
I should say 2300 does sound like a long, long time away but it’s only six or seven generations. That’s why we’re seeing all these protests from students today. They’re recognising the fact that we’re leaving them with a huge debt.
Yes, he said it. Scientists are never aware of an “approaching” tipping point precisely because tipping points are “unpredictable”. Assertions to the contrary should be taken with a large measure of salt, given the “non-linearity of the [climate] system”. Paradoxically, the IPCC used to call it “a coupled non-linear chaotic system”, hence “long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.” (IPCC 3rd Assessment Report; Section 18.104.22.168, p. 774, 2001).
The real mystery here is not the climate. It’s why so many researchers remain silent on the veracity of model “forecasts” — years, decades and centuries ahead — even when the consequence is today’s global climate hysteria. Self-reservation or self-interest?
Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, spoke to the media before the COP25 climate conference opened in Madrid. “Our war against nature must stop. We know that it is possible. We simply have to stop digging and drilling and take advantage of the vast possibilities offered by renewable energy and nature-based solutions to drastically slow climate change.”
Yet another TP, one that can be solved only by pricing and trading an invisible trace gas, carbon dioxide, at least according to the climate racketeers and carbon cowboys.
Mark Carney, current head of the Bank of England has been appointed the UN’s new Special Envoy for Climate Action. Once an investment banker, he is just the chap to get the job done. The Secretary-General, ironically, is right on the money:
We are in a deep hole and still digging. Soon it will be too deep to escape.
So be careful what you wish for in Madrid, folks.