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(Four-minute read) 

I don’t think people realize how little time we have left.

We are in a state of planetary emergency in more ways than one but climate change is the one we should all be addressing if we want to live our lives.

It is obvious why.

It is not an abstract threat already causing wars, mass migration, the extinction of species, plants, scarcity of fresh water, quality air,  you name it and it will be affected by a raft of new diseases. 

A groundswell of demand for green energy can push a behavior, product, or technology from the fringe and into the mainstream but at what cost to the health of the earth.

While the term “tipping point” is applied quite loosely regarding the political and societal change, it is clear that a number of them will need to be crossed – and quickly – to avoid toppling those in the Earth system. 

These social tipping interventions comprise removing fossil-fuel subsidies and incentivizing decentralized energy generation, building carbon-neutral cities, divesting from assets linked to fossil fuels, revealing the moral implications of fossil fuels, strengthening climate education and engagement, and disclosing greenhouse gas emissions information. 

Earth’s climate will not respond to forcing in a smooth and gradual way.

It will respond in sharp jumps which involve large-scale reorganization of Earth’s system.

Along with the climate, I think we also need to be looking at tipping points in human, social and technological systems.

There are, for example, many different views on how the term should be defined and used.

Here is my definition.  A transition to a new state at a rate determined by the climate system itself and faster than the cause.

And then there’s another definition that actually says there needs to be a positive feedback mechanism associated with the element. So that means there is something that’s self-reinforcing and then that could lead to irreversible changes as well.

Both definitions point to a system that would not revert to its original state even if the forcing lessens or reverses. In other words, it stays in its changed state for some considerable time, or possibly even permanently. It is subsequently difficult, if not impossible, for the system to revert to its previous state.

A glance at the news media on any given week will likely highlight all sorts of climate change impacts. We are on the precipice of climate system tipping points beyond which there is no redemption.

Ecological systems are deeply intertwined.

The interactions among the elements of our global climate system mean a substantial change in one will affect others.

Powered by heat energy from the sun, the atmosphere, oceans, ice sheets, living organisms like forests, and the soils all affect, to a greater or lesser extent, the movement of that heat around the Earth’s surface.

Tipping points we thought might happen well into the future are already underway.

Global climate change has already had observable effects on the environment.

For example, the slow collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is in progress.

Arctic warming and melting of Greenland’s ice sheet are driving freshwater into the North Atlantic, which is contributed to a recent 15 percent slowdown of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) in the Atlantic Ocean.

Aerial view over Pine Island Bay, West Antarctica. Credit: Universal Images Group North America LLC / Alamy Stock Photo. E4DW38

Extensive thawing of permafrost is already happing with the potential to realize billions of tons of methane gas.

There is more heat-absorbing open water and 40 percent less reflective ice so we’ll reach 1.5 C in one or two decades. 

Even if countries act on their Paris climate agreement pledges to reduce emissions, warming will still rise more than 3 degrees C (5.4 degrees F).

It’s important to know that global temperatures aren’t driven by human emissions of carbon alone.

The risk of those cascading into an irreversible global tipping point with tremendous impacts on human civilization warrants a declaration of a planetary climate emergency.

To err on the side of danger is not a responsible option. It is significantly cheaper to prevent additional global warming than it is to face its impacts. 

We need to change our approach to the climate problem because our efforts to reach global targets have been “utterly inadequate”

No amount of economic cost-benefit analysis is going to help us now that we face an existential threat to civilization. The reality is that the cumulative impact of these changes will cause fundamental parts of the Earth system to change dramatically and irreversibly.

While climate records are being routinely broken, tipping points are not part of any economic analysis of climate policies it is widely assumed to mean that we are now committed to suffering these tipping events.

The time for talking is over and no matter what we do there has to be a radical change to our behavior.

Climate change will not be stoped by technology unless we distribute both the cost and benefits by allocating 0.05% of profit for profit’s sake in order to distribute wealth by way of nonrepayable grants to all activities that will mitigate its effects. ( See previous posts ) 

Only a fraction of articles and papers in economics journals discuss climate change.