In Climate Change, Approaching the Point of No Return Too Quickly is Just as Dangerous as Crossing It

We shouldn’t just worry about reaching inflection points. We should also worry about the speed at which we approach them. This is what researchers now recommend.

Climate Change

Climate Change

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Tipping points, also known as no-turn points. You’ve probably already heard of them. These are points that, if crossed, could lead to sudden and irreversible changes in the global climate. These include the weakening of the Gulf Stream, the loss of the Amazon rainforest, and the melting of the ice caps. Some of these tipping points are likely to occur sooner than experts imagined. And researchers at University College Cork (Ireland) may have an explanation.

Understanding the dynamics of tipping points

The mathematical models they have developed show that a previously overlooked parameter actually plays a crucial role: the speed at which we approach Earth from these tipping points. The higher the speed, the greater the risk of irreversible changes occurring even before we reach these tipping points.

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The phenomenon is all the more significant because mathematicians say they observe it not only in the climate system but also in ecosystems. And even in man-made systems. They cite as an example the near-total blackout that occurred during the 1990 World Cup semi-final between England and Germany. “Grid managers anticipated an increase in electricity demand. They prepared to absorb it. But they didn’t imagine that the match could go into extra time and even to penalty kicks. At that moment, the equivalent of a million electric kettles were switched on at the same time. Demand exploded, and the grid was nearly blacked out. Not because capacity was not available, but because it was not prepared for this sudden spike,” explains Hassan Alkhayuon, co-author of the study, in a press release.

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The speed of the warming matters as much as its peak

The researchers hope their work will help raise awareness that it’s not just the peak of global warming that should worry us. We should also be very concerned about limiting the speed at which we get there. In short, humanity is running out of time and if it ever wants to avoid climate change’s worst scenario steps must be taken now to mitigate the effects of global warming.

References

Ritchie, P. D. L., Alkhayuon, H., Cox, P. M., & Wieczorek, S. (2023). Rate-induced tipping in natural and human systems. Earth System Dynamics, 14(3), 669–683. https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-14-669-2023

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