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Irreversible Tipping Point Coming?
        Global warming projections tend to focus on what will happen by 2030 or 2050, making it easy to get lulled into thinking that climate change will occur slowly and linearly. An increasing number of experts say the exact opposite is true. They believe there will be a tipping point, after which change will occur rapidly, unexpectedly, and irreversibly. Perhaps scariest of all, some believe that point is less than eight years away.

        The tipping point theory is backed by history. In the Eocene Era the earth got dramatically warmer, much warmer than can be explained by standard formulas for the relationship between carbon dioxide levels and temperature. Scientists believe much of the temperature increase may have occurred because the atmosphere passed a tipping point, and carbon dioxide’s impact was multiplied.

        What can we do? Some people are focused on raising consumer awareness that the climate is changing faster than anticipated, so if there is a tipping point, it’s getting closer. Others are identifying the early warning signs of a tipping point. Scientists have determined that across systems---from financial markets to airplane electronics--- similar “the end is near” signals occur before a tipping point. One of the common ones is a dramatic increase in “system variability,” which makes people wonder if recent erratic weather patterns should be considered an omen.

We should think about...
  • Are we assuming that climate change will occur gradually? What will happen to our business if it suddenly accelerates?
  • What can we do to manage our business and personal greenhouse gases to reduce the likelihood of triggering a tipping point?
Sources: Christian Science Monitor 2009; Inter Press Service News Agency 2009;
Nature 2009;NPD 2009; 2009; Time 2009
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