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Bernard Finel
Senior Fellow, American Security Project

Bernard Finel

Dr. Bernard I. Finel is a Senior Fellow at the American Security Project where he directs research on counter-terrorism, defense policy and climate change. ALL POSTS

Watch for potential tipping points

Q: With the recent discovery that methane is bubbling out of the Arctic faster than expected, how worried should we be about abrupt changes in climate such as this one? Are there precautions we should be taking that both the political and scientific communities have been overlooking?

We should be very worried about this sort of change. The reality is that the climate system is tremendously complex, and there are many potential tipping points that could trigger abrupt changes in climate that would be enormously costly to adapt to. There is an implicit assumption among many skeptics that climate change is likely to be slow, gradual process and that as a result we have plenty of time to continue to verify the science before acting, and that furthermore technological developments will ease our ability to adapt in the future. And indeed, it may turn out that this is the case. However, we also have to acknowledge that dragging our feet now involves running the risk that we will run headlong into a sudden discontinuity that would have devastating consequences.

The issue is about managing risk associated with various choices, and part of understanding that risk is understanding that complex systems are particularly prone to producing non-linear outcomes. And unfortunately, the most likely way we'll discover these tipping points is by stumbling upon them unprepared.

By Bernard Finel  |  March 10, 2010; 1:57 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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"Above normal for this decade" applies to the south pole, the north pole has experienced declining ice for about thirty years, but has experienced increasing ice for the last three or so years.

Posted by: AGWsceptic99 | March 22, 2010 1:04 AM
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It is at least as probable that CO2 in the atmosphere is delaying the next ice age as it is that it will keep getting warmer. Since an ice age would be much worse for humankind, using your logic we should be far more worried about tipping points in that direction.

The warmists that you so easily support have done little to document what might be the consequences of continued warming. Since there is plenty of written history in Norway and England that temperatures were warmer a thousand years ago than they are now, maybe we should be doing some research on how to adapt to those temperatures. Of course, those warm temperatures were probably not 'caused' by CO2, but we shouldn't let actual historical facts get in the way of the statistics and computer models used by the IPCC and related members of Al Gore's church of global warming to 'prove' that a crisis exists.

Actual scientific research becomes more reliable when independent scientists can replicate it. Theories that predict the future become more acceptable when time passes and their predictions actually come true. Neither of these statements applies to the prognostications of the church of global warming.

The sea ice is returning to near normal at the north pole this year, and has been above normal for this whole decade. One year's worth of data, or even some decades at the south pole, are not a reliable data set for predicting climate, but that didn't stop the warmists from publicizing lower ice levels just a few years ago.

Posted by: AGWsceptic99 | March 22, 2010 1:01 AM
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Climate is so complex that nearly everyone falls back on some combination of "belief" and cherry-picked findings. I have found it fruitless to argue the science with those who have made up their minds -- I'm not a climatologist, and in most cases neither are they -- but I have lately had some very useful discussions across the spectrum about standards of proof:
-- Beyond reasonable doubt
-- Balance of probabilities
-- Insurable risk
-- Nothing to worry about

I think this discussion can actually lead to practical decisions and actions, whereas belief/denial only leads to gridlock.

Posted by: bobskis | March 13, 2010 1:06 PM
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Generally speaking, "tremendously complex" systems in nature are the least vulnerable to triggers of abrupt change. While it's true that increasing complexity in human designed systems brings with it increased vulnerability, ecology 101 teaches us that the resilience of natural systems is rooted in their complexity.

Posted by: unwashed_brain | March 11, 2010 10:38 AM
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