What If Global Warming is Non-Linear

Abrupt climate change is non-linearThe interesting and potentially life-defining question of “what if global warming is non-linear” [ark] is worthy of consideration. That is, if we continue to increase carbon emissions, global warming may increase exponentially — ever resulting in more change per unit of pollution — and causing crises much more rapidly. Such abrupt climate change is a rapid change in climate — perhaps in a decade or less — over a widespread area to which human and natural systems have difficulty adapting. In other words, death and destruction result.
The question of how quickly climate will change is of great interest to the Climate Change Blog as we are committed to emphasizing the potential for worst case climate change and other ecosystem collapse scenarios. There are many ways that this can happen, which we feel are as or more likely than other scenarios. Abrupt climate change can result from numerous positive feedbacks such as permafrost melt, Arctic albedo change and rainforest dieback; and/or in conjunction with land degradation, water scarcity, ocean decline and persistent toxics. These positive feedbacks and synergies with other elements of global change continue to be given short thrift, and this is worrying.


It matters greatly whether ocean sea levels rise [search] a foot or a few feet and how soon, whether some forest burns [search] or entire bioregion's terrestrial ecosystems collapse [search], whether a trickle of humans from Pacific islands must resettle or entire regions or even continent's such as Australia become uninhabitable. What we do or do not do now and in the coming few years is going to have profound impacts in determining the extent of climate change impacts. How can we properly appraise risk versus costs if we do not know the full range of possible change? We can't.
We need to carefully be watching for non-linearities in climate response and dangerous tipping point thresholds beyond which this occurs, even as we commit to dramatic personal and social transformation in light of what we know already about the possibilities. We believe strongly critical thresholds in cutting of natural vegetation and burning have already been crossed and must be ended and reversed.
This Climate Climate Blog is not interested in doomsday scenarios because it is fun, draws a lot of positive reviews, or leads to massive funding (none of which are true); we do this because we think it is possible, indeed likely, that global ecological processes required for life, including an operable ecosystem, are being destroyed and will end. Stop. And there will be no future for humanity, the Earth and all her life. Join us in fully identifying and stopping these global ecological risks.

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3 Responses

  1. Mick says:

    You could start by analyzing periods of time in earth's past when C02 levels were much higher than today. Then see if the temperatures were several orders higher than today.

  2. R. Gates says:

    Glen,
    I think it can be safely assumed that the effects of global warming art decidedly NOT linear. We know from ice cores and sea sediments that the climate can and does jump to new and unpredictable states rather rapidly and furthermore, according to many, we've already moved from the holocene into the anthropocene era, as future scientists (if indeed there are any) will be able to look back at the sediments from this period and see evidence of an abrupt climate change caused by humans. This is a profound time, and a profoundly challenging time for humans, for we are now the masters of our own (and millions of other species fate). How will we rise to that challenge? Will we continue to be selfish, thinking only of ourselves and our appetite for ever more energy, or will be self-regulate ourselves, and manage this abrupt change that we have brought to Gaia?
    Time will tell…and very very soon…

  3. dbecher says:

    Further to R. Gates, from the perspective of forcings (or exogenous variables) and outcomes warming is markedly non linear. Reason why the climate warming models are not predictive which IPCC does state clearly. IPCC also state that some important variables are not represented well or at all. The scenarios are cases developed for illustration purposes, not modeled results and “probabilities” are not statistical based but a rough cut polling of the individuals involved. When I mention non linear I am talking about in the mathematical sense – re systems of partial differential. Therefore using models to predict significantly outside the range of data experience is strongly inadvisable and full of problems. This is one area for improvement in the 5th IPCC update. Not capturing or fully understanding the tipping points is a little different matter that involves not being able to specify the model and interaction effects. Because of the difficulties involved it is probably not possible to develop a suitable model with all of the above.

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