Are We Driving Earth to an Irreversible Tipping Point?

By Sophie Bushwick | June 13, 2012 11:51 am

Tipping point
The manmade changes pushing the planet toward a critical transition

Nature changes gradually—until it doesn’t. As the changes in an ecosystem pile up, they can push the system past a “critical threshold,” and then the change can become extremely fast (in relation to geological timescales) and unstoppable. And in a review in the journal Nature, researchers suggest that the same thing is happening to the whole world: Humans could be driving Earth’s biosphere towards a tipping point beyond which the planet’s ecosystems will collapse abruptly and irreversibly.

This global ecosystem collapse has occurred before, most recently about 12,000 years ago with the last transition from a glacial period to the current interglacial (i.e., warm) period, say the review authors. Over the relatively short period of 1,000 years, fluctuations in the Earth’s climate largely killed off about half the large mammal species, along with birds, reptiles, and a few smaller mammal species. The millennium-long shift was triggered by rapid global warming, and once this warming pushed the planet past its tipping point, the end of the 100,000-year-old ice age became inevitable, giving way to the current 11,000-year-old interglacial era.

Even as many Americans insist that we aren’t affecting the environment, the paper’s authors warn that man-made changes, such as loss of biodiversity, pollution, agriculture, climate change, and overuse of natural resources, are driving the planet toward another global tipping point. A few of these transformations, such as climate fluctuations and species extinction, also preceded earlier global critical transitions. And when scientists plug these transformations into ecosystem models, they quickly nudge systems past their tipping points.

As the human population soars, and hundreds of millions of people in developing world become consumers, our impacts on the planet will also increase, pushing us toward the tipping point still faster. The researchers want us to try to better forecast when this critical transition will occur, and to prepare for the instability it will cause. “The biological resources we take for granted at present may be subject to rapid and unpredictable transformations within a few human generations,” they write. “Anticipating biological surprises on global as well as local scales, therefore, has become especially crucial to guiding the future of the global ecosystem and human societies.” To steer the future away from a tipping point, they urge us to halt the human activities that are bringing it closer. In their words,

This will require reducing world population growth and per-capita resource use; rapidly increasing the proportion of the world’s energy budget that is supplied by sources other than fossil fuels while also becoming more efficient in using fossil fuels when they provide the only option; increasing the efficiency of existing means of food production and distribution instead of converting new areas or relying on wild species to feed people; and enhancing efforts to manage as reservoirs of biodiversity and ecosystem services, both in the terrestrial and marine realms, the parts of Earth’s surface that are not already dominated by humans. These are admittedly huge tasks, but are vital if the goal of science and society is to steer the biosphere towards conditions we desire, rather than those that are thrust upon us unwittingly.

[via Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence]

Image courtesy of Elizabeth A. Hadly, Anthony D. Barnosky, NASA / Nature

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • m

    And what are THEY doing to, in their words, “reduce world population growth”? Who are these “researchers”?

    Perhaps these unnamed researchers are voluntarily sterilizing themselves, or forgoing the use of anything plastic.

    What’s the expression? Oh yeah – “walk the talk, baby!”

    The danger of an article like this is that it seems reasonable, because there is an air of logical thought behind the arguments.

    But it raises red flags for me when “researchers” hide in annonymity, because this could very well be a page from Mein Kampf.

    And THAT really scares me.

  • Sophie Bushwick

    For a full list of the researchers’ names and affiliations, click the link to the Nature article. Here it is again: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v486/n7401/full/nature11018.html

  • Tim

    A “tipping point” implies that there is some ideal of static balance. I’d argue that the earth has always been changing. Even as a nature lover myself, I realize that “halting this human activity that is bringing it closer” is as impossible as measuring which component of climate change is human activity and which is natural. Our goal should be to delay the elimination of species as long as we can so that we can enjoy the biodiversity while it lasts.

  • Arkane

    In reply to “m”:

    Excuse me, but are you a total doofus? Do you know what this newfangled thing called a “hyperlink” is? If you click on the first “hyperlink” (new concept to you, I realize) in this article, you will see that those “anonymous authors” are listed by name in the Nature paper. So enough with apocalyptic Nazi insinuations and the teabagger paranoia.

    And btw: you don’t have to take a vow of a monk in order to present an argument that resource consumption patterns must change in order to avert disaster.

  • Iowa

    A global thermonuclear war would solve all the problems.

  • Pete1215

    We will either find a way to manage our effect on this planet, or we will be subject to what ever the laws of physics will lead to (which the not-yet-born will pay the price for).

  • floodmouse

    The only argument here should be what type of plan is to be made, not whether there needs to be a plan. Whether you believe in a global tipping point or not, it should be perfectly obvious that every time the population doubles, resources need to be used a lot more efficiently or the standard of living goes down.

    As it happens, I do believe in the tipping point. Remember “breathing”? – it’s that thing you’re probably doing right now, where air goes in and out of your face. Hold your breath too long, and you’ll experience some significant discomfort. It’s important to remember that the oxygen in the air we breathe comes largely from the oceans. If we manage to crash the ecosystem of the oceans – for example, by acidification of the water, causing a mass die-off of helpful micro-organisms – the whole issue of what to do next will become moot, because breathing won’t work anymore, and neither will our brains. Some of the plants and micro-organisms might survive to have another go at evolution, but it won’t be us.

  • Tim

    Thermonuclear war might put a dent in the human population, but if any survive, it’s only a matter of time before the population rebounds and surpasses its present level. The problem remains, just further in the future (plus the equally devastating environmental destruction which only makes things worse).

    Reducing world population isn’t a violent process. Provide health care to those who don’t have it and the birth rate naturally drops. The videos by Hans Rosling show all the data, and project that the world population will stabilize to about twice its current population as the current and previous generation age and pass, while those in poverty grow in size and wealth, bringing the world (hopefully?) closer to a more evenly distribution, economically and demographically.

  • Dave G

    Global population stabilizing at 14 billion being good? If China alone reaches the same state of energy consuption as the US, then global energy output increases 4 fold. Add ndia, Brazil and frica and you are talking 10 fold or even more. Sustainable?: Nah.

  • Jeff

    Who is to say that all this human intervention is not keeping the earth AWAY from some tipping point?

  • http://graygoosegosling.wordpress.com Craig Gosling

    When I was in high school (1950s) I realized overpopulation and over consumption of earth’s resources were the greatest dangers we face. The trouble is most people, especially the Catholic church, don’t understand that there is a “point of no return” where it will be impossible to make last minute corrections in population control and stop climate change. The process of stopping global warming is not simple; it takes many years of action by dedicated people and nations. I am pessimistic that human kind will be successful. We are in for more natural dissastors and international conflict as the climate changes and threatens our very survival.

  • joe sun

    Looks like any way we go the human race is done here on earth.

  • Bob

    Real science begins with a definition of the problem. Junk science begins with the broad presumption of urgent needs for qualitative behavior changes to be enforced upon other people and other nations, lacking any serious idea of the quantitative effect or return from its proposals.

    Real scientists have been thinking about engineering processes for managing cloud cover or managing carbon in the atmosphere. Science is about real problems and associated solutions, not politics and inflammatory rhetoric.

  • Rocky

    Unfortunately it is impossible to tell where the “tipping point” will be. This is because such transitions involve feedback loops, and because of the complexity of the ecosystem.

    However, we can be absolutely certain that such a transition is possible. The historical evidence is crystal clear.

    We will see it hit first in the oceans. Quick collapses of ocean ecosystems, with a feedback loop into the carbon cycle as a whole. That is when the general public will realize something is seriously wrong.

    Hopefully we will get a fast drop in the world population and economy as the food system collapses. The problem with “adaptation” is that it pushes you further out over the abyss. If there was a quick drop, the balanced feedback processes that make human life possible may survive. If we drag it out, and keep releasing massive amounts of energy, the Earth may not be able to recover. Then we would see a state closer to thermodynamic equilibrium, like the desert and ice planets we see around us. A billion deaths over a few years could mean trillions of lives saved in the future.

    Now before you have a rush of blood to the head, obviously I am not advocating killing a billion people. As I said, we cannot know where the attractor boundary lies, to start with. And more importantly, of course a plan to kill a billion people for the sake of the planet would never be taken seriously even if some madman suggested it. But when we do hit the edge, a short sharp shock will be better than maintaining the status quo. The further away from the boundary you get, the harder it is to get back.

    Unfortunately this crash is going to happen at some point in the next century. The warning signs are everywhere, and the political will to change things simply will never arise until millions start dying.

    It was the same thing with the financial crisis, for the same reasons. You can’t tell where the transition point will be, and no-one will change what seems to be “working” until there is a disaster. (There is a difference, in that a short shock is not good after a financial crisis. The equivalent of climate adaptation would be failure to address bad loans, budget deficits, and other harmful leverage. The difference is that even so, the financial system will survive. You will never thereby get to a point where it becomes impossible to create wealth, but the ecosystem could get to a point where it is impossible to sustain complex life if too much energy is put into the system.)

  • RogueLibertarian

    Yes, I think we reached a tipping point back in the 60’s when liberals were allowed to significantly grow in numbers. Liberalism in a mental disorder and a plague that is sweeping across this world and it needs to be stopped.

    I will be the first to suggest we immediately begin forced sterilization of all liberals. This should rid us of that which poisons our wells.

    Man-made climate change is a total and complete myth devised by the the worldwide liberal cabal to disguise their true agenda…forced servititude via debt enslavement and oppressive taxation.

    Problem for the libs is that the rational conservative majority have been awoke and the liberal agenda is disintregating worldwide. Obama will lose in the US. The bastard marriage between elected officials and unions has been blown up. Manmade climate change has been scientifically proven to be false. Large scale socio-economic experiments such as the EU are falling apart.

    The best way to discredit liberalism is to allow it to spread and to permit the masses to fall under its heavy handed control. The ensuing carnage will show all what liberalism really is…reduced liberty, lesser happiness and ultimately less life.

  • jason

    The only way to fix this is to have a worldwide Sustainable Humanity Council. They will carefully determine resource allocation for the good of all humanity and ensure through pro-active measures that growth remains static. Reproductive management will ensure that a proper diversity ratio is maintained. Only through world-wide co-operation in all aspects of our lives can we have a hope of surviving. Those who resist are either mentally incapable and deserve rehabilitation or are enemy’s of humanity and Earth and must be dealt with appropriately.

  • Kaviani

    So, basically, we need to pour everything we have into gettingTF off the planet. GET BUSY, FOLKS.

  • John

    well all the tough talking deniers forget the simple truth our fathers taught us: “don’t sh t where you live” and if you do clean it up!!!!

  • Sandra Gibbs

    I have been in favor of zero population growth since the sixties. TV glorifies those people who have 20 children. Ridiculous!

  • http://Twitter.com/JCHamner JC Hamner

    No, we need to dedicate everything we can to eliminating population growth and reducing our current numbers. Space exploration/colonies is great, but this ecosystem took billions of years to develop, and is the only one that is perfectly suited to us, so I’m not ready to just up and abandon it. We’ll never have another Earth, and people shouldn’t be so quick to take it for granted.

    One line in the article that really stood out to me was something that I had previously viewed as a point of hope: Hans Rosling’s data regarding the implications of healthcare and empowerment of women lowering the birthrate and raising the developing world’s poor up to the middle class- consumers. We, rather, our ecology can’t afford a Giga-surge of consumers. It’s already being destroyed with enormous facility by the last-century industrial machine driven by reckless, inhumane capitalism and the equally irresponsible post-dynastic China.

    It’s time we took responsibility for our own guided evolution, because our current technological state and overwhelming numbers are not sustainable with our ancestral behavior. Most children born on this planet are accidents; just imagine how humanity could improve if that were inverted. Imagine if everyone had a place, and was cared about, and if we weren’t biologically programmed to hate and fear those who don’t look like us, and to stake our beliefs based on emotions, prejudice and tradition, and to defend them in the face of evidence-based facts. That’s the world I would choose to live in, and that is the world we will have to create, or else be relegated to the worldwide misery of the consequences of our negligence. Whether that comes sooner or later, it will be necessary for the survival and elevation of our species, and I would prefer that we do it while we still have our home and fellow earthlings mostly intact.

  • Ray Foret

    For all the intelligent people on this planet, and their offspring, it will be a shame that for the rest of humanity to be nothing but a “foot note” in history The best and brightest among us will survive “somewhere else, not here on earth. Civilization is at a “tipping point” as we speak and there is no way humanity will survive. When “intelligent” people believe in lies, religion, and the republicrap party here in our country and other countries believe in stoning a person because they had sex with someone those people disagree with then the fate of humanity is sealed. The 1% know this already, that is why they step on whoever is in ther way so they can make as much money and gain power and use that to enjoy the best this earth has to offer, while 99% toil in misery to give it to them. HUMANITY IS DOOMED, SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST, AND DO UNTO OTHERS FIRST, is the only thing republicraps believe in, REMEMBER TO VOTE FOR THEM TO MAKE SURE THIS HAPPENS TO YOUR CHILDREN.

  • scribbler

    Or…

    We can do what is “right” (did anyone define that in terms of just who should forced to stop “wasting” (was that defined either?) “our” (please define) precious resources) and a gamma ray burst can wipe us all out tomorrow…

    When I read this drivel, I always ask: So?

    All they are talking about is forestalling the INEVITABLE…

    I mean, really, in a Godless Universe, what difference does it make if humans make it a thousand or ten thousand years more before the Universe Wipes them from existence? Being perfectly logical, as long as my selfish needs are met until I die, what other motive should I have?

    Things change. The only non-science/non-sense I see is the arrogance that drives us to think we can determine the course of Nature.

    The Gobi was a forest at one time and a shallow sea covered the mid US. What effect would it have had on us if some previous generation had tried and succeeded in “preserving” that status quo?

    I’m happy the way things are and that meant a BIG change from things past. Let those who must deal with the future determine whether they find it good or evil. We simply don’t have the information or the skill set to even speculate…

    “The greatest mystery was not that we have been flung at random among the profusion of the earth and the galaxy of the stars, but that in this prison we can fashion images of ourselves sufficiently powerful to deny our nothingness.”―Maurice Friedman

    Deny our nothingness or delay it. In the End, equal folly, it it not?

  • http://discovermagazine.com Iain

    @ Tim
    No, a tipping point is merely where the kettle or pot or whatever goes from being balanced to tipping over amd just like that WHAMMO! over she goes.
    That’s a tipping point. Non judgmental, just rapid change of state.
    @ Craig
    The Catholic church believes in God, Has the keys to heaven and obviously expects divine intervention, thus making it a Non sequitur in scientific discussions.

  • http://discovermagazine.com Iain

    @ scribbler
    Many people go through life looking for meaning, hoping that some other framework will give it to them, however, the only meaning in life anybody will find is what they themselves provide.
    Your post tells me that you are a rapist. Willing to plunder the earth for your own fleeting comfort. I say NAY! Have some consideration for the young. You, yourself would not appreciate moving to a new locale to find all the rooms of your abode filled with manure. So why do this to anybody else?

  • Parktire

    Humanity’s time on this small insignificant planet, whirling around an unremarkable star in a galaxy that that is already heading towards destruction with its neighboring galaxy has been short in the framework of “time”. Our concern should be that all should strive to see that we live in peace, sharing so that all are comfortable and well and enjoy what few seconds we might have left to enjoy. From dust we came and to dust we will return.

  • scribbler

    Best laugh I’ve had all day…

    Thanks!

    The truth is that I believe there is a God and that He Will Hold us all responsible for our actions. I wasn’t expressing my views, only taking the logic of those who exclude God from the Universe and then whine that we need to follow some MORAL Imperative to save things for posterity to it’s inevitable conclusion. Scientifically speaking, there is no advantage to preserving anything for any reason since it will all end in a cold, dead Universe anyway…

    Their argument is laughable, was my point…

    Rapist?

    Might want to switch to decaf, dude… ;-)

    Nay???

    (grin)

    My other point was they can’t prove we are tipping anything…

  • scribbler

    As for the crap filled rooms, we are all already living in them…

    Crap has to go somewhere… ;-)

    Let me see if I can make my point obvious here. If you count four square feet for a person to stand on, all 7 billion of us could fit into a square 35 miles to a side with room to spare. What exactly are they trying to say is our massive, overwhelming impact of this Earth, again???

    It’s nonsense…

    People aren’t starving because there isn’t enough food. They starve because politics and economics lets the food rot before it is given to them. It’s time some folks grow up… ;-)

  • Mark Laube

    What is obvious in this discussion is that nothing affects a person’s belief.

  • floodmouse

    @ Scribbler:

    Food is actually not the resource I was thinking of. You can feed an almost infinite number of people if all you give them is yeast grown in a tank, or some kind of cheap, non-nutritious corn- or wheat-based grain product. Clean water is likely to be a bigger problem. Arable land will also be a problem, with a lot of areas turning into deserts or flood zones as the climate changes. That means less variety of fresh foods. Sustainable energy may be the biggest problem, if everyone in the world insists they’re entitled to an SUV and an infinite number of appliances, disposable consumer goods, and electronic devices. Electronics also require the mining of rare minerals, among other considerations. The increased toll on resources is not just due to the population doubling, but also due to people’s increasing expectations of owning more stuff. Think about this: Even relatively well-off middle class people a century or two ago only owned one or two suits to wear to the office, with a daily change of clean shirt and underwear (if they were lucky). Working class people mostly washed their things and hung them to dry overnight. Now most of us have closets full of cheap clothes (made in China, with no pollution controls), and the donation bins where you can drop off old clothes are always overflowing. This is just a small example of how our use of certain resources has MORE than doubled just in the last century.

  • AG

    We human give ourself too much credit in this universe.

  • scribbler

    @15, I agree but with a caveat. When times are good, people become extravagant. When times are bad, they become more conservative.

    What you are talking about is maintaining our dominance over the worlds resources. What articles like this are really saying is: “Let’s not let some “undeserving” person waste the gas and food and other things before we can allot them to our own children and our own selfish interest.” They should all be titled: Lets Make Plans Now to Stop Others from Using up the Stuff We Want to Use While They are Weak and Helpless!”

    What they invariably ignore and I think purposely, is that things change. Change isn’t always good, but it is INEVITABLE. Humans EVOLVE! At one time, ROCKS were the greatest resource in Human sustainability!!! Sure, the art of turning a stone into a spear head or an axe has been lost but then, now we make concrete and all the things that that entails…

    Point is that no matter what you are trying to keep the same, it is going to change. Other point is that it is going to change in ways that we have no way of telling, let alone controling…

  • scribbler

    Now, if you want to talk about greater personal responsibility over the use of the world’s resources and ways to better educate others to not make mistakes we have already learned not to make or how to eliminate human foibles that cause others to starve, I’m your huckleberry!!!

    ;-)

  • Don Hudson

    I totally disagree with the use of the word “irreversible. Mother Earth has a magnificent track record of mending itself. Human population is absolutely the key issue. Such a large percentage of the population of our planet lives on the very edge of existence. Some are alive only because the next bowl of grain is given to them.
    If and when we start having massive crop failures those people will lose their struggle for life. And even rich countries such as the oil rich but desert regions will be losers. There will in all probability be catastropic wars between the haves and have nots.
    We are our own worst enemy. Will the massive glacial melt cause a disruption of the conveyor belts that bring warm tropical water to the colder latitudes? In any event, we are destined for massive crop failures, which in turn will lead to a massive global die off of our species.
    But the Earth will heal itself. Maybe in 100,000 years or so, but it will heal itself.
    We can talk about controlling population growth, but the facts are straightforward. There is actually a population decline in the rich and well educated countries. In the lands of chronic poverty there are few joys in life. It just so happens that sex is one of them.
    Yes, we are definitely headed for a collision.

  • Robbo

    Scribbler has a point! (More than one, actually…….)

    ……. and really it is down to the fact that we need THE EARTH, but THE EARTH doesn’t need us! You’ve all probably heard the ‘last minute of the last hour of a 24 hour clock’ analogy of the existence of humans – the Earth did fine before we ever arrived, but articles like this one remind us that the Earth has had constant and continuous changes in climate, animal populations and sea levels. We have to try to forget our arrogance in believing that we are the (most) important things and realise that (and that’s where the religious angle sucks….).

  • scribbler

    @7 As for thermonuclear reduction of the Earth’s population, realistically, we aren’t even close…

    http://www.recipeapart.com/how-many-nukes-will-destroy-the-world/

    Science is investigating what you have been told before you repeat it as fact. Carl Sagan’s ineptitude was beneficial, but c’mon, it wasn’t science…

    ;-)

  • Mack

    If the quality of analysis in this comment thread is any indication, then we really are in trouble.

  • Kaye

    That article is warmed-over Malthusianism. According to him, we should have succumbed to “overpopulation” a long time ago. It was even in Dickens “A Christmas Carol”. Check out this website.

    http://www.pop.org/

  • Puppetmistress

    A lot of these comments are very pessimistic, but there are many things that ordinary people can do to lessen their impact on the environment.
    For example, driving less, buying secondhand, planting flowers and vegetables on the porch or windowsill, or if they’re lucky in their yard. Reuse plastic containers–cups from yogurt are great instead of disposable plastic cups, and who needs tupperware when you can reuse all kinds of containers? Taking along a reusable water container or coffee thermos also helps, as does using a fabric tote bag for groceries. Turning off electronics such as computers at night is good for the electric bill and the environment. If you don’t want to use a tote, many grocery stores have places where you can turn in old plastic bags for recycling–or at least they do here in the greater Seattle area.

    I know many of these things have a hippy/hipster stigma attached to them, but we have to look past this and do what’s right. We can’t give up on improving our world and our lives.

  • Judas Priest

    As long as their aren’t people like Scribbler in tomorrow’s world, I’m feeling pretty good about our chances.

  • AJ

    “As the changes in an ecosystem pile up, they can push the system past a “critical threshold,”…

    Plain and simply put, that is not true.

    There is no climactic critical threshold, nor tipping point, nor point of no return, nor any other such fear-mongering nonsense. The real fact is just this: the planet is always changing and will continue to always change and do so at a varying pace that can neither be slowed down nor sped up nor calculated with anything near high precision and there is no one single point at which something does or doesn’t occur unless it’s an actual catastrophe – like a meteor strike. The only thing we humans can really do is try and adapt to whatever slow change happens to occur.

    Further, there is no over-population of humans nor is there any lack of resources – no matter what that resource may be. There are in fact vast swaths of nearly completely uninhabited tracts of fertile land and we (meaning humans) have no idea how much of any resource there actually is except to say that we’re always finding more of everything all the time and just about everywhere we look. And, with continued advances in technology, our resources continue to go farther than they ever have before – even to the point of becoming completely recyclable in many cases.

    If anyone wants to read a good fictional book on these points (complete with real scientific sources) I suggest reading State of Fear by Michael Chrichton. No doubt many of you will find it to be truly enlightening.

    “fluctuations in the Earth’s climate largely killed off about half the large mammal species”

    This is only a half truth.

    Along with changes in climate, which took place over thousands of years, you must include diseases (in both animals and plants) and predations (likely by early humans and large mammalian predators) as part of what killed off many larger mammal species. It’s all three combined that led to the die off, not just a change in climate – which by the way, didn’t occur very fast. Or at least, not so fast that many animals couldn’t migrate towards the warmer equatorial regions had they not been hunted or diseased.

  • jimbow

    For all you that believe in global warming stuff and that tipping point crap go to this site:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120617170307.htm explain why the antarctica is warmer 20,000 yrs. ago, and what happened to that tipping point of no return then?

  • Brian Too

    I think we need to begin planning for tipping point changes. Of course we will not do enough of such planning because serious planning would involve spending some real money on it, serious coin. In fact the highest form of planning is prevention.

    This message thread is evidence of why both prevention, and planning for a tipping point, will both be inadequate. We will end up reacting to changes, and it won’t be on our timeline or under our control. There are far too many people who are playing the “I’m with Stupid” game and will prevent much effective action. Unfortunately the weak and the poor will pay the greatest price, as always.

    Low lying coastal cities are where the largest price will be paid in my opinion. They are also the place where strong interventionist action, could make a positive difference. London and Antwerp have already taken major steps. However it needs to be said that these cities have geography that make it practical to defend them; some cities may be too exposed on too wide a front to make geoengineering solutions affordable.

  • Vickie

    Ok Ok – wait a minute. The article says, “Over the relatively short period of 1,000 years, fluctuations in the Earth’s climate largely killed off about half the large mammal species, along with birds, reptiles, and a few smaller mammal species. The millennium-long shift was triggered by rapid global warming, and once this warming pushed the planet past its tipping point, the end of the 100,000-year-old ice age became inevitable, giving way to the current 11,000-year-old interglacial era.”

    So essentially what the author says is even WITHOUT HUMANS DRIVING HUMMERS and filling the oceans with plastic, and all the other nefarious things we bipeds have done, the planet essentially cleaned house. So we puny mortals AREN’T the cause of climate change, yes? And as a forest that is allowed to live without human intervention cleans house regularly with a fire, the planet may very well clean house with any number of natural disasters – including volcanoes, Yosemite’s geysers exploding over 3/4 of the US, another icelandic unpronounceable volcano erupting, another Indonesian volcano and resulting tsunami over the pacific.

    ANYTHING can happen. Black Swan events happen more often than people realize. The “bread and circuses crowd” who think History is only that which happened 20 years before I was born will be surprised. But perhaps they live happier lives not sitting around contemplating the end of all things. As the “this day in history” pages of every Scientific American magazine show – predictions from a century ago are wrong about today. A good reminder that no one on this blog has a freaking clue how things will shake out.

    All the Prius-driving, newspaper-recycling, carbon-footprint-reducing, self-conscious liberal-self-flagellating angst did NOTHING to prevent the Iceland volcano or the Japan Tsunami. Both of which were NOT caused by humans. And both of which contributed more pollution and more crap to our oceans and our air than 800 generations of 7 billion people could ever have done. We need to stop giving ourselves so much credit. Humans are usually a pain in the ass. But we aren’t the sole cause of the changes in the weather or the ozone layer. Re-read my first paragraph. This would be happening with us or without us. The guys wrote that article to get attention. And it worked!

    My solution? Be mindful of my footprint. Don’t believe everything every “Publish or Perish” professor, scientist, or Scientific magazine puts out there. Live a balanced life. Be happy. Make Love not War. Or at least Make Love After War. Eat healthy. Die happy.

  • scribbler

    @ 38, right on…

    @ 39, Can’t defeat my logic and it renders most of your holy cows hamburger, so you lash out. I get that. You are of course invited to come and try to remove me. Now THAT would be an education for ya…

    ;-)

    Don’t elude to an event you have neither the stomach nor the mental fortitude. It makes you look shallow and petty, in my humble opinion…

    So, unless you plan an “intervention”, I’m here to stay, dude…

    From the article: “…they can push the system past a “critical threshold,” and then the change can become extremely fast (in relation to geological timescales)…”

    Not just thousands of years, but hundreds of thousand of years. We aren’t even able to make educated guesses about those changes, let alone how to effect/affect them. Only idiots and arrogant ones at that, suffer such delusions…

    If you haven’t no only stopped driving but stopped using any product that uses gas to get to you, stopped using electricity altogether, stopped eating any modern food and stopped taking advantage of modern medicine and such, please do not delude yourself any further by thinking any of us don’t see your blatant hypocrisy when you ask us to do so…

  • Chris the Canadian

    I don’t know why I read through most of those comments as many have mind numbingly ridiculous things to post and say. First off i want to say that I cannot stand alarmists, on EITHER SIDE of the ledger. I do not think we are at a tipping point and that doom and gloom is around the corner because of things that humanity is doing to pollute the environment. I also don’t believe that man has had no effect on its home and that we don’t have issues with potential overpopulation, pollution, resource overuse, animal extinction etc etc etc.

    The truth is somewhere in the middle. Our species is effecting the landscape and the environment. There is little doubt about that. the Great Lakes were a poison pot up until the mid 80’s because humans dumped chemicals and sewage into them. Now? Through legislation and clean up efforts and the NATURAL ABILITY OF THE PLANET TO CLEANSE ITSELF these lakes are far cleaner. Areas that were once toxic and abandoned have been taken over by nature (Chernobyl). In other cases the oceans are being polluted at an extraordinary rate causing issues with zeoplankton populations, Bluefin Tuna are near to the point of collapse due to overharvest, certain parts of the planet especially urban centers have horrific air quality that are causing birth defects in newborns like asthma, and the population of humans is growing at incredible rates in areas of the world that have the least resources to provide for these new humans.

    Those are real issues that will have an impact on local as well as global populations eventually. There will be a pandemic or two that will take the lives of many, along with droughts and starvation, conflict and war, and most importantly the imbalance of dispersal for drinking water across the planet. These are the things that will doom the human race if it does go extinct.

    Global Warming? Man has sped up the process of the earths natural cycle of warming and cooling, of this there cannot be denial, however it would also be foolish to dismiss the geological evidence of such warming and cooling trends occurring throughout the planets history. Everywhere around the world there is evidence of seas and oceans drying up then re-forming, deserts turn into wetlands and then become deserts again, mountains rising out of nowhere, glaciers expanding and contracting, and whole ice sheets form and disband. Sometimes these events take millenia and at other times they happen very rapidly, as the article states, within a thousand years.

    People tend to get in a panic about things. It’s almost part of our collective nature to take something and make it bigger or smaller than it actually is. Global warming will not cause humanity to become extinct. There may be animals that become extinct and plants that become extinct but this has also happened very often in the past as well. They can’t adapt to the changes so they die off. Other species proliferate in the new environments and succeed. It’s evolution people, it’s how we came to existence and it’s how things will continue whether we are here or not.

    A few comments about the posts here. If you want people to take your posts and comments seriously do not quote fictional books written by quasi sci-fi writers like Crichton and then claim they are based on scientific reality. That’s like saying you can learn a lot about the Catholic Church by reading Dan Brown novels. For those who are running around like chicken little’s saying we have to stop using gas and petroleum products and plastic and yadda yadda yadda … I’m sorry, but I like driving my car to my air conditioned/heated home, then to my boat, and drive my boat on the lake of choice, and drink from plastic cups. Know what? We CAN do more to protect our environment. I’m all for environmental protection and making our planet a cleaner greener place to live, but I am not all for sending us back to the stone age and singing Kumbaya around a camp fire while we eat yeast cookies and grule.

    Someone said it best. Don’t poop in your own backyard and if you do clean it, which is what Global Warming alarmists fail to do. they paint this gigantic picture of gloom and doom without looking at the simple impact of planting a garden or a tree can do to help the environment. This gives Global Warming Opponents fodder to say “It isn’t that bad, the planet isn’t dying, we don’t have to do anything at all and keep the status quo”. That doesn’t work either because the status quo is really not good for our health and longevity. So keep it simple stupids and quit overusing and overpackaging products for sale, find alternative resources and renewable resources that can be slowly phased in and improved so that one day we may be able to lift our need for petrol, do your part in your home to re-use/recycle, and quit panicking everytime a survey or statistic is thrown out by some scientist or university that had a survey or experiment.

  • scribbler

    45, how do you or anyone else know that the warming of the earth isn’t caused by the sun’s output rising or some other natural process? Before you become so sure, don’t you think that at least you should be able to answer such a simple, straight forward question?

    There could be a MILLION reasons the Earth is warming. Why did you pick the human race as the culprit?

    The answer can ONLY be that you have an ulterior motive…

    ;-)

  • scribbler

    Quote: “Low lying coastal cities are where the largest price will be paid in my opinion.”

    Oh no! Look!!! Look!!! When I was a boy the water was thirty five feet from the house and now that I’m 90, it’s raged up to thirty three feet! Run for you lives!!!

    Or, uh, hey, grandpa, why not build the next house back a few feet since this old piece of crap needs to come down anyways…

    And let’s be realistic, IF the polar ice caps melt, there might be fifty times the arable land under it than there is on the Earth now…

    I know here in the corn belt “global warming” has bumped up crop production a few percent…

    Farmers get their crops in earlier and they stay in the fields later reducing the cost of drying the grain.

    Not to mention that though my air conditioning costs have risen slightly, my heating costs have plummeted…

    Just sayin…

  • Proofreader
  • Louis Bernard

    @Proofreader. I loved the cartoon. I don’t know where you found it but it was perfect.

  • Kri5tinnn

    I absolutely love this. Well said, on all accounts. Nothing pushes my buttons more than uneducated people, pretending they know what they’re talking about. I’m just thankful there are people like you, willing to take the time to basically tell them to blow it out there ass, and why to blow it out their ass.

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