Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Are we close(r) to a tipping point?

Tipping points have been discussed for the past years in many different contexts. There are those optimists believing in consciousness/awareness tipping points in humans around the planet - finally resulting in decisive and synchronized action on all the issues we face.

Then there are the scientists, who actually study the issue of tipping points and try to figure out if we can predict them with any useful likelihood before they actually happen. A case in point is a recent paper by Scheffer et al in Nature: “Early Warning Signals for Critical Transitions” (Nature, 3 Sept 2009, 461: 53-59).

"Complex dynamical systems, ranging from ecosystems to financial markets and the climate, can have tipping points at which a sudden shift to a contrasting dynamical regime may occur. Although predicting such critical points before they are reached is extremely difficult, work in different scientific fields is now suggesting the existence of generic early-warning signals that may indicate for a wide class of systems if a critical threshold is approaching."
In short: systems science based on computational models combining findings from physics and other natural science have uncovered that the climate and financial system may be heading for chaotic times.

In plain English: the shit just might the hit the proverbial fan soon.

Of course, it may just be millenial madness and a preliminary finding that turns out to be a fluke.

However, the squealing of the systems is clearly audible as we speak:
It's the same old story - on repeat.

When is it time for you and me to stop flying, stop driving that big car, stop eating meat, stop consuming like it's end of the world? If your first reaction is an excuse, a refusal or a denial - don't fret, it's only human and it will pass.

Still, it is fare to ask what kind of wake up signals do we require? Al Gore once again asks the same question (from 8:30 onwards).

"Didn't you notice the entire North Polar ice cap was melting? What were you all doing? Watching the American Idol?" - Al Gore, August 2009
So let's all turn on the TV, tune out. We all dare ourselves.