I've been listening to climate change videos from YouTube while running recently, and came across an excellent one today. Its title is "Abrupt Climate Change: Past, Present, and Future," and it's the Nye Lecture from the Fall 2014 conference of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). Although it is 52 minutes long, it is well worth the time.
I especially wanted to pass it along because the presenter, Jim White, is an excellent communicator who uses simple, down-to-earth language and really succeeds in getting away from the wonkishness that makes so many scientific talks difficult to understand and listen to.
His message is straightforward:
- There have been extremely abrupt climate changes in the past (as science has advanced, it's become clear that some were more abrupt than anyone realized--up to 100 to even 1,000 times as fast as the global temperature rise observed over the past century).
- Our current emissions of greenhouse gases constitute an extremely rapid change in the climate system ("we're in a period of abrupt change now").
- We don't really know what caused abrupt changes in the past.
- Even the current rate of climate change can result in abrupt impacts on society, such as occurred when Hurricane Sandy caused just enough additional storm surge to flood parts of the New York City subway system and result in billions of dollars in damages.
The danger of this situation is aptly summed up in one of his examples--that of an early explorer paddling along the Niagara River and suddenly realizing there's a waterfall ahead, trying to get to shore, and failing. The "real tipping point," White explains, is not when the boat goes over the falls. It's the moment when it is no longer possible to get to shore first.
Mr. Nye, a geosciences professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder, was also interviewed last month on EcoShock Radio.