The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Gulf Stream Likely to Reverse Sooner than Expected

Yeah, so this is bad news.

“I think we’re close to a tipping point,” climatologist Michael Mann told ThinkProgress in an email. The AMOC slow down “is without precedent” in more than a millennium he said, adding, “It’s happening about a century ahead of schedule relative to what the models predict.”

The impacts of such a slowdown include much faster sea level rise — and much warmer sea surface temperatures — for much of the US East Coast.


A slow-down in deepwater ocean circulation “would accelerate sea level rise off the northeastern United States, while a full collapse could result in as much as approximately 1.6 feet of regional sea level rise,” as the authors of the U.S. National Climate Assessment (NCA) explained in November.

If we actually do hit the tipping point, then Europe gets a lot colder (remember, most of Europe is farther north than most of Canada’s population and is kept warmer by the Gulf Stream), and the Eastern Coast of North America gets sea level rises.

All bad. Of course, it may not happen, we’ll see. But that’s the issue. We are playing with systems we don’t fully understand. Natural systems tend to change slowly, then suddenly flip over towards new norms. If we get hit by such a flip, it could damage our civilization far more than most people seem to think.

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The Unemployment Rate Isn’t Used to Keep Unemployment Low (with Graph)


Open Thread


  1. Any kind of sudden change in the ongoing normal rhythm patterns of any system will throw everything within said system out-of-whack, domino-effect style.
    General rule-of-thumb.

  2. Synoia

    For emphasis:

    Madrid is about the same latitude as New York.

    London about 1,000 miles North of Madrid.

    Scotland about 500 miles North of London.

  3. atcooper

    I’ve found some traction in conversation mentioning that pessimistic models consistently prove to be optimistic. I still get looks like I’m a loon. I’ve also been thinking about John the Baptist and what his life must have been like.

  4. RobotPliers

    It may be my imagination, but I’ve noticed that the more recent climate research has been trending increasingly negative, with higher CO2 doubling sensitivity, more precarious ice shelf dynamics, more sensitive gulf stream, higher coral reef sensitivity to ocean CO2, etc. Prospects are getting bleaker faster every year now.

    Synoia: My favorite comparison is that, by latitude, Paris sits just on the US side of the US/Canada 49th parallel border.

  5. Billikin

    If we don’t get a quick flip, but, say, a 6″ rise in sea levels along the US East Coast, then maybe the politicians will take global warming seriously. A regional rise is better than a global rise.

  6. Some of us have been waiting, and watching, for this for ten years. It has happened before.

    Need to grow thicker skin. Seven billion people on a ball of mud that cannot sustain one.

  7. Chicoand

    Na gon happen. They been predicting this shit for years. What hasn’t it happened? Neva will, that’s why.

  8. “Suddenly” in geological terminology is quite a long time, typically a century or so. I was once in a lecture where a geologist was discussing the formation of the Gran Teton Mountain range and started talking about evidence that the very long slow rise may not actually have been the case. “It may have happened quite suddenly,” he said. I tried to picture the earthquake that would produce a 5500′ vertical rupture in a day or so, and then he went on to say that by “suddenly” he meant “as little as two or three centuries.”

  9. EverythingsJake

    It feels like every study that I have read about in the last nine to ten years (and I say this as someone who reads whatever the general press reports on plus a few reporters with particular interest, like Dahr Jamail at Truthout) has this fundamental theme – it’s all happening way faster than we thought it would, by orders of decades. There are so many things to fix and at a certain point, one realizes they are all the same problem, and they all involve that those who have taken and continue to take way too much at the expense of the majority of the rest would change in radical ways. And that problem may be harder to solve than all the others.

  10. Hugh

    One of the reasons that the reports tend to underestimate the speed of global climate disruption is that they are controlled by governments who have strong motivations to underplay the effects because they are either energy producers or don’t want to invest or have the resources to do what they need to do. This is especially true of the IPCC whose reports are seen as having the greatest weight.

    There is also the threat to climate research under Trump and his corrupt henchman Pruitt. Zinke too if he could. Meanwhile NOAA for obscure political reasons is part of Wilbur Ross’ Commerce Department. Ross has nominated Barry Lee Myers to head NOAA. Myers is the CEO of Accuweather who backed Rick Santorum and a 2005 bill which Santorum tried to get passed that would have stopped the National Weather Service from sharing information with the public. As for NASA, Bob Walker, Trump’s space policy adviser wants it to get out of the climate change business.

  11. Tom

    1.6 feet water rise would frack New York as its sewer system would crash in short order and cause millions of people to flee.

    The US is simply not prepared for mass exodus of East Coast Cities’ populations. It is going to get ugly fast.

  12. Jeff Wegerson

    And don’t forget either that all of Brazil is east of Washington D.C.

  13. scruff

    It’s still better that it happens faster than slower. The longer the effects are delayed, the more of the causes people will produce.

    There’s no sign of the redeeming aspect of humanity’s behavior that was stupidly put in to save the day at the end of the The Day The Earth Stood Still remake a few years ago – that people are best when things are at their worst, and that this somehow means that people are obviously going to change and fix AGW before it really hurts the biosphere. No, the sudden sanity and responsibility *is not coming*, or if it is it’s a strategic mistake to let its possibility influence your calculations.

    What would you rather deal with, the carbon load of today, or the carbon load of twenty years from now? A hundred years? Even the carbon load of tomorrow is worse than the carbon load of today. The sooner the loading ends, the better. If anyone thinks it’s monstrous to say such a thing, how much more monstrous would it be to suggest that greater catastrophe resulting from greater carbon load would somehow be preferable?

  14. @EverythingsJake, yes, I did not mean to imply with my comment that things are not moving along at an alarming pace. I do believe that the conditions of this planet are changing faster than we know. I just don’t think that the movie “The Day After Tomorrow” is a realistic scenario.

  15. bruce wilder

    The demands of drama dictate “sooner than expected” narratives just as they did the right-wing prattling over the infamous “pause”.

    It is inevitable that people will try to figure out what global warming “means” in terms that emphasize the experience of humans in their localities and routines, including most especially the moral challenges of all kinds, rendered as events of destructive tragedy.

    I am not so sure the dramatic imagination is all that helpful. There are no gods here that can be appeased. The base changes that serve as prime movers are tiny, but relentless and cumulative over time periods that exceed human lifetimes.

    Much of the resistance attributed to wilful ignorance of global warming science is resistance to global warming narratives that emphasize the catastrophic or particular life-style dramatic poses as response. Alarm is appropriate, but not the alarm of a house fire or a hurricane.

    It is hard to wrap one’s mind around the time-scales involved or the tiny increments in the mean amidst the vast variations of daily chaos.

  16. bob mcmanus

    My most important conclusion about this is that the Ptb, militaries sultans intelligence agencies not only know all this and stuff we don’t know and are not in denial except to keep the masses quiescent but are already implementing action plans ans strategies to deal with the post-catastrophe. “After the billions die” is already an eyes only white paper.

    Why this is important of course they know is that the geopolitical reorganization (probably war, but maybe not) will precede mass death by decades, is happening now and will result in a light totalitarianism, a William Gibson 2-tier, or something else or you know, if they fail, species extinction by nukes or nature. But the economics and politics will start the killing fields long before Miami drowns.

    We did to start looking for active social and political weapons in use that look new and underutilized, both at the forces of liberation and repression.

  17. nihil obstet

    Our whole economic system is based on stability, since the concept of property depends on the property continuing, and in pretty much the same form. We constantly hear that investors (i.e., rich powerful people who control our government) have to have confidence in unchanging policies. What happens if and when there’s a total shift in the value of property — huge swaths of the east coast underwater so the owners lose, shift in weather patterns so farmland is no longer productive and former non-farmland can now produce crops? So far, we’re trying to replace the lost value for the former owners through various federal insurance programs. That’s probably too inefficient for serious change, and frankly, even harder to defend than bailing out predatory banks. I don’t see any serious efforts towards figuring out a transition/new paradigm for how our society manages production and access to resources.

  18. A very recent article on the replication crisis: “HOW BAD IS THE GOVERNMENT’S SCIENCE? (It’s worse than we thought.)”

    At a family gathering 2 weeks ago, I told my cousin’s daughter, a high schooler, that “science that can’t be replicated isn’t science”. She said that “didn’t make sense”.

    Her mind is not fertile ground for contributing to a rational discussion and political support for a reality-based public policy….. Oh, but that’s of zero concern to a lot of pompous asses that prefer citizens to live in their preferred pseudo-reality.

    If I had the means (I don’t), I’d sue every school district in the US that taught students that we live in a democracy. As per the research of Gilens and Page, we DON’T live in a functioning democracy, but rather in a corrupted system that functions as a plutocracy.

    Likewise, if I had the means, I’d also sue every school district in the US that taught students about the wonders of science, without even a word about the replication crisis.

    Both are examples of brain washing.

  19. Tom

    Hopefully the ones who survive this coming catastrophe have kids who have the trauma of the disaster hardwritten into them so they avoid our mistakes.

    As for the Rich, since they have few kids and ones poorly adapted to survive, well its unlikely they will pass on their genes.

  20. different clue

    Science that can’t be replicated isn’t science? Well . . . experiments that can’t be replicated certainly aren’t experiments.

    But what about areas which can not be lab-conditions controlled-experimented on? What if voluminous observation-gathering and the scrutinizing of events which don’t exactly repeat themselves but which merely rhyme ( “natural experiments”) are the best we can do? Do we have a continuum going from soft science to hard science? Or do we say if it isn’t hard, it just isn’t science?

  21. Troy

    metamars, science is much simpler than you think it is. Far, far, far, far, far simpler.

    All science is, is curiosity and observation. You catalogue what you observe. _That_ is science. Your demands of science are far, far, far too stringent. Science is the observation, not the results. It’s the journey that’s important, not the destination. And from the observation, we infer what is happening.

    Replicate the results? There’s far, far, far too much that can’t be replicated, because there aren’t earth-sized sandboxes available, with sun-sized batteries that can generate the conditions needed to ensure predicted and even unpredicted results.

    Sometimes, all you can do is work backwards. You create models -now they can be computer-generated- and you input as many conditions as you can think of, can account for, and observe _that_. And of as yet, climate change models dating back to the 1900’s are still accurate to this day.

  22. wendy davis

    i haven’t had time to check out the particulars of this site, funding, partners, contributors, etc., but it looks as though it might be worth looking at the various tabs.

  23. @Troy

    It’s a little late in the game for you to try to backpedal from the millenarian claims “Science” has always made for itself. No skeptic today is doing anything but holding Science to its own standard and everywhere finding how badly it falls short.

    As for the alleged “hard” vs. “soft” spectrum, with its implication that every mode of investigation and scholarship ought to adhere to the ideology and methods of “hardness”, this has always been a false and highly destructive notion. On the contrary, the failure (and often fraud) of “hard” methods in every arena outside a few tightly circumscribed, usually tightly controlled contexts (but there’s plenty of failure and fraud there as well) simply goes to show the limits of scientific inquiry, and how at best science is a small part of the human endeavor, a potentially helpful tool but of no human significance in itself. On the contrary, science has celebrated most of its practical accomplishments as the waterboy of productionism and the military.

  24. BlizzardOfOzzz

    metamars – there’s the concept of experimentum crucis — an experiment that proves a physical effect — that sets the physical sciences apart.

    But even apart from that, it’s clear that the academies and cadres of practicing scientists are not what they once were. The replication crisis should make this point finally clear to everyone. As the academies have become larger they have become infected with the pathologies of scale — careerist professionals have replaced earnest truth seekers, political operatives have replaced competent administrators, “peer review” has replaced expert judgement. The broader culture has meanwhile degraded from a Christian one that fostered belief in ultimate truth to a post-Christian materialist one where the best one can do is “model” what are presumed inherently irrational phenomena. And the steady decline in IQ since the Victorian era (combined with bureaucracy selecting for careerist mediocrity) means that there may be fewer bona fide geniuses working in science than when it was the domain of self-selected amateurs, despite an explosion in the nominal number of working scientists.

    Belief in “science” is an indispensable part of the post-Christian mind, though. True believers won’t be persuaded by mere facts like a replication crisis: the zombie of science’s former glory will live on, with the mass of people none the wiser.

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