Failure to Slow Warming Will Set Off Climate ‘Tipping Points,’ Scientists Say – The New York Times

“Failure to limit global warming to the targets set by international accords will most likely set off several climate “tipping points,” a team of scientists said on Thursday, with irreversible effects including the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, abrupt thawing of Arctic permafrost and the death of coral reefs.

The researchers said that even at the current level of warming, about 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, some of these self-sustaining changes might have already begun. But if warming reached above 1.5 degrees Celsius, the more ambitious of two targets set by the 2015 Paris Agreement, the changes would become much more certain.

And at the higher Paris target, 2 degrees Celsius, even more tipping points would likely be set off, including the loss of mountain glaciers and the collapse of a system of deep mixing of water in the North Atlantic.

The changes would have significant, long-term effects on life on Earth. The collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, for example, would lead to unrelenting sea level rise, measured in feet, not inches, over centuries. The thawing of permafrost would release more heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, hindering efforts to limit warming. A shutdown of ocean mixing in the North Atlantic could affect global temperatures and bring more extreme weather to Europe.”

David Lindsay:  In my humble opinion, there is nothing in the world more important than learning about climate crisis tipping points, and cascading events. If this beautiful earth were a raw egg, would you want to poach it?

Pace of Climate Change Sends Economists Back to Drawing Board – The New York Times

“Economists have been examining the impact of climate change for almost as long as it’s been known to science.

In the 1970s, the Yale economist William Nordhaus began constructing a model meant to gauge the effect of warming on economic growth. The work, first published in 1992, gave rise to a field of scholarship assessing the cost to society of each ton of emitted carbon offset by the benefits of cheap power — and thus how much it was worth paying to avert it.

Dr. Nordhaus became a leading voice for a nationwide carbon tax that would discourage the use of fossil fuels and propel a transition toward more sustainable forms of energy. It remained the preferred choice of economists and business interests for decades. And in 2018, Dr. Nordhaus was honored with the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

But as President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act with its $392 billion in climate-related subsidies, one thing became very clear: The nation’s biggest initiative to address climate change is built on a different foundation from the one Dr. Nordhaus proposed.

Rather than imposing a tax, the legislation offers tax credits, loans and grants — technology-specific carrots that have historically been seen as less efficient than the stick of penalizing carbon emissions more broadly.

The outcome reflects a larger trend in public policy, one that is prompting economists to ponder why the profession was so focused on a solution that ultimately went nowhere in Congress — and how economists could be more useful as the damage from extreme weather mounts.

A central shift in thinking, many say, is that climate change has moved faster than foreseen, and in less predictable ways, raising the urgency of government intervention. In addition, technologies like solar panels and batteries are cheap and abundant enough to enable a fuller shift away from fossil fuels, rather than slightly decreasing their use.

Robert Kopp, a climate scientist at Rutgers University, worked on developing carbon pricing methods at the Department of Energy. He thinks the relentless focus on prices, with little attention paid to direct investments, lasted too long.”

I didn’t like this piece because it was too limited. There are new sustainable economists saying growth no longer works. Here are two of many good comments:

Erik Frederiksen
Asheville, NC3h ago

It is frightening to see how much faster severe climate impacts are occurring at just 1.2°C above preindustrial times. Not many people seem to be aware of how bad things are going to get over the next few decades. We are deep into a planetary emergency and leaders are not responding commensurately.

2 Replies149 Recommended
David Anderson
North Carolina2h ago

The end of Homo sapiens ? ? The Biosphere is defined as the relatively thin layer of the earth’s surface that can support life. It extends down to the deepest layers of soils and ocean trenches and up to the highest levels of the earth’s atmosphere. Change in the Biosphere generally operates on “slow;” that is in multiples of many hundreds or thousands or even millions of years. But change can also operate on “fast.”The Permian Triassic extinction 252 million years ago and the Cretaceous extinction 66 million years ago are two examples of relatively rapid change. The Cretaceous came from a meteorite and resulted in low temperatures. The Permian Triassic came from a Methane (CH4) Hydrate Feedback Loop and resulted in high temperatures. Both were accompanied by Biosphere change so extreme as to extinguish a very large percentage of planetary life. When such change occurs those species that inhabit precisely bounded biological niches are the first to be affected. They die out. Then others follow. We are now in our Modern Age seeing the first signs of Biosphere change due to our industrial civilization adding excessive amounts of (CO2) into the planet’s Biosphere.  As with all other life on the planet, while in the membrane we Homo sapiens are biologically dependent on an evolutionarily constructed and precisely bounded niche.

3 Replies50 Recommended

David Wallace-Wells | It’s Been a ‘Summer of Disasters,’ and It’s Only Half Over – The New York Times

    Opinion Writer

” “We’re naming summer ‘Danger Season’ in the U.S.,” wrote Kristy Dahl, the principal climate scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists, in early June. A couple of days later, at Axios, the climate reporter Andrew Freedman echoed that warning: “America is staring down a summer of disasters.”

The season is now only half over, and the worst months for California fires, which typically provide the most harrowing images of the summer, still lie ahead. But the calendar has already been stuffed with climate disruption, so much so that one disaster often seemed layered over the last, with newspaper front pages almost identical across the Northern Hemisphere. In July, Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans began compiling them on Twitter, running out of steam when he got past 100. Climate segments of newscasts cut quickly from one part of the world to another, telling almost identical stories, day after day.

And yet the mood of those newscasts — in which warming is shown clearly to be blanketing the world, country by country — has mixed horror with a reluctant acceptance. Climate change is here, you think, your mind perhaps drifting past what can be done to limit future warming and toward what can be done to manage living in that future. The disruptions are large already, and arriving as prophesied — indeed, often earlier than predicted. They’ve also been normalized enough that, alongside the shock, they raise practical questions.

The term for this is “adaptation,” and the wallpaper texture of the climate news cycle this summer — with once-horrifying impacts now seeming commonplace — suggests that efforts to acclimate to new realities are following quite quickly on the footsteps of alarm.”

Philip Cafaro
Fort Collins, CO Aug. 3

“Adaptation isn’t a cure all,” even for people. And let’s not forget, it does nothing for the millions of other species we are taking down with us.

1 Reply224 Recommended

Frish commented August 3

Los AngelesAug. 3

I’m an anthropologist and I’ve been studying this for 50 years. We’ve already disrupted the biosphere’s ability to continue supporting human life, we just haven’t seen the full effects yet. Because of the speed with which we’ve included CO2 in the atmosphere many species will not be able to cope with the resulting outcomes. The last mass extinction took 60,000 years to develop. We’ve made our increases in the last 200 years and more so since 1950. Few things can adapt evolutionarily to that dramatic increase and speed of a change. The jet stream is already meandering. when the jet stream goes chaotic there won’t be a planting season hence no agriculture but there won’t be any seasons at all hence millions of species will be going extinct. Children always come with a death sentence but now a newborn faces extinction as a future. The only moral choice is to not have children. Besides that’s the best thing an individual can do to reduce one’s impact on the environment. I continue to be amazed that no media is suggesting that anyone stop having children but there will come a time in the not too distant future when the realization that we have no future will be more commonplace.

10 Replies216 Recommended

Erik Frederiksen commented August 3

Erik Frederiksen
Asheville, NCAug. 3

The carbon cycle for the last 2 million years was doing 180-280ppm atmospheric CO2 over 10,000 years and we’ve done more change than that in 100 years. The last time CO2 went from 180-280ppm global temperature increased by around 4 degrees C and sea level rose 130 meters. (graph of the last 400,000 years of global temperature, CO2 and sea level ) One amplifying feedback alone out of dozens, loss of albedo or heat reflectivity from Arctic summer sea ice melt, over the last several decades has been equivalent to 25 percent of the climate forcing of anthropogenic CO2. And that will continue to increase as that ice disappears by mid century. The Titanic sank because by the time the lookout called the warning the ship had too much momentum to turn. The Earth has a lot more momentum, e.g. we’ve already likely locked in at least 6 meters of sea level rise from the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets and decade to decade warming in the near term is also virtually locked in. That momentum is building and the higher we let global temperatures rise the greater the risk of them going really high as amplifying feedbacks strengthen.

6 Replies145 Recommended

Why Fungi Might Really Be Magic (When It Comes to Climate Change) – The New York Times

 — Toby Kiers took long strides across the spongy forest floor, felt the adrenaline rush in her veins and stopped at the spot she had traveled so far to reach. Into the ground went a hollow metal cylinder. Out came a scoop of soil.

Dr. Kiers stuck her nose into the dirt, inhaled its scent, imagined what secrets it contained to help us live on a hotter planet. “What’s under here?” she asked. “What mysteries are we going to unveil?”

The soil was deposited into a clear plastic bag, then labeled with the coordinates of this exact location on Earth.

Dr. Kiers, 45, an evolutionary biologist based at the Free University of Amsterdam, is on a novel mission. She is probing a vast and poorly understood universe of underground fungi that can be vital, in her view, in the era of climate change.

Some species of fungi can store exceptional levels of carbon underground, keeping it out of the air and preventing it from heating up the Earth’s atmosphere. Others help plants survive brutal droughts or fight off pests. There are those especially good at feeding nutrients to crops, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers.

In short, they are what she called “levers” to address the hazards of a warming climate.”

Opinion | On a Divided Mount Everest, Climate Cooperation Is Being Tested – The New York Times

“. . . Warming in this Third Pole is happening at roughly double the global rate and has been especially pronounced over the past 60 years. This century is becoming the warmest period in these high mountains in 2,000 years, making the region an important ground for research in the effort to avert climate disaster.

This year, a comprehensive climate assessment for the Third Pole warned that two-thirds of the present mass of the glaciers in the region around Everest could disappear by the year 2100. Yet as the assessment noted, there are significant “knowledge gaps” in climatic data coming from the region. This is particularly true in high-altitude environments where the annual snows collect atop the region’s myriad glaciers.”

“. . . .  New discoveries from our undertaking and from others are yielding an astonishing picture of a landscape in flux.

For instance: An ice core extracted at an altitude above 26,000 feet from the South Col, Everest’s highest glacier, showed that the ice at the surface was approximately 2,000 years old, meaning that ice that had accumulated afterward, which might have risen to a height of 180 feet, had vanished. Mountaineers on Everest also appear to have taken a heavy toll. Snow samples revealed the presence of microplastics nearly all the way up the mountain, and snow and water samples from Everest were laden with PFAS, long-lasting chemicals widely used by a range of industries and in consumer products.”

David Wallace-Wells | Climate Change Has Made Deadly Heat Waves Normal – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

It doesn’t take the end of the world to upend the way billions live in it. The punishing weather we are uneasily learning to call “normal” is doing that already.

Late last month, a heat wave swallowed South Asia, bringing temperatures to more than a billion people — one-fifth of the entire human population — 10 degrees warmer than the one imagined in the opening pages of Kim Stanley Robinson’s celebrated climate novel, “The Ministry for the Future,” where a similar event on the subcontinent quickly kills 20 million. It is now weeks later, and the heat wave is still continuing. Real relief probably won’t come before the monsoons in June.

Mercifully, according to the young science of “heat death,” air moisture is as important as temperature for triggering human mortality, and when thermometers hit 115 degrees Fahrenheit in India and 120 in Pakistan in April, the humidity was quite low. But even so, in parts of India, humidity was still high enough that if the day’s peak moisture had coincided with its peak heat, the combination would have produced “wet-bulb temperatures” — which integrate measures of both into a single figure — already at or past the limit for human survivability. Birds fell dead from the sky.

In Pakistan, the heat melted enough of the Shipsher glacier to produce what’s called a “glacial lake outburst flood,” destroying two power stations and the historic Hassanabad Bridge, on the road to China.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
This is an excellent column, thank you David Wallace-Wells. I do not care at all about the need for news organizations of all stripes to push their email newsletters. It smells of marketing intrusion, even if it isn’t. And furthermore, I read this paper for almost half the day, almost every day, so I have no time to study more of it when I go to crash through my emails. I fault the writer, and the paper, for not communicating clearly, if these newsletters, will also be printed in the paper, or always get printed at least in the on-line version of the paper. Who said, the truth is now more important than ever. Is this “newsletter” part of the paper? Or is it an attempt at developing a new revenue stream? Meanwhile, the earth is heating itself to our probable demise. I will remind the NYT of my request last year, that all your news and opinion pieces on climate change and the sixth extinction be removed from your paywall, like you did for Covid, since we are already in a climate crisis, and the public will probably reward you for your excellent work.
David Lindsay Jr

Did Warming Play a Role in Deadly South African Floods? Yes, a Study Says. – The New York Times

“The heavy rains that caused catastrophic flooding in South Africa in mid-April were made twice as likely to occur by climate change, scientists said Friday.

An analysis of the flooding, which killed more than 400 people in Durban and surrounding areas in the eastern part of the country, found that the intense two-day storm that caused it had a 1-in-20 chance of occurring in any given year. If the world had not warmed as a result of human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases, the study found, the chances would have been half that, 1 in 40.

The study, by a loose-knit group of climate scientists, meteorologists and disaster experts called World Weather Attribution, is the latest in a string of analyses showing that the damaging effects of global warming, once considered a future problem, have already arrived. And extreme events like this one are expected to increase as warming continues.

“We need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a new reality where floods and heat waves are more intense and damaging,” one of the study’s authors, Izidine Pinto, a climate scientist at the University of Cape Town, said in a statement issued by World Weather Attribution.

The flooding and related mudslides caused more than $1.5 billion in damage and were “the biggest tragedy that we have ever seen,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the time. Bridges and roads were destroyed and thousands of homes, many of them in makeshift settlements, were swept away or damaged.

The disaster led to sharp criticism of the government for not fulfilling pledges to improve infrastructure to handle heavy downpours and to tackle a longstanding housing crisis.


Shipping containers that were swept up by floodwaters in Durban, a major port on South Africa’s Indian Ocean coast.
Credit…EPA, via Shutterstock

World Weather Attribution conducts its analyses within days or weeks of an event, while it is still fresh in the public’s mind. This one looked at the two-day storm that hit eastern South Africa beginning on April 11 and produced rainfall totals of nearly 14 inches in some areas, half or more of the area’s annual total. The work has yet to be peer-reviewed or published, but it uses methods that have been reviewed previously.

This includes using observational data and two sets of computer simulations, one that models the world as it is, about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) warmer than it was before widespread emissions began in the late 19th century, and a hypothetical world in which global warming never happened.

The finding that the likelihood of such an extreme rain event has increased with global warming is consistent with many other studies of individual events and broader trends. A major reason for the increase is that as the atmosphere warms, it can hold more moisture.”

Everything You Thought You Knew, and Why You’re Wrong (says Vaclac Smil) – The New York Times


The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We’re Going

By Vaclav Smil

“The title’s pleonastic fourth word is the giveaway. It announces the tone of Vaclav Smil’s 49th book: vinegary scorn for the irresponsible declarations of self-proclaimed experts, particularly those guilty of innumeracy, ahistoricism and other forms of wishful thinking that Vaclav Smil would never, ever fall for. You’ve heard a lot of prognostications about the state of the world. They’re bunk. Here, at last, is how the world really works.

Smil, who has taught at the University of Manitoba for half a century, rests his expertise on the strength of a polymathic pedigree nearly unmatched in North American academic life. Unlike Noam Chomsky — whose own breadth of expertise Smil ridicules in passing — Smil does not suffer polemics. Nor is he a forecaster, as he stresses repeatedly (with mounting exasperation). If anything he is an anti-forecaster, contemptuous of any prediction made about complex systems. Smil is a compiler of data, an indefatigable quantifier (to the 10th decimal), a summarizer, a pragmatist and a utilitarian. Or, as he puts it, “I am a scientist trying to explain how the world really works.”

“. . . . To do so, however, one must sort and prioritize — one must filter the world’s information through subjective criteria. Even utilitarianism lies in the eye of the beholder. Should policies designed to favor the greatest number of people, for instance, account for people not yet born? If so, how many generations of them? When it comes to such questions, critical as they are to climate policy, mathematical calculations yield inexorably to ethical ones.

In short order Smil summarizes the history of global energy, food, material production and trade. (Smil has dedicated books to each subject.) Salient details emerge. Canada, blessed with greater forest acreage than any affluent nation, saves money by importing toothpicks from China. No country possesses sufficient rare earth metals to support its economy. The world throws out a third of its food. Human beings today enjoy, on average, the annual benefit of 34 gigajoules of energy. Expressed in units of human labor, that is “as if 60 adults would be working nonstop, day and night,” for each person. Residents of affluent countries have it better: An American family of four has more hired help than the Sun King at Versailles.

During these expositional chapters, a bell keeps ringing, and its din soon drowns out the litanies of diesel fuel per kilogram units and ratios of edible mass to mass of embedded energy. It brings the grim announcement that every fundamental aspect of modern civilization rests overwhelmingly on fossil fuel combustion. Take our food system. Readers of Michael Pollan or Amanda Little understand that it’s morally indefensible to purchase Chilean blueberries or, God forbid, New Zealand lamb. But even a humble loaf of sourdough requires the equivalent of about 5.5 tablespoons of diesel fuel, and a supermarket tomato, which Smil describes as no more than “an appealingly shaped container of water” (apologies to Marcella Hazan), is the product of about six tablespoons of diesel. “How many vegans enjoying the salad,” he writes, “are aware of its substantial fossil fuel pedigree?”

This Eminent Scientist Says Climate Activists Need to Get Real

“There are these billions of people who want to burn more fossil fuel,” says Vaclav Smil. “There is very little you can do about that.”

It is best to eat local, but we do not have enough arable land to support our population, even in our vast continent, at least not without the application of obscene quantities of natural-gas-derived fertilizer. One must further account for the more than three billion people in the developing world who will need to double or triple their food production to approach a dignified standard of living. Then add the additional two billion who will soon join us. “For the foreseeable future,” writes Smil, “we cannot feed the world without relying on fossil fuels.” He performs similar calculations for the world’s production of energy, cement, ammonia, steel and plastic, always reaching the same result: “A mass-scale, rapid retreat from the current state is impossible.” “

David Lindsay: There is much here to admire, but one must handle with fire mits. Here is the best so far, of many excellent comments:

Brian D
Maryland May 11

I haven’t read the book, but from the review this sounds like just another manifestation of the doomer ethos “Nothing is worth doing because nothing can save us.” Smil says that food requires energy and refuses to believe that energy can be obtained from renewables, or that ammonia can be made from anything but natural gas. This sort of blindness is the same as that which led Malthus to predict mass starvation, he failed to foresee changes in farming practice including the advent of artificial fertilizer. The solution to problems like decarbonizing food or transportation may be multipartite, difficult, expensive, and require systematic change, but that is not a reason to throw up our hands, it is a reason to start sooner and work harder. I read a lot of climate books and talk to climate activists and no one is on either of the extremes Smil so despises, he is defeating strawmen. Everyone involved on any but the most superficial level understands that large painful changes will have to be undergone if we are to avoid even more catastrophic results, but the idea that nothing can be done is and has always been the biggest force pushing us towards what could well be a civilization ending chain reaction. How does the world REALLY work? It works by people deciding to make changes and uniting to do the hard work. Anything else is simply abandoning our grandchildren.

3 Replies73 Recommended
Here is what I have to add to the comment above:
David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
Thank you Nathaniel Rich for this fascinating report. I greatly admire Vaclav Smil for his tough talk and numbers driven analysis. I wonder why he doesn’t join hawks like my partner and me, in saying clearly, the people of the world need to reduce their numbers, since their pollution is killing the planet. Humans are going to have to radically change their behavior, as in, reduce their consumption levels, to reduce green house gas emissions. I agree with one commentor, that Smil appears to have given up. If this is true, it would explain why he sounds almost like a shill for the oil and gas companies,
David blogs at

This Eminent Scientist Vaclav Smil Says Climate Activists Need to Get Real – The New York Times

“The “really” in the title of Vaclav Smil’s newest book, “How the World Really Works: The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We’re Going,” is doing some heavy lifting. Implicit in the renowned energy scientist’s usage is the idea that most of us are uninformed or just plain wrong about the fundamentals of the global economy. He aims to correct that — to recenter materials rather than electronic flows of data as the bedrock of modern life — largely through examining what he calls the four pillars of modern civilization: cement, steel, plastics and ammonia. (The production and use of all four currently requires burning huge amounts of fossil carbon.) Which brings us back to that “really.” In the context of Smil’s book, which will be published May 10, the word is also a rebuke to those calling for rapid decarbonization in order to combat global warming. “I am not talking about what could be done,” says Smil, who is 78 and who counts Bill Gates among his many devotees. “I’m looking at the world as it is.” ”

David Lindsay: A sobering and depressing converstation about the climate crisis. We are really in trouble, and not doing very much about it.  Just a smattering of suggested solution, like a stipend on small efficient cars, and a tax on SUV’s. But, there was one comment that stood out, for clarity, and direction.


Interesting article, but an international comparison shows that the US can cut its emission to *half* without significantly impacting its standard of living.

Country,  CO2 emissions per  annual capita in tons,    Carbon Tax

US 16.06  No (as in No Carbon Tax

United Kingdom 5.48 Yes  (as Yes, they have a carbon tax)

France 4.97 Yes

Spain 5.41 Yes

Sweden 4.26 Yes

Americans emit four times as much green house gases per person than Sweden. But the Swedes live just as well as Americans, and by some measures such as cost of education, social safety nets etc better And a chief reason for it, is that Sweden has the highest carbon tax in the world. And yet, there is NO carbon tax in the Biden plan. Nor does the word appear in the interview. To an economist, this is strange Biden’s plan is to reduce US emissions by 2030 to half of what they were in 2005 (19.59); that would 9.795 tons per capita in 2030 TWICE what Swedes emit now. Clearly, that is can be done – if US voters agree. It is the attitude of US voters that is the obstacle. And the solution is an education campaign on the scale of that essentially eliminated cigarette smoking in the US Start there

228 Recommended