Events this week make me wonder if we have reached a tipping point in climate change. The trouble with tipping points is that you can only see them with any certainty well after the fact – which is something that has allowed certain high-profile climate scientists to get away with uttering the ‘tipping point’ cry for several years now.
Earth, they reason, is slow to react. Positive feedbacks set in motion only gradual effects. By the time we wake up to the danger it will already be too late – in fact, they say, it is.
The term “tipping point” commonly refers to a critical threshold at which a tiny perturbation can qualitatively alter the state or development of a system. (Lenton et al. 2008)
Year on year measurements reveal the change. Subtle, imperceptible changes at first, then a hiatus perhaps, then an unstoppable gradual momentum builds. This week there was major slippage - in the mainstream media.
First in the US there was the article in the WSJ No Need to Panic About Global Warming (27th January). Then the Mail on Sunday published Forget global warming – it’s Cycle 25 we need to worry about (and if NASA scientists are right the Thames will be freezing over again). The evidence of the tipping point I’m talking about is not that these were published at all (although would we have seen them a few years ago – I mean really, would we?), but readers’ reactions to them.
The WSJ article (currently) has 8,981 likes on Facebook; 2,003 tweets on Twitter; 53 shares on LinkedIn; 330 +1 on Google. On top of that are 2544 comments and the debate is still active. The early comments (first few hundred) had a predominance of ‘thumbs up’ recommendations for skeptical comments. As we’re now on page 59 of the comments and there’s no easy way back to the beginning I’m relying on memory. The few diehard debaters that remain seem to include avid recommenders of both the skeptical and warmer persuasions; the average reader has moved on.
The Mail’s article has 15,521 likes on Facebook; 1,874 tweets on Twitter; 181 +1 on Google and 702 comments. The comment system here allows both ‘thumbs up’ and ‘thumbs down’ voting, and viewing of the comments by ranking. The best rated comments with 500+ (and up to 1702) positive recommendations are scathing of AGW and green taxes, while the worst rated with (200-769) negative recommendations are all from true believers.
Isn’t social media wonderful? The internet has become the demoscrasphere.
The change has been noticeable gradually over the last couple of years, but time’s up for global warming. The public is fed up hearing about it and is waking up to the reality of cooling and costs.
Even in politics it is happening too. Christopher Booker’s very perceptive article on Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress recorded the audience’s reaction to the contents (bold mine):
...when he hailed the way his country’s energy future has been transformed by the miracle of shale gas, met with a storm of applause. Not only would this give the US energy security for decades, creating 600,000 jobs, but it could now go all out to exploit its gas and oil reserves (more applause). Yet this was the man who in 2008 couldn’t stop talking about the threat of global warming, and was elected on a pledge to make the US only the second country in the world, after Britain, to commit to cutting its CO2 emissions from fossil fuels by 80 per cent within 40 years. [... ]
Even more telling than his audience’s response to this, however, was what happened when Obama referred briefly to the need to develop “clean energy on enough public land to power three million homes”. But no mention now of vast numbers of wind turbines – those props beside which he constantly chose to be filmed back in 2008. No harking back to his boast that “renewable energy” would create “four million jobs”. And even to this sole fleeting reminder of what, four years ago, was his flagship policy the response of Congress was a deafening silence.
While we have, in Booker’s words “political America’s wholesale retreat from the great fantasy of global warming”, Britain sails on, not so much ‘regardless’ as having other kinds of icebergs on the horizon. As the Telegraph’s brilliant cartoons explain (links only due to copyright): Too much snow in Davos where the European leaders are going downhill rapidly and the eventual get-out clause because carbon capture and storage is soooooo expensive.