Rapid climate change as a “game changing” event

Climate scientist Laurence C. Smith discusses rapid climate change as a “game changing” event.

Despite recent media appropriation of the term “game changing”, there is still great relevance to the idea that single, surprising events can change the way everything is done, almost overnight. Taleb calls such events “black swans”.

In a recent discussion about ideas that would change everything (found over at the World Question Center on Edge.org), climate scientist Laurence Smith discusses how climate systems are complex, non-linear systems that can produce surprising, radical changes in behaviour. He argues that such changes are “sleeping giants” that we are just beginning to understand. Referring to melting ice sheets in Greenland as one of seven possible game-changing events, he writes, “if these giants awaken our best current guess is 80 to 200 centimeters of sea level rise. That’s a lot of water. Most of Miami would either be surrounded by dikes or underwater.”

The full discussion, along with several other very interesting possibilities for other “game changing events”, can be found here.

We used to think climate worked like a dial — slow to heat up and slow to cool down — but we’ve since learned it can also act like a switch. Twenty years ago anyone who hypothesized an abrupt, show-stopping event — a centuries-long plunge in air temperature, say, or the sudden die-off of forests — would have been laughed off. But today, an immense body of empirical and theoretical research tells us that sudden awakenings are dismayingly common in climate behavior.

ice caps

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