What will tip?

Tipping points

One of the more stunning visuals from Carbon Brief, backed by fine research, covers what might be future tipping points. Any individual will come to their own conclusions but my state of knowledge at present suggests that of the nine postulated tipping points, I’ve more or less come to terms with four of them: permafrost loss (I’ve seen the photos), Greenland ice sheet disintegration (read Jon Gertner’s book!), West Antarctic ice sheet disintegration, and coral reef die-off (I’ve heard Charlie Veron). Five of them – the Amazon rainforest dieback, the boreal forest shift, the Atlantic MOC breakdown, and possible shifts in West African monsoons and Indian monsoons – remain a mystery to me. I’d better hunker down and find out.

The divine grace of a Wayne Suffield photograph

Brolga by Wayne Suffield

Amongst bird photographers in the state of Victoria, Australia, Ararat-based Wayne Suffield shines out. So many enthusiasts with cameras or smartphones take bird shots these days! Amongst them is a category at the apex, folks who end up commissioned by National Geographic and making a decent living out of their craft. I don’t know if Wayne earns money from his devotion to photography but amongst the community of birders in a very large and active Facebook group, Victorian Birders, his creative works are of luminous quality. If you’re after beauty in nature, check out his photographs, including joining Victorian Birders.

Amongst Wayne’s regular “subjects” are some Brolgas in his local area. I have an impression, probably incorrect, that it’s the same returning pair (as usual, I have more research to do). I’d written a few times to Wayne about my fascination with the fifteen Crane species, our own Brolga being a logical investigative target, and a number of months back I asked him if I could pay closer attention to any of his photographs, including featuring one in this fledgling blog. Wayne graciously granted me permission to take on board one of his photographs and what you see featured today (I haven’t resized his photograph at all but have added my own background to image size requirements) is one stunning work of art.

This glorious image has been at hand for a long time but only today, buried in my cafe amidst redrafting work, did I step aside to examine it with full attention. What did I find? Wayne has caught a mighty Brolga striding effortlessly, huge wings fanned up, every white-grey feather seemingly visible, into flight mode. That outstretched neck, the sinuous horizontal line between tail and fearsome bill, its red neck brace, the ancient eye … it takes my breath away. Thank you so much, Wayne.

Credit: Wayne Suffield. On the runway at Warrayatkin Swamp. July 30, 2019. At Greenhill Lake Reserve Camping Area. Find Wayne on various sites, the easiest method perhaps being to search for @wayne.suffield on Facebook.

Mann sanity on RCP8.5 & what’s needed

Michael Mann analysis

I took a rather shallow look at the heavily nuanced “what about RCP8.5” debate a couple of days ago, based on a Chris Mooney article. Not until I read a wonderfully coherent analysis from Michael Mann on his website did it become clear why I felt dissatisfied. Attacks on RCP8.5 aren’t just attacks on a particular scenario. They open a window for politicking, for cavilling from the required urgency.

As Mann puts it, this latest kinda-optimistic burst “doesn’t account for non-linearities and, most importantly of all, doesn’t include so-called ‘carbon cycle feedbacks’, that is to say, the feedback mechanism by which global warming can actually release more CO2 (or e.g. methane), adding further to the warming. Indeed, this deficiency applies to all studies that are based on specifying CO2 concentrations rather than emissions, and it applies to the current commentary by Hausfather & Peters.”

Putting it more bluntly:

There is some good news here. The numbers show that escalating efforts around the world to decarbonize our economy are starting to pay dividends. We’re starting to bend that emissions curve downward. But we need to reduce emissions by a factor of two over the next decade and bring them down to zero in a matter of a few decades if we are to avert catastrophic climate change impacts. We have to get off fossil fuels far more quickly than we’re on track to do under current policies. This latest commentary doesn’t change that at all.

Anthropocene amplification


Chris Mooney of the Washington Post is one of our wisest journalists. A terrific tweet thread yesterday contrasts recent news and opinions from opposite ends of the pessimism spectrum. On the one hand, one of the most worrying scenarios in the recent IPCC work, known as RCP8.5, might be too pessimistic. The endless stream of ideological and scientific positioning around RCP8.5 can be boring but it’s also important, so this debate makes for fascinating purview. Against what might be labelled “good news” (it isn’t really, just one scenario that needs tweaking for future projections), scientists have dug over half a kilometer through one of Antarctica’s biggest glaciers and found that the glacier might be melting from underneath.

Quite how the ice up north and south responds to Earth’s increasing temperatures is of crucial importance to predicting the future. We know how worrying the concept of amplification is. For example, we can see that a degree of warming has burnt huge swathes of Australia to the ground, releasing even more carbon, amplifying the temperature hikes even more. If ice melting (be it on sea or on glaciers or on rock) amplifies warming or further melting, we could be in trouble.

In other words, as Mooney points out: “So in sum: The plausibility of RCP8.5 as an energy scenario for this century has been seriously challenged. But the potential severity of climate change really has not.”