Tipping point vs. tipping point: hunters, greens, and big burps

TerraPass still subscribes to Mad MagazineIt appears the dialectic over global warming increasingly is boiling down to a battle of the tipping points. On the one hand we have the argument that awareness of the issue will soon reach a critical mass that pushes us past the current political stalemate. On the other hand, we have handwringing over a coming environmental catastrophe from which there will be no return.

In an interesting example of the former, the Washington Monthly reports on the “The Emerging Environmental Majority,” a conjectured alliance between greens and hunters that could form the basis for a renewed popular environmental movement.

In its highly partisan take, the article provides an interesting social history of environmentalism in the United States, and argues that the current political rift between self-identified environmentalists and the hunting community is a historical anomaly overdue for a mending. Obligatory tipping point reference:

Sportsmen are gathering data on shifting habitat and changing stream flows. “I think we’ve reached a tipping point in public awareness,” says Steven Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute, adding, “Sportsmen want a seat at the table.” In a poll of hunters and anglers commissioned last year by the National Wildlife Federation, 75 percent agreed with the statement “the U.S. should reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide that contribute to global warming and threaten fish and wildlife habitat.”

In the opposite corner, we have Times columnist (and 2006 Pulitzer Prize winner) Nicholas Kristof putting forth a new Day After Tomorrow scenario involving giant methane bubbles rising from the ocean’s floor. (If you want to keep yourself up at night, read RealClimate’s detailed discussion of the “disaster-movie potential of the methane hydrates.”) Kristof concedes the difficulty of accurately predicting the future of climate change, and then sums up:

For all the uncertainty, there is an important point here: The history of climate shows that it does not evolve slowly and gracefully, it lurches. There are tipping points, and if we trigger certain chain reactions, then our leaders cannot claim a mulligan. They could set back our planet for, say, 10 million years.

So there you have it, folks. You know which tipping point to root for. And remember to tell your neighbors.

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adam

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  1. Electric Lady - April 19, 2006

    It seems that we have roughly ten years to acommplish reaching a demonstrable turning point in our dash to destruction by ignorance, arrogance, and lethal environmental disruption. Three of those years may be considered wasted, as the current administration’s contribution to the global warming dialog is to muzzle what scientists it can and to deny or distort others’ reports. So we have, in reality FIVE good years of opportunity to reduce, control, and eliminate the suicidal behavior of man sufficiently to be able to measure the start of a u-turn away from anihillation.

    I am loath to surrender those three years to the Bush administration.

  2. jo - April 19, 2006

    Our emotional age has not kept up with the full-blast, build-it-at-any-cost intellectual part of the brain. Even though we’ve been stomping around this planet like three-year-olds on a rampage I know there are enough of us with the booties to make that giant leap to a mature mankind.

  3. Joe G. - April 20, 2006

    I don’t agree with the reasoning or effectiveness of recruiting the public and policy makers into the environmental “camp”. This will never happen and the assumed tipping point will therefore never be reached. Honestly, what politician can win an election as the “green” candidate (outside of a select few geographical areas)?
    One of the major weaknesses of the environmental doctrine is its’ continual isolation. Instead, we should be trying to integrate environmental awareness and proper decision making into the general fabric of everday life and politics.
    I would rather see enviornmental issues accepted as a necessary discipline, much like economics and education. Once there is a general acceptance that the global society is not idependent of the environment but rather an integral piece, then we can debate what type of policies will best manage our resources.

  4. Adam - April 20, 2006

    Joe G., I think you and the author of the article are in violent agreement. The “Environmental Majority” article argues that the greatest environmental gains have come at periods of history in which so-called environmental problems overlapped with broader societal concerns. So both of you seem to be saying similar things: “green” politicians might have a hard time getting anywhere, but politicians who talk about threats to hunting, wildlife, and agriculture brought on by global warming could see greater traction. We’ll see if the thesis bears out.

  5. storm petrol - April 22, 2006

    There is a sequence of possible tipping points that are occuring simultaneously. The methane hydrates are a truly huge one. Once the ocean temperature reaches the point where they begin to effervesce, the rising columns of methane bubbles will begin to stir the warmer surface waters down into the colder depths where the hydrates reside. This will accelerate the release of the methane in the hydrates. The more of the methane released from this reservoir, the greater the concentation of methane in the atmosphere and the greater the increase in the greenhouse effect and the greater the increase in ambient temp. This yields a further increase in the ocean temp and further acceleration of the release of hydrates….

    This is a recipe for a bona fide disaster.

    Another very significant tipping point hinges on the thawing of the permafrost in the regions around the north pole. Canada, Alaska, Russia, etc. have billions of tons of carbon sequestered in permafrost. This is in the form of plant material that has been frozen for thousands of years. If you are following what is happening in the arctic, you know that it is warming more rapidly than any other part of the globe. Arctic ice is rapidly dissappearing. Perhaps even more importantly, the permafrost is thawing. Enough so that buildings constructed on it are now requiring refrigeration systems in the soil around the foundations to keep the ground frozen and and therby preserve their structural integrity.

    This is symptomatic of the very large problem of thawing permafrost, which seems to gaurantee the release of a very significant amount of carbon as this material begins to decay.

    If we do not achieve the tipping point for the hydrates on our own, thawing the permafrost seems to virtually gaurantee it.

    And then there is the possibility of unanticipated volcanic activity…

    It would be prudent to control the emissions that we can control!

    storm petrol

  6. kent j - April 9, 2007

    Set the planet back 10 million years?
    This implies the planet is alive with some sort of genetic code and it is improving? That makes no sense whatsoever.
    Lets fight for global freedom, the end of tyranny and the dismantling of groups like the UN.
    The answer is NOT in more government.