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Tipping into absurdity

01 Nov 2023 | News Roundup

Among the metaphors that obstruct thought rather than facilitate it is the notion of multiple tipping points. For any given thing, or system, there can logically only be one; before it you don’t tip, after it you do. But in the wacky world of climate they’re everywhere and nowhere at the same time. You see “Humanity is moving dangerously close to irreversible tipping points that would drastically damage our ability to cope with disasters, UN researchers have warned.” Does the UN go on to warn of planetary destruction and runaway catastrophe? Er, not this time, instead it mentions “the withdrawal of home insurance from flood-hit areas and the drying up of the groundwater that is vital for ensuring food supplies.” So everything’s a tipping point now, and a tipping point is something that up to five minutes ago we called a potential problem, and even if it happens nothing has actually tipped over. Everything and nothing.

And what kind of irreversible tipping point is it if, as a Guardian story also insists, “A new report from the UN University (UNU) in Germany has set out a series of risk tipping points that are approaching, but said having foresight of these meant that it remained possible to take action to prevent them.” So one more last chance again too, and more verbal confusion, this time over what this famous “last” means.

Our favourite entry in the “tipping point” contest is “America mysteriously hit a deadly tipping point – and no one knows why”. Or that, we dare say. Apparently:

“Sometime in the past year, this tiny planet we live on in an obscure corner of our Milky Way galaxy went through some sort of tipping point, a ‘state change’ of sorts, and now things are different from how they’ve been at any other time in the 300,000 year history of the human race.”

Oh really? Yup. Unfortunately “Nobody knows for sure what that change or tipping point is.”

Bummer. Evidently it could be “variations in dust concentrations in the Northern Hemisphere’s atmosphere… the January, 2022 eruption of the volcano at Hunga Tonga–Hunga Ha’apai… a change in worldwide regulations mandating ships at sea burn cleaner diesel fuel” or even El Niño. But whatever it is, it’s big and it’s bad:

“scientists – typically not prone to hyperbole – publishing in the peer-reviewed journal BioScience about this anomaly open their article with: ‘Life on planet Earth is under siege. We are now in an uncharted territory.’”

Peer-reviewed you say? Well, that’s reassuring; we were tempted to dismiss it as alarmist hyperbole. Moreover the piece doesn’t even mention the headlined United States once, except to say “if everybody in America were to simply adopt ‘Meatless Mondays,’ it would save the nation 70 million gallons of gas every year”. But it raves on about oil industry profits, social justice, coral reefs bleaching and dying, carbon taxes, “climate extremes that are wiping out crops” and on and on including public transit. And we know exactly nothing and everything:

“While nobody is exactly sure why we’ve hit this year of sudden anomalies, scientists are certain it’s a blinking red neon warning that we must change our course or suffer an unimaginable catastrophe.”

So we didn’t hit a tipping point yet? After all that? Or know what it might have been if we had? What a rip-off.

At least the Guardian attempts to define tipping points. But they get it hopelessly wrong: “Tipping points are triggered by small increases in their driving force but rapidly lead to large impacts.” Um no. Tipping points are where the line of force gets outside the object and it falls over.

Also, if you’re wondering where climate got to in that banquet of doom, well, it’s taken for granted. “The climate tipping points are large-scale changes driven by human-caused global heating, while the risk tipping points are more directly connected to people’s lives via complex social and ecological systems.” And the point isn’t to undertake a sober analysis that separates them out and weighs the dangers of each and the costs of tackling it. It’s to run in circles screaming and virtue-signaling.

As in “Real transformative change involves everyone”. So if just one person sits it out it can’t work? Um no. That would be expecting words to have meanings again.

Still, in case you just can’t get enough tipping apocalypse, another version of this item says:

“Water scarcity and species extinction can lead to irreversible and life-threatening impacts if humanity does not change course, according to a new report by the United Nations University in Bonn published on Wednesday. ‘As we indiscriminately extract our water resources, damage nature and biodiversity, and pollute both Earth and space, we are moving dangerously close to the brink of multiple risk tipping points that could destroy the very systems that our life depends on,’ lead author Zita Sebesvari told DPA.”

Of course by now we’ve gone over so many tipping points the falling sensation is gone. Was never there, actually. Except the sensation of ennui at a metaphor that makes no sense because a cliff with multiple “tipping points” is a gentle incline.

3 comments on “Tipping into absurdity”

  1. Meanwhile,in the last week,China,India,et al most likely built at least one coal plant somewhere.The number one and number three Carbon emitters.But real transformative change involves everyone?Yeah,ok!

  2. I just love the 'water scarcity' and 'indiscriminately extract our water resouces' hoopla. Roughly 3/4 of the earth is covered with water, and that doesn't include ice. The planet is a closed ecosystem, same amount of water that the dinosaurs had. If 200+ Million years of the largest land animals ever didn't use all the water, I can't imagine that humans can.

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