Anders Levermann argues that developed countries seriously underestimate their vulnerability to Climate Destabilization. Like other sciences, climate science started out ignoring chaos-related problems because they are inherently unsolvable. So our predictive models don't include super typhoons, sudden floods or local droughts. Yet such events can bring down the highly interconnected global supply chains upon which the developed world depends. Hence, the industrial civilization spewing greenhouse gases will collapse long before the planet reaches 10°C, which business as usual would produce without the effects of wild weather.
When climate scientists started to investigate the impacts of climate change, they did what scientists have always done: we sought the hardest problems that we considered solvable and went for them. In the case of climate change this led us to investigate gradual changes in large scale climate variables such as globally averaged precipitation or the monthly mean temperature of a continent.
But weather extremes are much harder to predict and so we did not. Such an approach is actually very common in science. In physics for example, people invented the theory of relativity and quantum physics than solving the turbulence problem which affects our every-day life whenever we drive a car or ride a bike. The world of the atoms and that of the remote universe posed solvable problems compared to the small-scale chaos that develops behind every car and every airplane.
Climate change, however, does not allow for that kind of scientific luxury – focusing on outer space instead of local weather.
Unmitigated climate change will hit global infrastructure hard and test the limits of our way of life.
On Thursday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change officially released its latest assessment of the scientific basis o...,... About 20 climate models from around the world were used to look beyond the year 2100. They show that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise as they have done in the past, the Earth will warm by more than 10C and it won't stop there.
... a warming of our planet by 10C, as predicted by some models, is not going to happen – simply because the underlying assumption of these projections is that there will be an industry around that can produce further emissions of that magnitude. But climate change will interfere with our fragile economic supply chains through unanticipated weather extremes.
Such individual events might remain just as unpredictable in the future as they have been in the past, and they will continue to impact the global flow of goods, energy and information which connects economies across the planet and makes it one world.
The temperature difference between the last ice age and our current warm period, which carried humankind into civilization over the past 10,000 years, is less than 5C. This is about the amount of warming that we will have caused by the end of the century if we continue as we have done in the past. Only we are doing it about one hundred times faster than nature did while trying to keep a highly efficient global economic network running.
The 2011 floods in Thailand surprised insurance companies around the world, because they disrupted Japanese production of hard drives and other computer essentials and led to shortages in Europe and the US.
Societies do not need to be brought to the verge of starvation to slide into crisis.
It is the unanticipated impacts on fragile infrastructures and supply networks that constitute the largest threat of global warming. While climate change is often considered to be a problem for the global poor and for fragile ecosystems, the impact of extreme events on the global economic network will test the stability of America as much as that of Europe. [emphasis mine]