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The notion of "tipping point" keeps coming up in many areas.  One of the most frequent is in relation to climate change and global warming.  The idea is one which I have been involved with my entire scientific career.  I did my postdoctoral work under the mentorship of the late Aharon Katzir-Katchalsky at the Weizmann Institute in Israel from 1963 to 1965.  The big new thing was linear non-equilibrium thermodynamics being applied to the modeling of transport of materials through biological membranes.  It took a little while for those of us who got in on the ground floor with these new ideas to realize that the real world is anything but linear.

So often in science, especially theoretical science, the breakthroughs follow from breakthroughs in mathematics and it was such a set of breakthroughs that got us into closer touch with the real, non-linear world.  The Tipping point idea arises from these breakthroughs and has many applications:

Tipping point (climatology), in which the system is the global climate
Tipping point (physics), in which the system is the position of a physical object
Tipping point (sociology), is the event of a previously rare phenomenon becoming rapidly and dramatically more common
Planetary boundaries, in which living within the boundaries' stable state retains planetary habitability on Earth
In catastrophe theory, the value of the parameter in which the set of equilibria abruptly change
Angle of repose, the maximum angle of a stable slope of granular materials
In economics, the point at which a dominant technology or player defines the standard for an industry-resulting in "winner-take-all" economies of scale and scope
 This short list is interesting because it illustrates the role of non-linear thinking in our current models for change.  I am a systems scientist and I like to look at how the list of areas interact as one big system.  This gets very exciting.  Read on below and see what I mean.

Early on, people like Rene Thom and Christopher Zeeman explored the phenomenon of bifurcations in the way systems behave.

Bifurcation theory is the mathematical study of changes in the qualitative or topological structure of a given family, such as the integral curves of a family of vector fields, and the solutions of a family of differential equations. Most commonly applied to the mathematical study of dynamical systems, a bifurcation occurs when a small smooth change made to the parameter values (the bifurcation parameters) of a system causes a sudden 'qualitative' or topological change in its behaviour.Bifurcations occur in both continuous systems (described by ODEs, DDEs or PDEs), and discrete systems (described by maps). The name "bifurcation" was first introduced by Henri Poincaré in 1885 in the first paper in mathematics showing such a behavior. Henri Poincaré also later named various types of stationary points and classified them.
 The description above is a glimpse of the world they, among many others, opened up.

The name of the area of research they explored is Catastrophe theory.  

In mathematics, catastrophe theory is a branch of bifurcation theory in the study of dynamical systems; it is also a particular special case of more general singularity theory in geometry.

Bifurcation theory studies and classifies phenomena characterized by sudden shifts in behavior arising from small changes in circumstances, analysing how the qualitative nature of equation solutions depends on the parameters that appear in the equation. This may lead to sudden and dramatic changes, for example the unpredictable timing and magnitude of a landslide.

Catastrophe theory, which originated with the work of the French mathematician René Thom in the 1960s, and became very popular due to the efforts of Christopher Zeeman in the 1970s, considers the special case where the long-run stable equilibrium can be identified with the minimum of a smooth, well-defined potential function (Lyapunov function).

Small changes in certain parameters of a nonlinear system can cause equilibria to appear or disappear, or to change from attracting to repelling and vice versa, leading to large and sudden changes of the behaviour of the system. However, examined in a larger parameter space, catastrophe theory reveals that such bifurcation points tend to occur as part of well-defined qualitative geometrical structures.

 Complicated as this may all appear, it has some rather simple ways of being visualized.

The idea is that a system's evolution in time can be represented as occuring as a path on a surface.  In other words a line on a sheet of paper if you like.  A linear system has its trajectory drawn on a flat sheet.  When the system is nonlinear the sheet of paper is actually bent and can assume some interesting shapes.  If the paper is bent enough the line depicting the system's trajectory can curl under the original surface and when this happens it "falls off" and a jump occurs.

Such models have many realizations and books are out there about them.  I want to fast forward a bit because there is a reason to be skeptical about these models because they are really too simple.  What they do not deal with in any convenient manner is the links and interactions between the various aspects of the system. The change in one part of the system can change the defining equations for other parts and vice versa.

Look back at the list above.  It includes climate, physical events, sociology, economics, and is only a part of what our world system is.  Certainly the political systems we are so vitally interested in here are wrapped up in it all in very complex ways.Here is what I am driving at:  we are now facing a variety of instabilities all at once. Again a partial list:
Climate, ocean acdity, warming, pollution, etc
bees and birds, insecticides
agricultural crises
water, polution and drought
economic turmoil
communications, internet, technology
many, many more

No one of these can be studied adequately isolated from the others yet we try so desperately to do so.  

Just in climate science alone we keep seeing new things as change progresses that potentially change everything.  

Maybe we humans are an "intelligent" species.  Yet we are also arrogant if we believe the progress I have briefly described here is enough to adequately deal with what is coming and seems to be coming faster and faster.  Is there an answer?  My only answer is to become as flexible as possible and maybe some adaptation will be possible.

7:29 PM PT: Thank you or adding this to the rec list.  I hope it gets us thinking.

Originally posted to don mikulecky on Fri Jul 25, 2014 at 04:24 PM PDT.

Also republished by Systems Thinking and SciTech.


change is coming

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Comment Preferences

  •  Change isn't coming. It's already here ... (15+ / 0-)

    and it seems to me accelerating. People like to talk about the 'new normal', but I think the bad news is that there is no new normal nor will there be during our lifetime.

    "The smartest man in the room is not always right." -Richard Holbrooke

    by Demi Moaned on Fri Jul 25, 2014 at 04:56:44 PM PDT

  •  it's the urge to fix (7+ / 0-)

    and the arrogance to believe in our unstoppable ability to fix, that is a big obstacle to embracing the kind of thinking you're talking about.
    When we go about a repair, we take apart the broken thing, and reassemble with a new part. We still can't grok (we Westerners, anyway) that this is not how the world works in any macro system.

    Interesting topic. One to revisit when it's not beer #2 and a tennis match on tv ;)

    Last full month in which the average daily temperature did not exceed twentieth-century norms: 2/1985 - Harper's Index, 2/2013

    by kamarvt on Fri Jul 25, 2014 at 05:35:30 PM PDT

  •  examples of complex problems from common dreams (16+ / 0-)

    here are a few up right now

    Study: 'Shocking' Water Loss in Western U.S.

    and aquifers can take hundreds of years to refill

    Gen. Dempsey: We're Pulling Out Our Cold War Military Plans over Ukraine

    oh, the war on terror was a prelude to new cold war?

    can't predict how wars turn out. Look at WWI 100 years ago

    Third Intifada: 'Of Course It Has Begun'

    Israel continues genocide and the world watches

    Resolution Against New Iraq War Passes House in Landslide
    guess don't have a few more trillion dollars to waste - we did do well on the first try and now the whole region is unstable

    As Gap Between Rich and Poor Widens, Global Safety Net in Danger

    well - to work this problem, also have to work militarism, environment, economics and governance (look how Germany went nuts under Hitler - no guarantee that we can keep the charade of democracy going

    this is just a start of the system dynamics problems

    they are mathematically some of the most intractable problems around

    one should not just wander into them

    but humanity is

    and the oligarchy puts more money in the bank

    •  I studied some of this material (8+ / 0-)

      too hard for me

      did if from perspective of math and physics

      really liked it, but it was too hard for me to get any insights and to work problems

      read several books

      had to do something else for the Ph. D.

      but the implications of systems collapse is incredible

      and few understand it

      •  And few understand it. (0+ / 0-)

        Judging from the comments, more understand the implications, to some degree, than I expected.

        My model of a tipping point:  A number of people pushing a drinking glass back and forth on a well waxed tabletop.  Position change of the glass is proportional to the pushes; a stable system.   Until the glass goes over the edge of the table, falls to the floor, and likely shatters.  

        •  My favorite is (0+ / 0-)

          One I heard in an Malcolm Gladwell (author of “The Tipping Point”) interview on NPR ( I believe) where he talked about traffic.
          If you have the lights set for 10 cars going through the lights at a time, everything moves perfectly until you get that 11th car. Suddenly there is one car left at the light the first round, then two, then three. Cars start backing up, and the whole system is snarled, even though you only added one extra car.

  •  Tipping points can tip in a large variety of wa... (11+ / 0-)

    Tipping points can tip in a large variety of ways, yes? Isn't unpredictability an enormous part of the game? And when we aren't factoring in aspects between interrelationships, doesn't the unpredictability increase (if there can be a little or a lot of unpredictability - maybe it as a variable is the least measurable or quantitative element...) Anyway, what if something tipped all the volcanoes to blow in some odd sequence that actually balanced global warming? Mind you, I'm not presenting this as some feel good thing, I can hardly imagine anything that brings us back from the brink, but isn't that precisely the point? We can't imagine. What sort of models are there for post tipping point? When and why does a system simply, I don't know, scatter? and when does it reorient and reorganize? And in each case, why? All quite curious.

    Thank you for a wonderful read and for a good thought generating diary.

    •  Yes to most of those. (8+ / 0-)

      After the tipping point some of the least likely scenarios pre tipping may now become very strong.   In evolution the species with adaptability find a niche they could not have found before.

      There is always a system reorganization after the jump.  With multidimensional complex systems there is no way to predict.

      An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

      by don mikulecky on Fri Jul 25, 2014 at 07:36:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Of course, you can get in trouble in this country (0+ / 0-)

        talkin' about eeee-volution when ever'body knows it's just a thee-ry.

        Frighteningly, that idiocy (usually expressed these days, I grant, in a bit less caricature-hick language) is very widely believed, and goes a long way toward explaining why we've done so poorly dealing with environmental issues.

        For the benefit of anyone reading these words who doesn't get the point, a "theory" isn't just a wild guess: it's a framework of explanation intended to account for observed facts and make verifiable predictions about what new facts will be found if we keep looking. Any theory which can't do both must be either modified or discarded.
        So far, while Darwinian evolutionary theory has been refined over the years, there's no sign that it needs to be tossed out. Unfortunately, too many people, some of them in high political office, don't want to hear that.

    •  Volcanoes may cause some short-term cooling, (0+ / 0-)

      Because they throw a lot of particulates into the air that blocks sunlight. But they also release a lot of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

      The result of a major series of volcanic eruptions would be short term cooling, followed by increased warming.

      I know that I do not know.

    •  Volcanos are something we can't control. (0+ / 0-)

      Tipping volcanos to explode requires an act of God.   Tipping military-political systems to launch volleys of nuclear missiles, resulting in nuclear winter, is humanly possible.   It's another question as to whether a nuclear winter would counter global warming, or make for some really bad super storms.

  •  Great diary! You published at just the right time (9+ / 0-)

    for me...

    Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings. —Nelson Mandela

    by kaliope on Fri Jul 25, 2014 at 06:24:39 PM PDT

  •  I see the climate tipping point (5+ / 0-)

    as movement of a non-linear system into a new, stable phase state. In fractal terms, it has new attractors. In real terms, HBIII is correct.

    We are on the verge of a mass extinction event. One that includes Homo Sapiens.

    Thanks for all the fish.

  •  "We have three days," (5+ / 0-)

    as the rabbi said, "to learn to live under water."

    Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

    by WarrenS on Fri Jul 25, 2014 at 08:18:44 PM PDT

  •  I have been focusing on three particular (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kbman, Unduna, don mikulecky, Larsstephens

    tipping points: Grid Parity, Peak Carbon, and Democrats taking the House.

    We are at Grid Parity, where renewables cost less than coal and oil, and can compete with gas at the system level. Deployment of renewables is accelerating, now that it means real money to utilities. Politics can speed that up or slow it down around the margins, but it can no longer prevent a ramp-up to all renewables for electricity, electric cars, electrified trains, and at some point biofuels for trucks and aircraft.

    That means that Peak Carbon is now inevitable, as will be the decline to Zero Carbon and beyond. Researchers are working on how to go as strongly carbon negative as we have been positive. That means that we will have to generate some extra electricity to use in whatever process we work out.

    One of the candidate processes is to mine and crush olivine, a mineral that naturally absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over a few years and changes into another mineral, without any heat or chemicals added. So the cost is just for digging, transportation, crushing, room to let it do its thing, and disposal.

    We do not expect to take the House this year, but we should capture it easily in 2016. We will then have the opportunity to put through a new Voting Rights Act to outlaw gerrymanders and voter suppression, and create a new, SCOTUS-proof preclearance list. Then we should be able to pass all of the Progressive measures that the public already approves of, and discuss what comes after.

    I don't think you can model any of these.

    Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

    by Mokurai on Fri Jul 25, 2014 at 09:20:42 PM PDT

    •  I hope you are right about grid parity and peak (0+ / 0-)

      carbon.  I hope peak carbon comes soon enough to save us from tipping into a climate like dinosaurs had.  I also hope that the renewable replacements for petroleum products involve capturing CO2 and getting carbon from the captured CO2 to sustainable hydrocarbon fuels.  Global Thermostat claims they will be able to capture CO2 for $25/metric ton 2007 looking at 2004 price levels.  <"">

      •  Renewables, specifically wind and solar (0+ / 0-)

        inherently do not produce CO2 in operation. If we use renewable power in their manufacturing, they are entirely carbon-neutral.

        The olivine process is being proposed for CO2 capture on the same scale that we have been producing it, in order to bring the atmosphere and oceans back to their pre-industrial levels. There are also proposals for geoengineering on that scale. We have obviously not worked out the engineering and environmental details of any such proposal.

        The Global Thermostat process involves injecting the CO2 into subsurface rock formations. It would thus be at least as much subject to producing earthquakes as fracking for natural gas.

        Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

        by Mokurai on Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 05:50:37 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I have been focusing on three particular (0+ / 0-)
      We do not expect to take the House this year, but we should capture it easily in 2016.
      Suppose we don't?  You are expecting a whole lot of change by 2016 in voter attitudes on the numerically dominant red side.  That or some miraculous get out the vote success on the blue side.  And I use the word "miraculous" advisedly.
      This tipping point idea certainly applies to American politics.  If the mathematicians among us choose to model this aspect of the whole they will be doing a fine act of patriotism at a time when we need it more than usual.
  •  Change is the universal constant, all of the above (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky, Larsstephens

    and we have the technology, but lack the will. We need a more flexible polling system.

    I was so afraid that this was going to be another of those "don't worry, the adults have got this" diary.

    Thank you for disappointing me by being real. Every authentic genius I've ever met has had one thing in common, enough understanding to understand that what they understand is an insignificant fraction of what they don't.

    "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire

    by Greyhound on Fri Jul 25, 2014 at 09:56:58 PM PDT

  •  Well, Glad I am to see you didn't go all Malcolm. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky

    And very happy just to see you post on your area of
    expertise, and it's continual and undiminished influence
    oh, on just about everything, if one perceives sufficiently.

    I remembered reading recently about measurable
    fluctuations in our magnetosphere, which some
    scientists theorize is indicative of a polarity reversal,
    or cosmic social butterfly excursions, and during
    the googlesearch to refrench my mammaries, I learned
    that the our sun is soon due for one of its own dipole events.

    I immediately jumped to exclusions and wondered,
    considering the regular periodicity, and historical or
    geological records of such events, if such had ever
    occurred simultaneously, geologically speaking?

    Unfortunately, I do not have the basic mathematical
    skills needed to even formulate the right questions to
    ask about the extrapolated effects for such glorious machinations.

    Probably none, but we humans seem to look for
    meaning and understanding where ever it can be had.
    A successful evolutionary trait, or doomed maladaptation?  

    It wouldn't surprise me to discover that it had, or
    had not, either way. There seems to be a random
    element or two involved, which does not augur well
    for absolute certainty.  Which may be just the tonic
    needed to reduce those who are absolutely sure about
    everything to the random and chaotic significance they deny.

    I think going from the age of reason to the age
    of uncertainty has a certain amount of poetic justice
    baked into its genetic zen source koan. It doesn't frighten
    me, although I am almost smart enough to respect
    that most are, and I suppose, rightfully, should be,
    if they only fully realized all of the infinite implications.

    Tough to grasp the true meanings of random chaos in
    our own so called ordered perceptions of our finite selves.
    Especially to those who know and feel that ever nearing  finality.

    I cannot deny its existence, nor its ultimate effects
    on everything that I have ever experienced. Seems
    very natural to me, which I why I am not afraid.

    Thanks for all of your efforts to break through
    to those who like simple answers to difficult problems.

    The persecution of "the left" at Daily Kos... (76+ / 1-) reminds me of the War on Christmas. I'm a Silly Rabbit. by Trix on Fri Nov 01, 2013 at 05:39:00 PM CDT

    by Larsstephens on Fri Jul 25, 2014 at 10:21:19 PM PDT

  •  The most important tipping point is in our minds (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Unduna, don mikulecky, Gwennedd

    I will break character and say something positive and newage-y, but human conscious must change, and fast. And it can.

    We also seem to be reaching tipping points in positive ways, from exponential adoption of wind and solar energy to our understanding of materials science, superconductivity, an the ability to make metamaterials and crazy graphene and carbon-nanotube nanostructures that can radically improve energy capture and storage.  It is really a race to see if we can get a grip on these things before the old infrastructure collapses so far that our scientists have to use sticks and stones.

  •  Diversity is all. It is what organic existence (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky

    depends on. It isn't the end. It is both the beginning and a requisite constant.

  •  Is there a good review paper (0+ / 0-)

    you can recommend?

    Thanks for this...

  •  This message mirrors that of Limits to Growth, ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Beyond the Limits, Mankind at the Turning Point, and Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, among others.  As Mr. Mikulecky says, "No one of these can be studied adequately isolated from the others yet we try so desperately to do so."

    •  Throughout much of the history of science, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      what we have done is to isolate phenomena and study them in a linear fashion. It has served us well in many circumstances.

      But, the deeper understanding we are now acquiring of the underlying non-linearity of dynamic systems, as well as the improved mathematical tools we have been developing to study them, has opened up areas of study that were once pretty much a mystery to science. It is taking many of us a while to adjust to this newer view of the universe we live in.

      It is difficult for a lot of people to accept that, at it's most basic level, the universe is "chaotic" (with rules--some of which are difficult to discern, however). In a very real sense, everything is connected, so the "old" tool set is becoming less and less effective as we move further and further down the path to understanding.


      "I guess you think you can psych me out by saying really random stuff." -Sora, Hollow Bastion, KH2

      by SphericalXS on Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 01:08:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ultimate Reality (0+ / 0-)

        Us "common" people find it damn near impossible to wrap our minds around many of the concepts of quantum mechanics.  It isn't exactly a utilitarian world view.  Chaotic activity appears to be intrinsic, as is action at a distance and other weird concepts.  But is randomness behind the chaos or just a lack of data?

        Personally, I have come to the conclusion that "Ultimate Reality" is both simpler and more obscure than we currently imagine.  Just a hunch, but it is good to see many smart people using the tools of Science to work the issue.  With each passing decade we seem to be inching closer to understanding.

        I think I am, therefore I am, I think.

        by MrSkeptic on Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 07:34:06 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  We have the technological skills to handle it? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The problem with this statement is (1) most of the solution to those problems is outside the reach of technology, i.e., requires a change in thinking, from an abundance mindset to a scarcity mindset; from live-for-today to plan-for-tomorrow; from having babies as a consequence of sex to having A BABY as a consequence of family planning. Warning: not as easy as it sounds, folks. The (2) pitfall of the statement is that those problems amenable to technology in theory may not be possible as a practical matter, that is to say, if we do not conserve our resources, we will not have the materials left with which to rebuild and retool the world's energy delivery systems, so what does it matter that we know how to do it?

  •  I don't think we have the technological skills (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to deal with this level of complexity. This seems to support my growing belief that we may have hit an evolutionary gate if not wall. I actually have come to think it is a wall but let's allow some hope. But the hope has to be an evolutionary change in our ability to visualize and work with multiple layers of bifurcation. In our current form only a small percentage of people can even begin to visualize what this might mean let alone begin to work in a mental space where this stuff exists. And I'm on the very bottom edge where this stuff borders on the magical.

    If it is necessary to deal with problems in fully dynamic systems that are totally interrelated in unpredictable ways, I think we are screwed. It seems to me our only hope is our ability to build intelligent systems that can do this for us. The killer here (pun fully intended) is that we then have to believe in our AI children. Can we do that even if we could do it technically?

  •  It's more complex...and less. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    First, while it is certain that major changes are occurring and that they influence each other, it is not strictly true that they cannot be predicted. (Assuming no changes in conditions affecting them--predicting the future, a 20% accurate record is fantastic.)

    First, we can be reasonably certain that there will, in addition to the gradual sea rise, come a time when at least enough water will be released very rapidly (though still frozen) into the Antarctic to raise sea levels by about 3 meters.

    This is agreed upon by climate scientists, the US Army Corp. of Engineers and most importantly, glaciologists.

    If we act very rapidly, this Antarctic summer, we might be able to at least retard the rate at which this particular disaster approaches.

    This ice is held back only because the boundry where the ice meets water under the glaciers is still at a point above the rest of the glacier bottom—but only just—once the boundry advances further up the galacier the problem becomes much much harder.

    But now, if we were to bore a tunnel or tunnels through the glacier to just above the ground and pipe chilled brine through it, we might be able to keep the bottom of the glacier frozen to the ground at that point.

    But it will need to happen within the next few months, we may not have another year to wait.

    Right now, it would be expensive—but possible (and the expense is nothing compared to say a single late model jet fighter.)

    Political-economically we are still trying to adjust to a change first marked it the 1970's by the appearance of stagflation.

    The old economic model of scarce resources had died.

    Oar new problem with scarcity is that large wealthy entities manipulate supplies and demand to create scarcity in order to create profitable environments.

    We shoot hoarders in times of war and want, but we seem content to allow these folk to hoard all they want in peace—even if it creates a war.

    We live in a world capable of providing everyone's needs. Including animals & plants.

    The Sun provides far more than enough power to run our civilization, and we have (truly!) barely scratched the surface of the Earth. And the far vaster resources of the Solar System are, for practical purposes, totally untouched.

    We do more with less resources, and fewer workers each day.

    There will not be enough 'jobs' of the traditional type for but a small fraction of the people.

    There may not be a 'free lunch' but a wealthy society can afford to ensure that it's people all are taken care of—if only because it is far cheaper than leaving them to fend for themselves.

    The political-economic changes are underway, and consists largely of totally abandoning the traditional methods of doing things for less centric and more distributed methods.

    Our current institutions have become hidebound and unmovable—the USA Congress is indicative—large companies and other political units have also become less and less able to perform actual work.

    Much is increasingly being done through 'crowd' actions—from new products to new social actions.

    With less top-down structure and central control, it becomes much more difficult for simple money to manipulate the course of an organization—whether through bribery or purchase.


    We are reaching the limits of reductionist science, and the world of combinatorial science is orders of magnitude richer and more complex. A yet, we lack proper tools to explore this arena easily, but mathematical simulation is a key component.

    But we know all models are flawed because we know that we can never know all of the variables (and even if we did, the relationships aren't at all simple!)

    So when someone using a simulation says their simulation predicts something, it pays to look at previous predictions and their actual outcome.

    Climate models are very very poor. A great deal is unknown, and some things that are known are left out.

    For nearly 20 years climate model predictions have been consistently wrong—they have underestimated the rate of change. Change is and has been coming much faster than predicted by these models. Part of what was missing was the Antarctic data, which we now have at least some good data to add to the model—but the model previously didn't even estimate the effects of the Antarctic. Next year they will. Expect a major change in the announced rate of sea level rise

    But merely the real problem is in getting anyone to actually take rational action.

    The problem isn't “the sea will rise X meters by 2100. “
    It's that sometime in the next twenty years the sea will rise by three meters in less than twenty-four months.

    Want an example of a tipping-point? Somewhere between 1980 and 1995 Americans stopped laughing at bottled water and began consuming it in preference to the much cheaper and even possibly safer tap water.

    More recently, the balance tipped in favor of human rights for the GLBT persons. And re-legalization of marijuana.

    Geneticists call these points in history bottlenecks--because so often in the past only a fraction of the people make it through alive.

    We can avoid that if we want to....

    •  It's more complex...and less. (0+ / 0-)

      Wizodd - You are a hopeless dreamer if you think humanity will react constructively to any of your ideas..... Which IMHO have some real merit.
      As conditions of life for humanity deteriorate societies will become more competitive and descend into increasingly hostile tribal behavior.  The idea of cooperative efforts to dampen the shocks of catastrophes is counter to these developments.
      I see absolutely nothing positive from a benefit to humanity standpoint in any of this.  I truly believe humanitty as we know it today is doomed to an armageddon in this century.

    •  Hold the ice. (0+ / 0-)

      You're referring to the Ross Sea ice sitting on the bottom of the Sea, no?   If it slid off, into deeper waters, ocean levels worldwide would rise considerably and rapidly.

  •  Let's hope that since we are clearly facing so ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Let's hope that since we are clearly facing so many critically important tipping points that people will realize that we must ACT to change our consumption behavior & vote. Getting campaign finance and lobbying reforms in place needs to be a higher priority. Without such, we will continue to have bad policy and regulation that harms us versus protecting us.

  •  It is the hubris of *supposed* knowledge (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Simplicity has benefits that are beyond our recognition. The settlers denigrated the American Indians as 'godless heathens'. But their simple way of life had led them to be one with the Earth. The spiritualism they had developed was where we are all realizing that we need to be at now. When you build systems that are so complex that it takes a community of architects, engineers and others to even maintain, you are asking for failure. We have overstretched our ability of understanding the whole to the detriment of the whole and to society and existence itself. Perhaps that is the entire tipping point that we are quickly approaching. Because as the more parts to a physical system are developed and the more people involved to manage them, the more the interaction with others and cooperation of others is required to keep them from failing. That really means we are actually more dependent on fallible human beings than ever. And fallible human beings will be exactly that, fallible. As these systems we have developed WILL fail, we should be making plans as to survival without any of them. Electricity is one of the primary ones. Look at how dependent we are on electricity. No refrigerator for food. No light. No heat. No sanitary systems. Think about how you would get up to the 75th floor of an office building. The list of problems goes on and on and on. And that is a modern convenience that isn't even essential to life. Think about the destruction of all viable water systems and aquifers via pollution. We are dead meat if that happens. But yet, the consideration for fracking contamination and the Keystone pipeline spill that would occur directly above one of the largest aquifers on Earth  are considered tree hugging propaganda. What part of 'life as we know it will quickly end' don't these capitalists seem to understand? Do we have to actually get there before we can say 'I told you so!'? You can't eat money, capitalists! You can't drink oil either!

  •  I enjoyed this piece (0+ / 0-)

    and I wondered if you'd consider putting one or two more detailed examples in lay terms to illustrate one or two of the concepts.  Maybe one of the items in the list you put towards the end?

    Very intriguing, thank you!

  •  non-linear thinking? (0+ / 0-)

    This is a bunch of big words pulled together and stitched into jumble of a meaningless conclusion...

  •  Tipping points (0+ / 0-)

    This is an important subject for people who can analyze and act objectively.  If one can understand the tipping points in any voyage and is trained to react one can avoid them and the catastrophes they offer up.
    When several such are independent the trained navigator can deal with a good number of them.  But when they interact on each other and thereby alter the characteristics of each things get complex.  Enough of these interacting non-linear situations and they transcend the limits of skill and intuition of the best seaman.
    To the extent that we can quantify and deal mathematically with complex systems we are better equipped to deal with them and avoid catastrophes.  So don mikulecky has brought us reason for a bit of optimism for our success in avoiding the consequences of future events that threaten us.  
    A lot of the advanced societies in our world still respect scientific analysis of our societal issues as part their kit of governing tools.  Sadly a growing majority of our US voting citizens have turned away and are drinking the free cool aid so aptly provided by the Kings of Kansas and their foxy Rose.
    One of my favorite sayings is "If I can measure it I can make it".   Relevant not just to the machinist with his lathe but also to the statesman and his nation.  Sadly we in the USA are being brainwashed into doing to our 225 year old democracy the equivalent of the machinist throwing his calipers into the dust bin and smashing the handles on his machine with a sledge hammer.

  •  nothing is more nonlinear ... (0+ / 0-)

    ... than a solution of a system of linear equations!

    As a self-proclaimed "system's scientist" you should know this.

  •  Huzzah (0+ / 0-)

    Wonderful post  --  I've added it to my "quantum change" file.

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