Uncertainty, Lags, Nonlinearity and Feedbacks: New Terms for a New Millennium

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Uncertainty, Lags, Nonlinearity and Feedbacks: New Terms for a New Millennium. We must transition out of our 19 th century view of Technology as basic engineering works and into a new view of Technology as an agent which changes material and energy flows within the earth.

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Uncertainty, Lags, Nonlinearity and Feedbacks: New Terms for a New Millennium

We must transition out of our 19th century view of Technology as basic engineering works and into a new view of Technology as an agent which changes material and energy flows within the earth.

Then we must develop an appropriate management plan in the wake of increasing unknown responses.

Are we Brave Enough to do this?

UNCERTAINTY

LAGS

NONLINEARITY

FEEDBACKS

We need to shift from seeing the world

as composed mainly of

MACHINES (the industrial revolution)

to seeing it as composed mainly of

COMPLEX SYSTEMS (chaos introduced by Humans)

Whereas MACHINES

• can be taken apart, analyzed, and fully understood (they are no more than the sum of their parts)
• exhibit “normal” or equilibrium patterns of behavior
• show proportionality of cause and effect, and (i.e. they are linear systems)
• can be managed because their behavior predictable. . .

COMPLEX SYTEMS

• are more than the sum of their parts (they have emergent properties)
• can flip from one pattern of behavior to another (they have multiple equilibriums)
• show disproportionally of cause and effect (their behavior is often nonlinear, because of feedbacks and synergies), and
• cannot be easily managed because their behavior is often unpredictable.

We’re moving from a world of

RISK

to a world of

UNCERTAINTY

(unknown unknowns)

So, we must move from “management” to

Climate Change Climate Disruption Climate Volatility

Battisti and Naylor, “Historical warnings of future food insecurity with unprecedented seasonal heat.”

Science (9 January 2009): 240-44

Battisti and Naylor, “Historical warnings of future food insecurity with unprecedented seasonal heat.”

Science (9 January 2009): 240-44

UNCERTAINTY

LAGS

NONLINEARITY

FEEDBACKS

LAGS

• Between emission and climate response
• Between cuts to emissions and reduction of warming
• Between policy decision to change energy infrastructure and completion of this change

“ [We show] that to hold climate constant at a given global temperature requires near zero future carbon emissions. . . . As a consequence, any future anthropogenic emissions will commit the climate system to warming that is essentially irreversible on centennial timescales.”

Matthews, H. D., and K. Caldeira (2008), “Stabilizing climate requires near-zero emissions,” Geophys. Res. Lett.

UNCERTAINTY

LAGS

NONLINEARITY

FEEDBACKS

A Non-Linearity

Ice Accumulation Rate

(meters per year)

Years before Present

A Non Linearity

2008

4.52 mK2

Jakobshavn Ice Stream in Greenland

Discharge from major Greenland ice streams

is accelerating markedly.

Up to 40 percent decrease in the efficiency of the Southern Ocean sink over the last 20 years

Strengthening of the winds around Antarctica increases exposure of carbon-rich deep waters

Strengthening of the winds due to global warming and the ozone hole

Declining efficiency of the ocean sink

Le Quéré et al. 2007, Science

UNCERTAINTY

LAGS

NONLINEARITY

FEEDBACKS

Increased Carbon Dioxide amounts

Global Air

Temperature

Increases

Water vapor

positive feedback

Increased

Greenhouse

Absorption

Increased

Water Vapor

In Atmosphere

More rapid warming at poles

Ice-albedo feedback

Atmospheric

warming

positive feedback,

fast

Increased ocean

absorption of

sun’s energy

Melting of

ice

Lower reflectivity

of ocean surface

Atmospheric

warming

emissions cycle

positive feedback,

slow

Increased

emissions

Decreased

efficiency of

carbon sinks

Atmospheric

warming

Accelerated carbon

cycle

positive feedback,

potentially fast

Death of

forests

Release of

CO2

Rotting and burning

of organic

matter

Atmospheric

warming

Methane cycle

positive feedback,

potentially fast

Release of

CH4

and CO2

Melting of

permafrost

Rotting

of organic

matter