Are We There Yet? Climate Change's Tipping Point

Is the financial crisis the disaster that the climate change movement has been waiting for?

After the release of each IPCC report and the occurrence of every natural disaster that suspiciously smelled of global warming, I would wonder: Will the world finally wake up to its common peril? Will those in government (and those at home) finally realize the sooner or later, climate change will hit us in our comfy western seats (and hit hard)?

Each time, the answer was no. Suddenly, however, there's a flurry of activity in the Climatosphere. Not only are policies like the WCI gaining steam, but also politicians, from Boxer and Bingaman to President-elect Barack Obama are making public statements about the need to step up climate change efforts (see the proposed legislation by Boxer, Bingaman's bashing of carbon offsets, and PEBO's taped speech at the climate summit held by Schwarzenegger in Beverly Hills).

After all the warning signs (an increase in hurricane intensity, more wildfires in California, the warmest October on record)-what was the final tipping point?

Maybe studies like the recent report by Hansen et al., which claims that we will be living in an ice-free world if we don't stabilize by 350 ppm. That's pretty scary, considering all the world's major glacier-dependent rivers that will start running dry, thereby leading to more water wars.

But the cynical side of me says that more likely, it's a matter of money. In a UC Berkeley study that was quick on the heals of the first one, the authors warn that $2.5 trillion of the Golden State's $4 trillion worth of real estate is threatened by rising sea levels, wildfires, and extreme weather caused by a warming planet. While my dear governor has (almost) always been a strong champion of California being a climate change leader, it's not too bold to say that the recent acceleration of attention, in California and nationally, may be due to the increasing realization by politicians that climate change will be really freakin' expensive to deal with, unless we do something about it soon. Even for California, the eighth largest economy in the world. $2.5 trillion is not something you want to deal with when you're already in a recession.

Luckily for the politicians (and hopefully for the recently unemployed), what better way to deal with both the financial crisis and climate change than to kill two birds with one stone? Hence, the New Dealish promotion of "green jobs."

Let us hope that "green jobs," which currently only mean jobs in the renewable tech industry, will actually lead to a more complete paradigm shift in our collective consciousness and work/life ethic. Because that's what we'll really need to preserve the ice.

To see what others are saying about possible tipping points for the climate change movement, see Joe Romm's blog, Climate Progress.