Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A burned truck and structures are seen at the Butte Fire on September 13, 2015 near San Andreas, California. California governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in Amador and Calaveras counties where the 100-square-mile wildfire has burned scores of structures so far and is threatening 6,400 in the historic Gold Country of the Sierra Nevada foothills. (Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

What's Not in the Latest Terrifying IPCC Report? The "Much, Much, Much More Terrifying" New Research on Climate Tipping Points

"This is the scariest thing about the IPCC Report — it’s the watered down, consensus version."

Jon Queally

If the latest warnings contained in Monday's report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—which included pronouncements that the world has less than twelve years to drastically alter course to avoid the worst impacts of human-caused global warming and that nothing less than keeping all fossil fuels in the ground is the solution to avoid future calamities—have you at all frightened or despondent, experts responding to the report have a potentially unwelcome message for your already over-burdened heart and mind: It's very likely even worse than you're being told.

"The IPCC understates a key risk: that self-reinforcing feedback loops could push the climate system into chaos before we have time to tame our energy system."
—Mario Molina, Nobel Laureate

After the report's publication there were headlines like: "We have 12 years to act on climate change before the world as we know it is lost. How much more urgent can it get?" and "Science pronounces its verdict: World to be doomed at 2°C, less dangerous at 1.5°C" and "A major new climate report slams the door on wishful thinking."

But as Jamie Henn, co-founder and the program director for the international climate group 350.org, stated in a tweet on Tuesday, the "scariest thing about the IPCC Report" is the fact that "it's the watered down, consensus version. The latest science is much, much, much more terrifying."

Henn was actually responding to Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann who was pushing back against those criticizing the IPCC report as too "alarmist" in its declarations and warnings. "If anything," Professor Mann declared, "it is the opposite. Once again, with their latest report, they have been overly conservative (ie. erring on the side of understating/underestimating the problem.)"

This is very possibly true and there is much scientific data and argument backing this up. As Henn and Mann both indicate, the IPCC report is based on the consensus view of the hundreds of scientists who make up the IPCC – and its been consistently true that some of the most recent (and increasingly worrying) scientific findings have not yet found enough support to make it into these major reports which rely on near-unanimous agreement.

According to Durwood Zaelke, founder of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, speaking to The Guardian in the wake of the latest IPCC report,  it "fails to focus on the weakest link in the climate chain: the self-reinforcing feedbacks which, if allowed to continue, will accelerate warming and risk cascading climate tipping points and runaway warming."

"This is not the time to turn away, whether in fear or in active denial of the facts. This is a time to use our fear as fuel."
—Rajiv Sicora, The Leap
In August, as Common Dreams reported, research published by Johan Rockström and his colleagues at the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden found that it is precisely these feedback loops and tipping points that should most frighten and concern humanity. While nascent and not conclusive in its findings—two of the reasons you won't find it referenced in the IPCC report—the study warned that humanity may be just 1°C away from creating a series of dynamic feedback loops that could push the world into a climate scenario not seen since the dawn of the Helocene Period, nearly 12,000 years ago.

Quoted in Tuesday's Guardian article about the dangers of ignoring potential tipping points, Nobel prize laureate Mario Molina, who shared the award for chemistry in 1995 for his work on ozone depletion, said: "The IPCC report demonstrates that it is still possible to keep the climate relatively safe, provided we muster an unprecedented level of cooperation, extraordinary speed and heroic scale of action. But even with its description of the increasing impacts that lie ahead, the IPCC understates a key risk: that self-reinforcing feedback loops could push the climate system into chaos before we have time to tame our energy system, and the other sources of climate pollution."

The purpose of recognizing the terrifying predictions is not to instill fear, however, climate campaigners and advocates for bold solutions say.

In a paper authored last year—titled Leading the Public into Emergency Mode: A New Strategy for the Climate Movement—Margaret Klein Salamon writes that while a World War II-style mobilization is necessary to achieve the kind emission cuts and energy transformation that science now mandates, understanding the stakes does not necessarily mean being debilitated by that knowledge. In an op-ed for Common Dreams, she argued "that intense, but not paralyzing, fear combined with maximum hope can actually lead people and groups into a state of peak performance. We can rise to the challenge of our time and dedicate ourselves to become heroic messengers and change-makers."

And as Rajiv Sicora, senior manager of research for The Leap, wrote to his group's supporters in an email on Tuesday: "This is not the time to turn away, whether in fear or in active denial of the facts. This is a time to use our fear as fuel: because the report also makes clear that the worst effects of global warming can still be prevented, and the urgency of transformative change should excite and empower all of us who are fighting for justice anyway."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Intentional Vandalism' Leaves Thousands Without Power in North Carolina

One right-wing extremist implied that multiple electrical substations were targeted to disrupt a drag show in Moore County. Local law enforcement authorities and the FBI are investigating.

Kenny Stancil ·


GOP Silence on Trump's Call to Axe Constitution Reveals 'Full Embrace of Fascism': House Dem

"Last week the leader of the Republican Party had dinner with a Nazi leader and a man who called Adolf Hitler 'great,'" said Rep. Bill Pascrell. "Yesterday Trump called for throwing out the Constitution and making himself dictator."

Kenny Stancil ·


Protesting Fuel Poverty, People Tell UK Government to 'Keep Everyone Warm This Winter'

As energy bills—and fossil fuel profits—continue to soar, demonstrators around Britain demanded immediate action from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and members of Parliament.

Kenny Stancil ·


'Turn Off the Tap on Plastic,' UN Chief Declares Amid Debate Over New Global Treaty

"Plastics are fossil fuels in another form," said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, "and pose a serious threat to human rights, the climate, and biodiversity."

Kenny Stancil ·


EPA Urged to 'Finish the Job' After Latest Move to Protect Bristol Bay From Pebble Mine

"Local residents, scientists, and the broader public all agree that this is quite simply a bad place for a mine, and it is past time for the EPA to take Pebble off the table permanently," said one activist in Alaska.

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo