Systems approaching the brink display some common features, and sometimes thresholds give advance warning, writes Chris Wood in his new Natural Security column. They recover more slowly from disruption; “in-state fluctuations” become wilder and less predictable; conditions “flicker” rapidly from one state to another. But by opening our eyes to these and other signs, we may be able to determine where some of the riskiest thresholds lie — and how to push them, and ourselves, back from the brink of “eco-geddon.” We have the tools, he argues: the question is whether we have the will. An excerpt of Isn’t It Hysterical? The cliff is ahead. We have the tools to see it (subscription*):
The single most useful thing that many national governments could do for their natural security today is to start by taking a good long look at it.
How does this come up? Funny story. I learned a new word recently. This doesn’t happen as often as it used to in my line of work, so I enjoyed it. The word? ‘Hysteresis.’
The term seems to have a range of definitions, some more negative than others: it can mean a deficiency or lack, for example. But its dominant meaning is of a lagging effect: when something in a system’s past influences how it responds to the present. All of human history, it turns out, really has been as hysterical as some of our darker comics suggest.
But so are ecosystems at scales all the way up to the global. That is: incremental damage can accumulate over time, rendering an ecosystem imperceptibly less robust until a critical threshold tips it, usually irreversibly, into a new state … log in* to read Isn’t It Hysterical? The cliff is ahead. We have the tools to see it.
*You’ll find lots of great free stories inside our site, but much of our original work is behind a paywall — we do not sell advertising. We do need and appreciate your support (a day pass is a buck and monthly subscription costs less than a cup of coffee), but if you’d like to give us a try before throwing pennies our way, email Editor@factsandopinions.com, and I will send you a complimentary day pass.
*Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Why? We appreciate your interest and support: for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in theform on the right (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.