No, Media, ‘Catastrophic Climate Tipping Points’ are Nothing to Worry About

This week a number of mainstream and online media outlets have run alarming headlines warning of imminent “catastrophic climate tipping points,” citing a recently published paper that warns of the immediate danger of passing the 1.5°C mark of planetary warming. The claim is false. Not only has objective data shown that mark has already been passed with no effects whatsoever, the claimed dangers are based on climate model projections, not actual cause and effect connections demonstrated by data.

For example, The Guardian blares the headline: Earth on verge of five catastrophic climate tipping points, scientists warn, while Politico writes Catastrophic climate ‘tipping points’ may be imminent.

According to The Guardian:

Many of the gravest threats to humanity are drawing closer, as carbon pollution heats the planet to ever more dangerous levels, scientists have warned.

Five important natural thresholds already risk being crossed, according to the Global Tipping Points report, and three more may be reached in the 2030s if the world heats 1.5C (2.7F) above pre-industrial temperatures.

The tipping points at risk include the collapse of big ice sheets in Greenland and the West Antarctic, the widespread thawing of permafrost, the death of coral reefs in warm waters, and the collapse of one oceanic current in the North Atlantic.

At Politico, the doomsday news is even worse:

The melting Greenland ice sheet is the single largest contributor to global sea-level rise — and some experts are warning it could soon cross the threshold into a slow but irreversible death spiral.

sweeping new scientific report, with contributions from more than 200 researchers, finds that continued warming could trigger not only the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet but a wide variety of tipping points in the Earth’s climate system. Once crossed, those thresholds would have unstoppable consequences.

Greenland is one immediate worry. While it’s still unclear exactly how much warming it would take to push the ice sheet over the edge, some experts say it could be as little as 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels. Temperatures have already risen between 1.1 and 1.3 degrees.

It is worth noting at the outset that the sweeping new scientific report upon which these news articles are based is not a peer-reviewed scientific report, but rather simply a white paper published on a website. Further, the entire project was funded by the Bezos Earth Fund, aka Jeff Bezos, founder of which has pledged to make its products and their delivery “climate friendly.” On this basis, one could be excused for thinking the paper is nothing more than a feel-good marketing ploy to virtue signal Amazon’s support for the doomsday-oriented climate narrative.

Further undermining the idea that this is an objective scientific document is the fact that the authors themselves describe explicitly political ends as the reason for talking about tipping points. Their goal is not providing knowledge for consideration but rather explicitly about motivating political action, as stated in introduction pulldown preview section:

Why we need to talk about tipping points

This report is for all those concerned with tackling escalating Earth system change and mobilising transformative social change to alter that trajectory, achieve sustainability, and promote social justice. [emphasis mine]

This political advocacy calls into question the scientific claims made in the report.

Addressing the specific claims, the assertions concerning Greenland’s Ice Melt are wildly overblown, as seen in Figure 1 from Climate at a Glance: Greenland Ice Melt:


Figure 1. A comparison of presentations of satellite data capturing Greenland’s ice mass loss. The image on the right show changes in Greenland’s ice mass relative to Greenland’s total ice mass. Sources: The data plotted in these graphs are from the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-Comparison Exercise, a joint exercise by NASA and the European Space Agency. Graphs originally by Willis Eschenbach. Adapted and annotated by Anthony Watts.

What’s true of the Greenland claim, is equally true of the other supposedly imminent tipping points assertions made in the report. The documents consistently fails to reference existing climate data, observed processes, or provide key context, preferring instead to focus on computer climate model projections of the future.

Most importantly, the authors missed is the fact the longest existing temperature record on Earth suggests that temperatures have already increased 2.0°C “above preindustrial levels.” Despite this, no worsening weather trends or damage to human societies from this have been measured.

Europe possesses the best, longest-running temperature records on the planet, those temperature records show warming has already exceeded 1.5°C, as can be seen in Figure 2 below from Berkeley Earth.

Figure 2. Berkeley Earth average European temperature since 1750. Source: Graph annotated by Anthony Watts.

Yet even with 2°C of atmospheric warming since about 1820, the claimed catastrophic climate tipping points have not occurred. As discussed at Climate at a Glance and in dozens of posts on Climate Realism, existing data refutes claims that the warming experienced so far, or that can be reasonably expected in the coming century, has or will cause worsening weather or increased natural disasters.

The various projections of future tipping points resulting from rising greenhouse gas emissions are not based real world data, but are generated by deeply flawed computer models that don’t portray past temperature trends or present temperatures accurately.

The tipping point claims focus on the purported 1.5°C “warming limit” climate alarmists within the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and in the mainstream media and NGO community have claimed since 2010 posed an amount of warming that would bring catastrophic, irreversible consequences. The big worry is that at 1.5 degrees, “tipping points” in the climate will occur. As Climate at a Glance: Tipping Points, shows there is no evidence that any such tipping points exist.

The Climate Realism article, Media Can’t Agree on the Number of Climate Tipping Points, Much less When,” noted that the same five tipping points were listed as cause for alarm. The article also pointed out that this sort of scare story has been going on for at least 20 years. We’ve been warned of climate tipping points before, so much so that they’ve racked up an impressive record of non-performance.

For example. Google search shows well over a hundred, here is just a few of them:

  • “Global Warming Tipping Point Close?”–, Jan. 27, 2004
  • “Warming Hits ‘Tipping Point’ “– The Guardian, Aug. 11, 2005
  • “Earth at the Tipping Point: Global Warming Heats Up”– Time, March 26, 2006
  • “Global Warming ‘Tipping Points’ Reached, Scientist Says”— National, Dec. 14, 2007
  • “Twenty Years Later: Tipping Points Near on Global Warming”– Huffington Post, June 23, 2008
  • “Global Warming: Those Tipping Points Are Closer Than You Think”—Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2009
  • “Must-Read Hansen and Sato Paper: We Are at a Climate Tipping Point That, Once Crossed, Enables Multi-Meter Sea Level Rise This Century”–, Jan. 20, 2011
  • “Earth: Have We Reached an Environmental Tipping Point?”—BBC, June 15, 2012
  • “In spite of the continued released [sic] of 90 million tons of global warming pollution every day into the atmosphere, as if it’s an open sewer, we are now seeing the approach of a global political tipping point.”–Al Gore, interview with Washington Post, Aug. 21, 2013

It seems there is always a climate tipping point in our future. Every year we are treated to a fresh set of dire predictions, with time frames within which one disaster or another will occur, always somewhere in the future, but never certain. For the tipping point claims that have provided a timeline or date after which significant problems were to projected to occur, none of them have come to pass. Despite this record of failure, climate alarm and hype concerning future tipping points seems to be a constant feature of the media.

Copious peer-reviewed studies confirm tipping points have not happened in Earth’s distant past in response to atmospheric carbon dioxide changes.

A significant paleoclimate study from the University of Washington says tipping points aren’t likely to ever happen from increased carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

The press release for the study, titled “Atmospheric carbon dioxide buildup unlikely to spark abrupt climate change” says this:

There have been instances in Earth history when average temperatures have changed rapidly, as much as 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) over a few decades, and some have speculated the same could happen again as the atmosphere becomes overloaded with carbon dioxide.

New research lends support to evidence from numerous recent studies that suggest abrupt climate change appears to be the result of alterations in ocean circulation uniquely associated with ice ages.

Asserted disastrous “tipping points” may make for good headlines and story ledes, but there is no evidence any exist. Attribution “science,” is not science at all, it is prophesying or fortune telling, using computer models instead of crystal balls.

Humanity has displayed tremendous adaptability and resilience during its existence on Earth. Including adaptability and resilience to changing climate conditions across the course of time and widely varying environments. With technological innovations, humans have flourished in environments as varied as the frozen arctic, arid deserts, rainforests and coasts, mountains, and open plains, and amid changing climate conditions, such as mini-ice ages and glacial retreats, decades-long droughts and extended periods of heavy precipitation, as long as societies have existed.

There’s no reason to worry. The media is just doing what it has always done – promoting the climate catastrophe claim du jour, in support of the consistent narrative that humans are destroying the climate, ignoring inconvenient facts undermining the narrative along the way.


Anthony Watts
Anthony Watts
Anthony Watts is a senior fellow for environment and climate at The Heartland Institute. Watts has been in the weather business both in front of, and behind the camera as an on-air television meteorologist since 1978, and currently does daily radio forecasts. He has created weather graphics presentation systems for television, specialized weather instrumentation, as well as co-authored peer-reviewed papers on climate issues. He operates the most viewed website in the world on climate, the award-winning website

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  1. Another feeble attempt by the alarmist crowd to promote the end of the world as
    we know it! Total nonsense and unrealistic when there no evidence to support such claims! It’s like those who project the end of the world and always think they know everything! These know it alls are really charlatans with a megaphone to get their agenda and propaganda for the fools who are gullible enough to believe this claptrap mentality! The earth has handled itself for eons and will continue to thrive despite these calls for its imminent demise!

  2. The Earth is still in a 2.5 million year ice age named the Quaternary Glaciation, in a warmer but still cold interglacial period that alternates with very cold glacial periods.


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