Global Warming – A Theory of Accelerating Process Through an Inflection Point


1. Introduction.

This paper is intended as a starting point for creating a framework within which to discuss and analyze what appears to be a fundamental change in worldwide climate. It is essentially a synthesis of three books: (1) an inconvenient truth, the crisis of global warming, written by Al Gore (2007); (2) At Home in the Universe, The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity, by Stuart Kauffman (1995); and, (3) Gaia: A new look at life on Earth, by Dr. James Lovelock (1979) (see, also,, "Gaia Theory").

Kauffman's book, At Home in the Universe (herein "Universe"), is a wide-ranging collection of connected thoughts that present and support a unifying theory for all processes of self-organization.

Gore's book, an inconvenient truth (herein "Inconvenient Truth"), is primarily referenced for the proposition that the totality of human activity (or more broadly, life's activities) here on Earth, if left unchecked, has and will result in more and greater weather dislocations and disturbances arising from a general warming of the biosphere; and, that the trend to date displays an acceleration forming a rising an asymptotic curve (the first half of a sigmoidal curve).

Lovelock's Book, Gaia: A new look at life on Earth (herein "Gaia") is presented as an extension of the theory presented by Kauffman, providing support for the Gaia Theory that the Earth's entire biosphere combines one integrated metastable steady-state open thermodynamic system, in which homeostasis is maintained and optimized for life, despite significant perturbations to the system.

2. Kauffman and Gaia Theory: Homeostatic Open Thermodynamic Systems.

Kauffman teaches us that there are two types of open thermodynamic systems: 1.) Those, which immediately progress from some starting point to a thermodynamic death, achieving the highest state of entropy; and 2.) Those, which are able to "process" an influx of energy and / or matter and thenby self-organize, representing "autocatalytic sets of molecules". Life forms are but one example of such systems, as are communities of different species, and entire eco-systems.

This supports the Gaia Theory that the Earth's entire biosphere, including the oceans, the atmosphere, and the land masses, is one integrated integrated stable state-state open thermodynamic system, in which homeostasis is maintained despite significant perturbations to the system; disturbances which arise from a variety of sources, including volcanic eruptions, meteor strikes, and man-made pollution.

Kauffman provides further basis for understanding the "why" behind the invisible invisible hand that keeps Earth in an optimum homeostasis to support its inhabants (see, Universe, page 21: the biosphere is one big dissipative structure which organization is maintained by the influx of solar energy). Kauffman posits, "[L] ife evolves toward a statute that is poised between order and chaos." The evocative phrase that points to this working hypothesis is this: life exists at the edge of chaos. a kind of phase transition. " See, Universe, at 26.

Kauffman goes on to describe that self-organizing systems, while having an enormous number of different possible configurations (different states in state space), have but only several strange attractors (basins), and that any given initial state will immediately find its way to one of these few available configurations.

The metaphor Kauffman provides is taken from physics: Imagine a box filled with a gas – The molecules of the gas are, statistically speaking, most likely to arrange them generally through the available space in the box, and not compress themselves into one corner. But, to the contrary, self-organizing systems that achieve homeostasis are, in effect, seeking out these rare configurations by analogy; thus, self-organizing. See, Universe, at 82-84, and 92.

Kauffman proposes that these rules apply to all such systems, including ecosystems, political systems, and even the evolution of technology, and therefore, appears to provide the underpinnings for Gaia Theory – viewing the entire Earth as a single integrated "dissipative structure."

3. What does this all mean for us?

Viewing Earth as one large integrated homeostatic open thermodynamic system, it can readily be seen that the totality of chemicals and compounds that comprise Earth and all of its components and inhabitants could easily arrange them in a near infinite number of ways.

However, contrary to Earth moving directly towards a thermodynamic death of the highest entropy, it persists in accepting sunlight and using that energy for useful purpose: The creation of self-organizing and reproducing systems, in other words, organized dissipative structures which all act seemingly together as a whole, maintaining the overall homeostatic organization of the Earth's biosphere, including the balance of constituents found in the oceans, the atmosphere, and land masses.

But, what can not be seen at first glance, is that there are likely to be a small but finite number of configurations of possible homeostatic behavior – in other words, the Gaia Theory works in the configuration as we have known it, but there are other examples, such as ice ages, in which the overall configuration takes a different, but still, homeostatic configuration. Each of these metastable configurations represents a strange attractor that creates a basin in state space. We can disturb our configuration (such as by pollution) but the system endeavors to return to optimum homeostasis.

While the same system with the same steady energy and / or matter influx may find one or more final steady states depending upon the starting conditions or other factors, once an open system has settled into its variable steady state (from all the possible states in state space), it then remains metastable, without and until a parameter of the system changes or there is a change in the energy supply, or external discrepances interfere.

If any such changes occur, the system will experience distortances. If the changes are only temporary and minor, the fluctuations will eventually determine as the system resumes its original steady state condition.

However, if changes in system parameters or influx are not temporary, but are continuing, and are of sufficient character, the fluctuations will increase, and the system will become more chaotic. At some point, the system will not be able to maintain its metastable steady state, and it may then no longer be able to remain in its domain within the system's state space. In that event, it will "hop" or rise up and over the boundary constraint of its original basin, and down into another different metastable steady state consistent with the continuing modified parameters and / or energy flow.

Imagine a landscape of hills, valleys, and basins. Place a ball in one of the basins, and then continue to shake the landscape progressively more violently – ever, the ball will hop out and fall into a different basin in the landscape.

Assuming that the system parameters or influx changes are generally increasing in size and scope, then when we compare the rate of change from one state to another state, against time, the plot graph should produce the classic bell curve, in which the rate of change in the middle of the transition is the highest rate of change.

By analogy, the same thermodynamic characteristics can be seen in a classical representation of a chemical reaction: The rate of change when two molecules react to form two different molecules; they form a "transition state" at the mid-way point, and during the reaction the rate of change accelerates to the mid-way point and then decelerates to the new configuration.

This means that when a steady state system is being "driven" into a new state space, the rate of change over time accelerates asymptotically toward the inflection point, and (after crossing the "ridge") the rate of change decelerates asymptotically towards zero , as the system settles into its new steady state. Ploting the rate of change against time, we should be presented with the classic sigmoidal curve.

Hypothetically, one could imagine the Earth and it's atmosphere (the biosphere) as an open steady state system with a steady stream of energy from the sun, as occupying one of many steady states in its "state space".

4. The Impact of the Totality of Human Existence.

As the totality of evolution's activities (including that of 6 billion people) over the last 5000 years or more begins to take its toll (including the burning of near 100 million barrels of oil per day, the growing and consuming of crops, the asphalt and concrete surfaces being created, and even the contrails from our jets), the changes in the effective energy supply and the parameters of the system begin to create greater and greater distortions in our metastable system, effectively driving the overall system (Earth) into a rapidly more accelerating rate of change toward some (as yet unknown) "transition state", and possibly into a new basin in its state space.

Time is relative. However, one can see that when the opinions of scientists regarding climatic changes are first projected to take centers, but then those same projections rapidly turn into decades, and when projections of decades rapidly turn into years, and years turn into months, these changes are suggestive of disturbances of a steady state system rapidly accelerating towards a transition state. For example, in the book Inconvenient Truth, the graphs and charts displayed on pages 26-27, 44-45, 46-47, 48-49, 57, 72, 76-77 and 138-139; all begin to show a rapid accelerating series of trends in weather and climate changes brought on by increasingly greater warming trends, that generate more and larger fluctuations to the Earth's biosphere. This evidence suggests that the changes we are seeing growing asymptotically towards some inflection point.

5. Conclusion.

And, while time is relative, the asymptotic curve of the rate of change suggests that projections of decades will turn to years, and years to months, such that the Earth, as a system (Gaia), is now undergoing a rapid acceleration towards a transition state, and that the transition state is, reliably speaking, approaching more and more rapidly. When the projections of changes in climate parameters by scientists are projected to take years, and then are revised to take months, we may find ourselves near the inflection point within a matter of a few years or less.

What may happen in such event? In our new state space of Earth, we may find that the Global Ocean Conveyor Belt pictured on pages 118-119 in Inconvenient Truth, transforms into a new configuration, as it adjusts to the new system parameters of a warmer worldwide climate.

The good news may be that once we pass through the inflection point shortly, the Earth will calm down into its new configuration. The bad news is that it will be impossible to predict what that will look like.

6. Additional Thoughts.

Kauffman describes "error catastrophes" in his book, and also posits that democracy may be the fittest form of social order, providing the best compromises among all of the players in the ecosystem – on this one point I suggest another view:

Imagine all human activity as voluntary, except those actions by violence or by government, which activity is compulsory.

It is possible that the totality of compulsive government interference in the natural free-market (such as subsidies, taxes and tax breaks, government programs, trade sanctions, etc.) over the course of human existence represents an "error catastrophe", such that the collective effect over time has been to steer human activity away from proper compromise and optimization, and towards over-population, and misapplication of resources, such that we are now experiencing the total and collective historical and current effect of those collective errors upon the biosphere .

Seen in this light, our efforts and attempts to begin working towards conservation and population control, and away from pollution and misapplication of resources, is yet another example of the "system" (Gaia) attempting to evolve towards a more fit social structure, and to dampen the fluctuations that are taking the system away from its state space attractor (its tendency towards homeostasis in the current configuration).

Jeff Gananian
Copyright 2008