For the first time, I found a reference to the possibility of runaway climate change in an article in The Economist. Oddly enough, it is not in an article on climate change, but rather in a survey on water from last month:
Few people have dwelt on the worst possibility, even if it is highly unlikely to come about: that the extra water vapour held by a warmer atmosphere might set in train a runaway greenhouse effect in which temperatures rose ever faster and tipping-points for, say, the melting of ice sheets were reached. This possibility has received little consideration outside academia, perhaps because less improbable consequences of climate change provide enough to be gloomy about. The wise conclusion to be drawn may be that all planning should allow for greater uncertainty, and probably also greater variability, so every plan will need to have a greater degree of resilience built into it than in the past.
This account doesn’t even mention the most shocking possible form of runaway climate change, where the oceans boil away and the Earth becomes permanently uninhabitable for life as we know it.
I wonder how long it will be before the main opinion pieces in The Economist take this risk into consideration. So far, they seem to remain convinced that climate change is a rather secondary problem – certainly less important than maintaining global GDP growth – and that it will eventually be efficiently dealt with through carbon pricing schemes.
As I have said countless times before, the major risk with climate change is that the lags between emissions and effects will conceal just how gigantic a problem climate change could be until it has become too late to prevent the worst effects.