In a NY Times special series titled “A Conversation with Science,” Professor Tim Lenton shared the climate “tipping points” and how this idea can be used to bring positive changes in our societies.
An example of a climate tipping point is the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.
The melting causes more fresh water to be added into the North Atlantic ocean. This, in turn, slows the ocean circulation, changing the rain cycles around the tropical regions and trapping more heat in the southern ocean -- thus speeding the melting of ice sheets there.
So, as you can see, there is a domino effect of the melting Greenland ice sheet that can be felt far away in the southern oceans. Climate tipping points are a cause for alarm, but can we engineer good tipping points?
Can Tipping Points Be Good?
Lenton believes that we can respond to bad tipping points by triggering good tipping points. Bad tipping points can become self-propelling, like the melting Greenland ice sheet and its effect on the oceans.
Similarly, good tipping points can become self-propelling by creating positive change in society and the economy. An example Lenton gives is that as more solar panels, wind turbines, and electric car batteries are made, the cheaper they become which then accelerates the transition to green energy.
Making changes that protect our planet will also open up new markets and job opportunities for people. Lenton argues that climate change is an "existential threat" and people must worry less about rich investors and more about protecting the poor people that might suffer.
Lenton also urges people to hold policymakers accountable for their promises and actions. Educating ourselves on what change would look like, and using that knowledge to confront politicians, is an important step towards real action.
Working With The Environment
When asked if our Earth is capable of recovering, Lenton said that most of the Earth’s biosphere, and the microbes living in it, are resilient. However, it is us humans and other complex species that are more fragile and at risk. It is necessary to work with the local environments and species to tip areas back to an ecologically and socially safer environment.
One example is the transformation of the current food and land system. As Lenton explains, the modern food and agriculture system is controlled by large companies with little diversity in how food is grown. Instead, a "regenerative" agriculture system -- practices that rebuild soil quality, biodiversity, and ability to capture carbon, is more environmentally friendly and resilient in the face of natural disasters.
But how can small innovations in agriculture compete with large companies? Lenton said he is working hard to understand the different positive "tipping points" that can make this possible.
You can listen to the full interview here:
Sources: NY Times Climate Hub
This article is a report on the NY Times Climate Hub Event held recently in Glasgow, Scotland at the same time as COP26.