“Tipping Positive Change to Avoid Climate Tipping Points” with Tim Lenton (University of Exeter, UK)

Tipping points exist in social, ecological and climate systems and those systems are increasingly causally intertwined in the Anthropocene. Climate change and biosphere degradation have advanced to the point where we are already triggering damaging environmental tipping points, and to avoid worse ones ahead will require finding and triggering positive tipping points towards sustainability in coupled social, ecological and technological systems. To help with that the speaker outlines how tipping points can occur in continuous dynamical systems and in networks, the causal interactions that can occur between tipping events across different types and scales of system – including the conditions required to trigger tipping cascades, the potential for early warning signals of tipping points, and how they could inform deliberate tipping of positive change. In particular, the same methods that can provide early warning of damaging environmental tipping points can be used to detect when a socio-technical or socio-ecological system is most sensitive to being deliberately tipped in a desirable direction. The speaker provides some example targets for such deliberate tipping of positive change. 

Tim Lenton is founding Director of the Global Systems Institute and Chair in Climate Change and Earth System Science at the University of Exeter. He has >25 years research experience, focused on modelling life’s coupling to the Earth system, biogeochemical cycling, climate dynamics, and associated tipping points. His books ‘Revolutions that made the Earth’ (with Andrew Watson) and ‘Earth System Science: A Very Short Introduction’ have popularised a new scientific view of our planetary home. Tim co-authored the ‘Planetary Boundaries’ framework and is renowned for his work identifying climate tipping points, which won the Times Higher Education Award for Research Project of the Year 2008. He has also received a Philip Leverhulme Prize 2004, European Geosciences Union Outstanding Young Scientist Award 2006, Geological Society of London William Smith Fund 2008, and Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award 2013. Tim is a member of the Earth Commission, an ISI Highly Cited Researcher, and in the top 100 of the Reuters ‘Hot List’ of the world’s top climate scientists. 

Webinar was recorded December 2, 2021