Public Release: 

Could 'sensitive' interventions be a tipping point in addressing climate change?

American Association for the Advancement of Science

In a Policy Forum, Doyne Farmer and colleagues discuss how seemingly slight interventions in sensitive social and political systems can have large and far-reaching effects, possibly making averting an oncoming climate catastrophe a possibility. According to Farmer et al., current approaches to address our rapidly changing climate - including globally agreed upon goals and traditional approaches designed to slowly reduce carbon emissions - have not been effective. Here, the authors introduce the concept of "sensitive intervention points" (SIPs), which are unique situations within socio-economic and political systems where seemingly simple interventions can amplify into radical change. Their concept holds similarities to that of "tipping points," a term used in climate science to describe a critical threshold within a complex system, which once crossed, triggers feedback mechanisms that lead to massive and irreversible changes; one example would be the point in which the melting of polar ice triggers rapidly warming ocean temperatures and leads to the catastrophic shutdown of Atlantic circulation. The authors propose introducing strategic interventions designed with the same power - but to trigger positive, climate-relevant social and political change. They provide several examples illustrating how such interventions might be implemented and could operate to affect positive change. The authors propose the creation of a multidisciplinary research program to identify, model and develop approaches to implementing potential future SIPs in systems where adjustments could contribute to novel solutions to climate change.

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