S1E117: On the edge: Why everyone needs to talk about planetary tipping points

  • 18 Feb 2024

Tipping points are a grave threat but it’s not too late for humanity to reduce the risks. 

Synopsis: Every first and third Sunday of the month, The Straits Times analyses the beat of the changing environment, from biodiversity conservation to climate change.

The world is on the brink of major changes to the natural world that could have truly devastating consequences for billions of people. 

These are parts of the natural world that are at risk of abrupt and irreversible changes. For instance, runaway melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets; collapse of a key ocean circulation in the Atlantic; melting of permafrost; dieback of the Amazon rainforest and warm-water coral reefs. There are many more. 

What’s causing this? Man-made global warming is a major reason. So is pollution and over-exploitation of resources. 

Planetary tipping points represent one of the gravest threats to humanity, yet many people seem unaware of the danger. And some of these tipping points might be close to, or already past the point of no return.

Yet, there’s still time to stop others from occurring if we act fast. 

To learn more about this, we speak to Professor Tim Lenton, Director of the Global Systems Institute at Exeter University in Britain. Tim recently led the biggest study yet into global tipping points. 

Highlights of conversation (click/tap above):

1:29  What are planetary tipping points and why should we be concerned?

2:23  What are some examples and how close are we to some of these tipping points?

4:06 And what are the major tipping point risks for Asia?

9:01 Tell us more about the danger from a cascade of tipping points, where one major planetary change causes a domino effect of triggering other tipping points?

14:29  The good news is that there are steps humanity can take – positive tipping points. What are some examples?

17: 40 But humanity has already caused major changes to the planet. Does that mean we have to adapt to a rapidly changing world no matter what we do? 

Produced by: David Fogarty (dfogarty@sph.com.sg), Ernest Luis and Amirul Karim

Edited by: Hadyu Rahim

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