Climate change tipping points are a common discussion topic in the mass media and among climate professionals. The discussion usually refers to physical tipping points that signal a significant change in the speed, magnitude, or impacts of climate change (e.g., an ice-free Arctic, large-scale methane releases from permafrost, or shutdown of the Gulf Stream current). One thing characterizing these discussions has been that while we understand that tipping points exist, we have trouble forecasting whether and when they’ll “tip.” There’s simply too much we don’t know about how climate change and climate change impacts will evolve. As a result, climate models generally don’t incorporate tipping points into climate forecasts.
We at The Climatographers submit that there is another category of tipping points: Climate Response Tipping Points (CRTPs). We define CRTPs as points at which physical and/or social climatic event(s) bring about a large enough change in decision-makers’ perceptions of risk to result in “crisis response” risk-management (mitigation) and risk-response (adaptation) policies and measures. Again, while it’s relatively easy to understand the reality of such tipping points, it’s much harder to forecast whether and when particular CRTPs will be “tripped.”
CRTPs can be found anywhere that climate change decision making occurs, from individual companies to the global policy process. If triggered at the company level, CRTPs would result in us seeing companies address the forecasted effects of climate change on operations and supply chains. If triggered nationally or globally, CRTPs could spawn emissions reduction mandates much more draconian than those that have been discussed to date.
Like physical tipping points, we can’t know for sure what climatic or political events will trip national or global CRTPs. Indeed, the likelihood of a given CRTP will shift under the influence of political, policy, economic, technology, and social variables. Tripping of CRTPs will usually seem easy to explain in hindsight, like major changes in the stock market, but are almost impossible to predict in advance. Most importantly, CRTPs are likely to sneak up on the unobservant, reflecting this quote from Sharon Salzberg, well-known author and meditation teacher:
The new CRTP Monitor from The Climatographers will report on the “shifting kaleidoscope” of variables that are likely to trip important CRTPs. While each day may bring dozens of relevant events, it’s not easy to identify the “slight changes” that lead “all patterns [to] alter.” That’s what we’ll be trying to do with the CRTP Monitor.