Recently, the tipping point concept has found a new application in climate science as a way to explain, and possibly engineer, social change. The way changes in attitude creep along at a glacial pace before suddenly bursting forth to take root across society is a classic tipping point. This process is useful because it moves ideas that were once on the fringes of mainstream opinion rapidly to the centre; ideas such as the need for deep economic and technological changes to avoid a real-life climate disaster.
Whether by accident or design, we recently passed one such social tipping point. In narrow terms, it is the sudden, widespread embrace of net zero. In broader terms, it means final realisation from all levels of society that we must take radical action or face dire, possibly terminal, consequences.
A year ago, net zero was creeping into the mainstream. Greta Thunberg was talking about it; two countries – Suriname and Bhutan – had achieved it, and four more, including the UK, had passed laws to aim for it. A dozen or so others were thinking about it.
Today, the picture has changed dramatically. Suriname and Bhutan still stand alone as the heroes of zero, but legislation has been passed or is pending in 21 other countries, plus the European Union. Three of the world’s four-biggest emitters – China, the EU and Japan – are in the club. If the US consummates its new relationship with the planet, that will be four out of four. According to the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit’s Net Zero Tracker. the US is one of around 100 countries in which net-zero laws are under discussion. Even Australia, which just four months ago was pushing back, and has recanted. Countries on the outside look increasingly like a rogues’ gallery of backward-looking petrostates: Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, Venezuela and Nigeria. You might call them the axis of ev-oil.
At subnational levels, enthusiasm is spreading too. According to Kaya Axelsson at the University of Oxford’s Net Zero initiative, 452 cities, 22 regions, more than 1100 big companies, nearly 50 investment funds and 550 universities have pledged to go net zero globally, with more joining every day. Axelsson says when she goes to talk to private companies, she finds she is pushing at an open door. (part of an article by Graham Lawton in the latest edition of New Scientist)
My comment: Better late than never. But how are you going to persuade those in the US who believe that the slightest restriction on their “liberty” to do exactly what they like – to hell with the rest of us – is unconstitutional? To them climate change is a hoax ( naturally. It is based on science!). Prediction: net zero will still be being litigated in America long after the rest of the world has realized the existential danger humans face.