‘Tipping point’: the point of no return for global warming

Climatologists are warning of a series of ‘tipping points’ that could have catastrophic consequences for life on Earth. Their description is more apt than we may realise

Scientists this week warned that the latest IPCC report on global warming could be underestimating the impact of “tipping points”, such as the loss of polar ice caps, which might lead to “runaway warming”. A tipping point is the point at which nothing is the same again. The idea became famous with Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 eponymous book, which informed excited readers that the tipping point of fax machine usage was the year 1987. But what exactly is being tipped?

If you have in mind the image of something toppling over, you are not wrong. In the 1890s, the tipping point was the point beyond which a listing ship could no longer right itself, or the point at which – in a machine proposed ...