Is there a positive future for the world when we consider the damage wrought by climate change, and what are environmental tipping points? Professor Tim Lenton, who has over 20 years of research experience in Earth Sciences discussed these questions with the Eton Environment Society earlier this term.

The difficulty when facing climate change is not necessarily finding alternative methods by which to live our lives, but implementing these methods. This is evident in the use of electric cars in Norway compared to the rest of the world. At a glance, the cold conditions of Norway do not seem appealing to EVs, which often take tolls on battery strength, viability, and life expectancy. However, thanks to the Oslo-born pop band A-Ha, the use of electric cars in Norway has reached 50% and continues to grow. In 1989 the group purchased a converted Fiat electric car and refused to pay road tolls, and then refused to pay their fine for refusing to pay road tolls. Their car was then confiscated, auctioned and bought back for roughly £18, cheaper than the original fine. They were advocating making EVs affordable cars in Norway, and succeeded in convincing the government who abolished road tolls for all EVs in 1990.

As more and more people bought these cars it caused what Professor Lenton described as a ‘tipping cascade’. This is a threshold which, when exceeded, can lead to a measurable change in a system. In this case, electric cars became cheaper than petrol cars as infrastructure was developed to make more efficient car batteries.

Professor Lenton explained that the tipping point effect can occur in all climate systems, from wind and solar energy to single-use plastic production, and that collective action and take-up has a big part to play in achieving this, just as A-Ha proved!