Monday, January 14, 2008

Tipping Points in Socio-Ecological Systems

The idea of a tipping point was popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point. How Little Things can make a Big Difference.

Such tipping points also occur in socio-ecological systems. Such an Eco Tipping Point is a lever that reverses environmental decline, setting in motion restoration and sustainability.

The Resilience Alliance reports on its Eco Tipping Points study in its latest newsletter:

"Eco Tipping Points" have been coined by researchers and writers with The EcoTipping Points Project to describe regime shifts in social-ecological systems from trending toward decline to sustainability. The EcoTipping Points website features approximately 100 environmental success stories from around the world. In each of these examples a community-based catalyst is shown to trigger a shift from degradation or decline to restoration and sustainability. The Eco Tipping Points Project has a strong outreach component with several recent articles available from their website, as well as educational tools and links to background resources (including Resilience Thinking by Walker and Salt 2007) and sustainability organizations. Research on the project is now focused on working with scientists and community groups to create EcoTipping Points for their own situations.

Eco Tipping Points share many features in common with thresholds in social-ecological systems including an underlying premise that humans and the environment are coupled systems that behave in complex and dynamic ways. Improving our understanding of how tipping points or thresholds work and harnessing this knowledge to change toward more sustainable trajectories is an active and complementary area of research for The EcoTipping Points Project and the RA.

The eco tipping point website also features a list of six projects in Africa, half of them in South Africa.

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