Tipping Points, Great and Small



The Forum by Jordan et al. [2010] addressed environmental problems of various scales in great detail, but getting the critical message through to the formulators of public policies requires going back to basics, namely, that exponential growth (of a population, an economy, or most anything else) is not sustainable. When have you heard any politician or economist from anywhere across the ideological spectrum say anything other than that more growth is essential?

There is no need for computer models to demonstrate “limits to growth,” as was done in the 1960s. Of course, as one seeks more details, the complexity of modeling will rapidly outstrip the capabilities of both observation and computing. This is common with nonlinear systems, even simple ones. Thus, identifying all possible “tipping points,” as suggested by Jordan et al. [2010], and then stopping just short of them, is impractical if not impossible. The main thing needed to avoid environmental disasters is a bit of common sense.