Is It Possible to Avoid the Climate Crisis’s Critical ‘Tipping Point’?

by | Dec 20, 2023 | Climate change and sustainable development | 0 comments

Article by Francesca Paxton

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash


Climate scientists anticipate that if global temperatures rise by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, there is a critical threshold in the Earth’s systems known as the ‘tipping point’ that is estimated to be reached by 2030 if we continue to act in such ways, resulting in irreversible and catastrophic consequences, such as the collapse of the Atlantic Ocean current and the Amazon rainforest. It is suggested that through sustainable practices and renewable energy sources, the global would be able to achieve ‘net zero’, which would keep temperatures from reaching this ‘tipping point’, however, have scientists been too ambitious in thinking severe climate change can be prevented?


‘Net zero’ can be achieved when all anthropogenic emissions are counterbalanced by taking out more carbon than releasing it in the atmosphere (Kelly Levin, 2023), which can be done by sustainable techniques, such as implementing renewable energy sources like solar panels, invest in sustainable transport (e-cars and buses) and reducing consumption. This would imply that the global risk of reaching this ‘tipping point’ is considerably reduced when there is more carbon dioxide is being removed than released from the atmosphere. However, given the limited time we have paired with the capitalist ideologies that encourage excessive consumption, and the challenges associated with global governance, this is not an easy outcome, and therefore suggests that avoiding this ‘tipping point’ is near impossible (Grath, 2023).


John Urry’s (2009) ideas suggest that climate change is directly connected to the social and economic organisation of our global system, where it follows a capitalist way of life, promoting economic growth, high consumption and maximising profits. He argues that in order to counteract climate change, it requires the reorganisation of social life and there will be no change in global warming patterns without changes to society, where it is heavily centred around capitalism. In order to change the capitalist ways of over 8 billion people, it would require major global social movements, which would take years of protests and agreements between major institutions. Similarly, because of the short-term benefits of capitalist ways, such as innovation and wealth, people are unwilling to change their ways, indicating that it would be near impossible to change society, supporting John Urry’s ideas.


Saleemul Huq and Farhana Sultana outline the benefits of global agreements, such as Cop27 and the 2015 Paris Agreement, where countries have come together to support climate mitigation and move towards a greener future (Sultana, 2023). However, the richer, more powerful and more industrialised countries like the UK and the US are not committed to compromising capitalist ways of life for sustainability, by ruling out climate reparations, even when the US are the largest greenhouse gas polluter. This tells us that although local action is crucial in moving towards a greener future, without the agreement from the more powerful countries, it is ineffective and therefore tells us that it is impossible to avoid reaching the Earth’s ‘tipping point’. 


Economic growth has been the main contributor to artificial global warming since the Industrial Revolution, which introduced the burning of fossil fuels and machinery in order to expand economies across the globe and meant we have seen the level of atmospheric carbon increase by over 50%  (Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide |


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that ‘degrowth’ may be the only way forward in encouraging a greener society, where we significantly scale back our consumption and ensure that economic growth is not a main macroeconomic objective for countries to aim for, in an attempt to limit temperature rise. Although degrowth seems a sensible strategy to combat climate change, it is unpopular with institutions across the globe with capitalist ideals as it could result in more disadvantages like unemployment, and harming the economy  (Joy, 2023). As a result, strategies to prevent the Earth’s temperatures from increasing by 1.5 degrees Celsius are not being favoured due to stubborn individuals acting in their own self-interest, highlighting that the likelihood of reducing greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere by 2030 is near impossible.


These points help explain the climate crisis we are facing in the current time from a social perspective, where it is suggested that if we do not act now and change our actions, there is no hope for the future climate. This is supported by John Urry who says the only way to prevent such disaster is to have a change in society’s values and actions, however, these points prove that this is unrealistic and therefore suggest that it is impossible to avoid the climate crisis’s critical ‘tipping point’.



Urry, J. (2009) ‘Sociology and Climate Change’, The Sociological Review, 57(s2): 84-100.


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