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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


September/October 2013

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Future Earth and Tipping Points

Future Earth, an emerging global science initiative, aims to connect the natural and social sciences and humanities, and to shift societies and economies (and their associated technologies) toward sustainable development. Tipping points, which usually create their own reinforcing transformations, suggest that sustainability science will soon come of age. Considering several scenarios caused by tipping points in Earth's physical and social systems, Future Earth—with its interdisciplinary focus—could provide a means to advance radical innovations in sustainability science. Despite its ambitious mission, questions remain about Future Earth's ability to create connections between researchers across science, humanities, and other professional programs and draw in marginalized people to effect change at the local and regional scales. How can the positive and negative outcomes of plausible tipping points, explained as scenarios in this article, inform Future Earth's work and ensure it is a successful initiative?

Timothy O'Riordan before retiring in July 2005 was a professor of environmental sciences at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. He was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 1999 and was an active member of the UK Sustainable Development Commission for 8 years to 2008.

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