A precarious future? New book explores the tipping points of tomorrow

22 Aug 2013

A new British Academy publication launches today. Addressing Tipping Points for a Precarious Future is a new title exploring the scientific, economic, social, spiritual and creative approaches to identifying and anticipating ‘tipping points’ so that societies can adapt to more sustainable ways of living.

‘Tipping points’ are zones or thresholds of profound changes in natural or social conditions with considerable and largely unforecastable consequences. They may be dangerous for societies and economies, especially if the prevailing governing arrangements are not designed either to anticipate them or adapt to their arrival. Tipping points can also transform cultures and behaviours so that societies can learn to adjust and alter their outlooks in favour of accommodating to more sustainable ways of living.

One of the authors of the book, Professor Tim O’Riordan, said: “Our initial focus was on climate change, ice melt, tropical forest drying and alterations in oceanic and atmospheric circulations. We also looked closely at various aspects of human use of the planet, especially food production, and at the loss of biodiversity. By surveying the various institutional aspects of politics, economics, culture and religion we can begin to see why such dangers persist.”

Key areas explored in Addressing Tipping Points for a Precarious Future include:

•    Tipping points are increasingly a matter for analysis and debate, particularly with regard to climate change;

•    Provides up-to-date assessment of Earth system tipping points and interconnections with human activity;

•    Includes clear analysis from many perspectives in the sciences, social sciences and humanities

•    Use of creative text and narrative;

•    Explains why we collectively ignore warnings of tipping points;

•    Offers credible pathways for tipping points which transform society and establish a sustainable future.

Contributors (in alphabetical order):


•    David Atkinson, retired as Bishop of Thetford in 2009, serves on the Board of Operation Noah

•    Mike Barry, Head of Sustainable Business at Marks and Spencer,

•    Emily Boyd, Reader in Geography, University of Reading

•    Paul Brown,  co-editor of the Climate News Network

•    Ian Christie, Fellow of the Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey, Guildford

•    Charles Clarke, Visiting Professor in Politics at the University of East Anglia

•    Keith Clarke, formerly CEO of the largest consulting engineering consultancy in the UK, WS Atkins.

•    Professor Andrew Dobson, Keele University

•    Professor  Paul Ekins, University College London

•    John Elkington, co-founder and Executive Chairman of Volans (2008), and co-founder of Environmental Data Services (ENDS) (1978) and SustainAbility (1987).

•    Giles Foden, novelist (The Last King of Scotland, Turbulence) and Professor of Creative Writing at UEA

•    Laurence Freeman, Director of Meditatio

•    Toby Gardner, research fellow in the Zoology Department of the University of Cambridge

•    Professor  Patricia Howard, University of Kent

•    John Ingram, Natural Environment Research Council, and Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

•    Professor Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University

•    Professor Tim Lenton, University of Exeter

•    Thomas Lindgard, Global Advocacy Director at Unilever

•    Amanda Long, Executive Officer, Marketing, Membership and Media at the East of England Co-Operative

•    ProfessorTim O’Riordan, University of Exeter

•    Sarah Parkin, Founder Director of Forum for the Future, Board member of the European Training Foundation,

•    Joe Ravetz, Co-Director of the Centre for Urban & Regional Ecology at Manchester,

•    Jonathan Sinclair-Wilson, was for 20 years Managing Director of Earthscan

•    Joe Smith is Senior Lecturer in Environment at the Open University

•    Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA

•    Sir Crispin Tickell GCMG KCVO

•    Camilla Toulmin, Director of IIED, the International Institute of Environment and Development



Addressing Tipping Points for a Precarious Future is available from Oxford University Press.

Editor’s notes:

1.    For further information, images and interviews please contact the Press Office on [email protected] or 020 7969 5263.

2.    The British Academy for the humanities and social sciences. Established by Royal Charter in 1902. Its purpose is to inspire, recognise and support excellence and high achievement in the humanities and social sciences, throughout the UK and internationally, and to champion their role and value. For more information, please visit

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