Ecological Tipping Points: Uncertainties and Policy Approaches
Ecological tipping points have captured policymakers’ imaginations for framing local and global environmental change: if an environmental driver becomes too significant, an ecosystem may flip into an alternate state, often with catastrophic and far-reaching consequences. The article first explores the science of ecological tipping points and the uncertainties that limit their validity and value in providing a threshold marking abrupt ecosystem collapse across scales. I then argue that ecological tipping points may be more useful not as a scientific instrument to predict environmental change, but as a gauge of anthropogenic environmental trajectories and a socio-environmental imaginary to mobilise environmental action. Given the complexity and uncertainty of ecological science, I suggest that the science-policy interface of ecological tipping points will benefit from further research in threshold dynamics and ecosystems in transition due to human activity. Furthermore, a pluralistic, deliberative approach to policymaking that brings together different knowledge domains will facilitate adaptive environmental governance to effectively respond to changes in the physical environment and our understandings of it.