Alice in Wonderland: UNEP Warns of New “Tipping Points” Being Reached.

Haunting the Library

Since when did a pop culture meme like the ‘tipping point’ become suitable for discussing serious scientific ideas? More on this in another post. But for now . . .

The BBC reports that the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) is warning of a whole new set of ‘tipping points’ being reached unless “population growth” and “unsustainable consumption” are tackled at an international level. Translation: there are simply too many of you, and you’ve all got too much stuff.

UNEP is calling for tough new international agreements to tackle the crisis, arguing – in perfect Alice in Wonderland fashion – that this has already failed hundreds of times, so we should be trying it again, just more so:

For the current edition [of the UNEP report], researchers assessed progress in 90 important environmental issues.

They concluded that meaningful progress had been made on just four – making petrol lead-free, tackling ozone layer depletion, increasing access to clean water and boosting research on marine pollution.

A further 40 showed some progress, including the establishment of protected habitat for plants and animals on land and slowing the rate of deforestation.

Little or no progress was noted for 24, including tackling climate change, while clear deterioration was found in eight, including the parlous state of coral reefs around the world.

For the remainder, there was too little data to draw firm conclusions.

This is despite more than 700 international agreements designed to tackle specific aspects of environmental decline, and agreements on alleviating poverty and malnutrition such as the Millennium Development Goals.

BBC: Green Decline May Bring Irreversible Change.

Isn’t that just fantastic “Mad Hatter” reasoning ? We’ve had more than seven hundred international agreements on environmental protection and apparently things are still getting worse. So apparently the problem is that we don’t have enough of them, we need more international agreements, and they need to be stricter. Much stricter, and much more wide-ranging in scope.


“The problem, you see” said the Mad Hatter, “is that international environmental agreements haven’t worked. Which is why we need more of them”. “I see” said Alice, although she didn’t see at all.

You’ll be reassured to hear that the conclusion that we are rapidly approaching a new set of dangerous tipping points is based on “information on major transformations in the Earth’s past (such as mass extinctions) with models incorporating the present and the immediate future”. You will be further convinced of the solidity of these predictions when you hear that the dates being bandied around for this tipping point are (as always) about twenty to thirty-five years into the future. Near enough to be a “clear and present danger” but far enough away that it can be forgotten about as the date approaches and Armageddon hasn’t yet arrived on schedule.

So, what’s the prescription handed down by UNEP if we want to avoid these new and even more scary tipping points that computer modelling suggests could be just a few years away? Would you be ever so surprised to learn that we must do more work and consume less? Would you be shocked to learn that UNEP believes that the only way to prevent disaster was for the “unsustainable consumption” that was the Western capitalism to be “reversed”?

“GEO-5 reminds world leaders and nations meeting at Rio+20 why a decisive and defining transition to awards [sic] a low-carbon, resource-efficient, job-generating ‘green economy’ is urgently needed,” said Achim Steiner, Unep’s executive director.

“If current trends continue, if current patterns of production and consumption of natural resources prevail and cannot be reversed, then governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation.”

BBC: Green Decline May Bring Irreversible Change.

(I apologise for the breakdown in the English language in the first paragraph, but this is quoted verbatim from the BBC’s Science and Environment website.)


“What you have to do” said the hookah-smoking caterpillar, “is less work with more effort. That’s the way to make everything better”. “Less work with more effort?” repeated Alice, a little confused. The caterpillar had told her how wise it was, but this didn’t seem to make any sense whatsoever!

Apparently, “ unsustainable consumption in western and fast-industrialising nations” must be brought to a decisive end, and a new economy “transitioned” to. One in which more jobs are created, but using less resources. So once again, it seems that a scientific and impartial report finds that the answer is an international agreement to end the Western way of life. Who would have thought it?

Alice, maybe?

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