Tipping Points

Many of you probably are familiar with the term “tipping point”, coined by Malcolm Gladwell in his book of the same name. As he describes it,

“The word ‘Tipping Point’… comes from the world of epidemiology. It’s the name given to that moment in an epidemic when a virus reaches critical mass. It’s the boiling point. It’s the moment on the graph when the line starts to shoot straight upwards. AIDS tipped in 1982, when it went from a rare disease affecting a few gay men to a worldwide epidemic. Crime in New York City tipped in the mid 1990’s, when the murder rate suddenly plummeted.

“When I heard that phrase for the first time I remember thinking–wow. What if everything has a Tipping Point?”(From the website of Malcolm Gladwell)

If only it could be so. After exploring and writing my series on Water (here, here and here) I obsessed about the issues of plastic, plastic bottles, drinking water issues,plastic bags and on and on. Then it seemed that I kept reading about places where people were doing something about it–Devon, Ireland outlawing plastic bags, San Francisco banning water bottles for government offices and employees,fancy restaurants no longer serving imported sparkling waters but infusing their own filtered water with bubbles and now the bottled water industry is taking notice of the increasing number of cancelled contracts. And, is it my imagination, or are more people bringing their own bags into stores? The Trader Jo lines are full of people holding their previously purchased reusable (and branded) bags. Even the California legislature has introduced the “How Many Legislatures Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb” Act that proposes to phase out incandescents by 2012 and,in a first by a national government, Australia has a phaseout program to make the switch by 2010. Canada is phasing them out by 2012.

Well, maybe not yet a tipping point but it certainly looks like we are
on the uptick of a wave.

One would think so with all the businesses advertising how “green” they suddenly are. Responding sometimes to consumer demand, sometimes to the new public relations opportunities, sometimes to the simple fact of achieving ocassionally significant cost savings, corporations down to small business are rethinking some of their practices and coming up with “green” ones. Lots of them are great, some dubious. Another tipping point? Hardly, although they might as well be warming up for the real tough regulatory days to come.

Cynicism aside, I applaud all efforts to conduct our lives more consciously and if business saves money making changes, all the better. For the real tipping points manifesting themselves aren’t so good. While the bell curve of peak oil suggests a tipping point for some, I bet there are a lot of smug faces out there as oil approaches $100 a barrel (today it retreated to just below $90 I believe.) The report of accelerated ice melt in the Artic is unnerving scientists who have witnessed it themselves. Who would have thought even as early as last year that there would be US Coastguard ship movement into the un-iced waters to monitor new shipping lanes?

Have we reached that Tipping Point?

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