We are reaching a social tipping point, as polarized attitudes and inaction on climate change create social divisions. The lack of progress on combating climate change has led to louder cries for action. However, at the same time, efforts to address climate change have caused hardships and led to protests.
Consider France, where the populist gilets jaunes, or “yellow vest” movement, began as a protest against government plans to raise fuel taxes tied to fulfilling its commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement to combat climate change. Ultimately, the prolonged social unrest in Paris and other parts of France has caused the government to abandon its fuel-tax policy.
Bottom line: Greater numbers of people realize that inaction is simply not an alternative anymore.
When it comes to economic tipping points, in many ways, the future is already here. The cost of renewable energy has fallen dramatically in many parts of the world. In the U.S., solar and wind energy are $54 and $51 per megawatt hour, respectively—now competitive with coal, at $66 per megawatt hour. Both are less than a third of the cost of nuclear. For now, however, natural gas remains the least expensive source of energy.
We are edging closer to the tipping point for substantial government action and policy, an important milestone if we are to mitigate the effects of climate change. Until now, many governments and politicians have missed the opportunity to deal proactively with the challenge of climate change. But mounting pressure from global bodies, such as the UN, as well as better-informed citizens, may now move us toward another tipping point—a shift in attitudes and priorities that presage material changes to national and global policies designed to slow climate-change momentum.