Approaching the tipping point climate risks, faith and political action

Stefan Skrimshire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Scientific and media reports have become enthralled by the apocalyptic overtones of climatic 'tipping points'. These are thresholds after which a relatively small shift in the Earth system (e.g. melting Arctic perma-frost) has a big, sudden impact on the overall system. Related is the prospect of runaway or 'irreversible' global warming. But it has also revived an interest in its original sociological sense - i.e. tipping points in social and political movement. How do we relate the two? Given the possibility that certain catastrophic events may be unavoidable, climatic tipping points present a situation of global risk unlike any considered before. They introduce an element of radical uncertainty into the very value of taking action. In this paper I argue that ethical bases for taking action must think beyond thresholds assumed by calculations or traditional probabilities of risk such as the precautionary principle or cost-benefit analysis (or simply the assumption that 'my actions will be meaningless unless this happens by this time'). I demonstrate this by reporting from an emerging political movement in the UK that is demonstrating precisely the value of risk-taking in the 'public sphere' of non-violent direct action. Appropriately enough for (Hansen's) reference to the question of redemption, theological insight may indeed have something to contribute here. For an ethics that places imperatives for faith in action prior to epistemic certainty (doing, in other words, comes before knowing) lies arguably at the root of many religious or otherwise utopian traditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-22
Number of pages13
JournalEuropean Journal of Science and Theology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008


  • Climate change
  • Direct action
  • Faith
  • Risk
  • Tipping points


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