Tipping Points Give Climate a Deadline Unlike Any Other Election Issue

Decades of denial mean that the world needs fast action on climate change — with little room for error

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Welcome to Climate on the Ballot, Covering Climate Now’s weekly elections newsletter. Every week, we’ll pass along a topic and offer up some advice on how to integrate it into your coverage. Vea la versión en español de “El clima en la boleta.”

This Week: Tipping Points

Election coverage routinely takes on an urgent tone: If this candidate wins or loses, x or y issue could make progress or be set back. Climate change takes the urgency to an entirely different level. Scientists have identified tipping points (including the die-off of coral reefs and the melting of ice sheets) that, if crossed, could cause a domino effect of rapid, uncontrollable, unpredictable, and catastrophic change. Voters need to understand the climate deadlines at play in this year’s election.

“Tipping points… pose threats of a magnitude never faced by humanity,” said Professor Tim Lenton, of the University of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute, in a recent Guardian article by Ajit Niranjan. “They can trigger devastating domino effects.”

Reporting Ideas

  • Explain the urgency of taking big strides to address the climate crisis so that voters understand how to evaluate candidates and their climate plans. Dig into five tipping points that scientists are worried we could soon cross.
  • Report the good news, too. We already have the solutions and know what needs to be done to avoid crossing tipping points. Ask candidates about their plans to implement these solutions, and evaluate whether their plans are effective and fast enough.
  • For local reporters, which global tipping points will impact your region most? In Florida, for example, coral reef die-off threatens the local ecosystem, contributes to the global tipping point, and impacts the local economy. Make the connection between climate tipping points and local culture, lifestyles, and economies.
  • Even if humanity acts fast, we may not be able to avoid some tipping points. Ask candidates how they’ll strengthen adaptation plans for regional climate impacts — and report on existing adaptation efforts.

Take Inspiration

  • The Guardian outlines in stark terms the climate stakes of a second Trump term, including plans to roll back Biden’s landmark climate legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act. Further delaying a green transition at this late date in the climate crisis would further accelerate tipping-point disaster.
  • Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has directed $1.6 billion toward hardening infrastructure against rising seas and worsening flooding, Inside Climate News reported, while calling himself “not a global warming person” and failing to acknowledge climate change, let alone propose policies to address it.
  • South Carolina Lowcountry voters’ experience of climate-driven flooding is impacting their voting decisions. “South Carolina Republicans who live along the coasts are having an increasingly hard time ignoring climate change,” Politico reports.
  • WFLA’s Jeff Berardelli interviews Dr. Steven R. Smith of the Global Systems Institute about imminent tipping points, including one his Florida audience knows well, coral reef die-off, for his regular show “Climate Classroom.”
  • The Global Tipping Points Report, published in December 2023, defines “tipping point,” explains what crossing one means, and makes recommendations for how governing bodies should consider tipping points in negotiations.

Spotlight Piece

LAist’s Brianna Lee produced a short voter guide, “Start Here If You Care About The Climate Emergency In The March 2024 Election,” looking at which races on the 2024 ballot could have the biggest local impact on climate in Los Angeles.

Want to share feedback and stories inspired by this newsletter? Shoot us a note at editors@coveringclimatenow.org.