Social changes, disinformation and tipping points

Written by Lester Brown

Many social changes occur when societies reach tipping points or cross key thresholds.  Once that happens, change comes rapidly and often unpredictably.  One of the best known tipping points is the growing opposition to smoking that took place during the last half of the 20th century.  This movement was fueled by a steady flow of information on the health-damaging effects of smoking, a process that began with the Surgeon General’s first report in 1964 on smoking and health.  The tipping point came when this information flow finally overcame the heavily funded disinformation campaign of the tobacco industry.

Although many Americans are confused by the disinformation campaign on climate change, which is funded by the oil and coal industries, there are signs that the United States may be moving toward a tipping point on climate, much as it did on tobacco in the 1990s.  The oil and coal companies are using some of the same disinformation tactics that the tobacco industry used in trying to convince the public that there was no link between smoking and health.

Lester Brown, World on the Edge, pp.194-5 

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