Sensitive Intervention Points competition 

Have you got a great idea for a Sensitive Intervention Point (SIP) that can accelerate our transition to a post-carbon society? We still want to hear from you!

 

The competition for the best SIP idea closed in March 2020.  We are currently reviewing the entries to pick a winner to receive the €1000 cash prize and the chance to present the idea to our august advisory board. Both of these have unfortunately been delayed but will be announcing the results by the end of May with the advisory board presentation rescheduled for November 2020.

 

We will very shortly be uploading entries to the SIPs wiki site (www.postcarbontransition.wiki) and want to include any new ideas you might have. So, to have your idea included included on our wiki site, simply send a description of your idea (see instructions below) to postcarbon@oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk, and confirm that you are happy for this to be uploaded to the wiki site. 

Instructions on what are Sensitive Intervention Points

Sensitive intervention points are pivotal events where the relatively small but deliberate actions of individuals or groups can lead to rapid and profound social changes. An example would be the Boston Tea Party in 1773, when casting the contents of a British trading boat into the waters of Boston Harbour helped spark the American Revolution.

 

For this competition we are most interested in identifying sensitive interventions that are aimed specifically at achieving a post-carbon transition consistent with the Paris Agreement. We define sensitive intervention points as components of the socio-economic system that, when triggered by a relatively small intervention, generate an over-sized response in the system.

To achieve the ambitious aims of the Paris Agreement we need interventions that lead to decarbonization of the global economy; that can be triggered in the near future; that make use of systems that are “ripe for change”; and that have self-reinforcing feedbacks that can generate accelerating change at scale.

Self-reinforcing feedbacks are particularly important. They exist in both human and natural systems and lead to a disturbance becoming magnified. Think of panic spreading through a crowd, or sound getting reinforced between a microphone and a speaker. That is, X produces more of Y which in turn produces more of X. One of the most obvious examples is in population growth, where an adult generation produces a greater number of children, which in turn produces a larger adult generation. A more complex example associated with the post-carbon transition might be found in investor’s expectations shifting towards a decarbonized future. With expectations shifting, capital gets deployed in clean technologies, leading to perceptions of risk in clean technologies falling and with them the cost of capital, which in turn increases expectations - a self-reinforcing dynamic that might lead to a relatively painless post-carbon transition.

 

For this competition we are seeking ideas from as many different disciplines and world views as possible. However, regardless of your background or area of expertise it might be helpful to think of sensitive interventions in terms of the following key characteristics they are all likely to possess:

Actor(s) – an intervention requires an actor or actors, such as governments, policymakers, entrepreneurs, and celebrities to initiate it.

Trigger (intervention) – the intervention required to create the necessary change in the system.

Criticality (system ripe for change) – the system might be in a state, or tending towards a state, that is “ripe for change”. Criticality might also involve a weakening in the resistance of incumbents (established polluting institutions) or negative or countervailing feedbacks that repress change.

Feedback dynamics – self-reinforcing dynamics that ensure the impulse has an oversized impact on carbon emissions. Some examples include network effects (such as social networks allowing information to spread faster or make technologies better the more people use them), learning-by-doing (the more you do something the better you get, and hence the more you do it), high fixed costs (whereby the more of a product a company produces the cheaper it becomes).

Timescale and scalability – due to the urgent need for emissions reductions it is imperative that the intervention can be triggered relatively soon, and that the response can have impact at scale.

For even more information and some examples of SIPs go to www.postcarbontransition.wiki  or follow the link below to read our article on SIPs in Science:

Sensitive Intervention Points in the Post Carbon Transition, Farmer, Hepburn, Ives, Hale, Wetzer, Mealy, Rafaty, Srivastav & Way, Science, 364 (6435), 2019

 

For more information on what we mean by SIPs please watch Prof. Cameron Hepburn's TedX talk on SIPs.

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