Written by Payal Bhatnagar

May 1, 2019


By Eric Schneider and Payal Bhatnagar for Youth-Leader Magazine

The world is in crisis. Global issues such as social and environmental challenges seem to be hovering upon us day after day. But this emergency call is also opening an opportunity to think and act towards the increasing social challenges and the imperilled environment. An innovative approach has been taken across the globe to take responsibility and charge of improving the situation. “Tipping Points” are being identified and applied to several situations where the ecosystems and social conditions are moving towards destruction and disappearance.

 The “EcoTipping Points” Project brings to the world over a 100 success stories about the exemplary and successful approaches and global challenges addressing many communities and nations today. It’s installing hope and is the most empowering educational resource. Join us on this quick ETP video here:

A note from us at YL: These success stories are way beyond the expert circles because this addresses everyone. And the particular quality of EcoTipping Point stories is that they can be understood and applied by every citizen. And this makes the ETP projects’ approach unique and emerging as the conventional look as the good practice project that mixes with very conscientious journalism but like a comprehensive piece that has the deep quality and gaiety, and staying and influencing the reader. This is very close to positive change media culture that we are using in Youth-Leader magazine. This is why we feel very strongly about Gerry’s work and the EcoTipping Points project and promote it with all our backing and conviction. Specially because their way of taking the reader into the solution and empowering them to understand the complexity of how to address the solution and the many ripple effects it has which is convincing not only to adults but also to children. This is the big thing we need to do today, to educate the young generation – on a broad scale on how to address these challenges and change them because only if the entire society knows about it they can get engaged, understand and support these changes. So EcoTipping Points goes way beyond the conventional approaches of top-down, expert driven, single one-eyed solution oriented approaches. 

And now find out what this really looks like. We are looking at ETPs in general, showing you some examples and talking to Gerry, and giving you some views of his personal journey and how to bring this to teachers and schools. 

EcoTipping Points (ETP):

“EcoTipping Points are levers for restoring sustainability to our imperilled environment – small actions that tip the balance from decline to restoration by tapping the inborn power of nature and human societies to heal themselves.” Simply put, EcoTipping Point is the right change or a “single catalytic tip” that has been taken to rescue the depleted environment, impoverished communities, and address and overcome the social challenges successfully.

The phrase “tip point” was coined more than fifty years ago to indicate a threshold for dramatic change in neighbourhood demographics (Grodzins 1957). It was further used as “tipping point” by Wolf (1963) and Schelling (1978) to describe the same phenomena.

 The ETPs project was started by Gerald Marten (fondly known as ‘Gerry’), an ecologist who wished to bring to the world the success stories that he learnt along the way. His mission is to spread the principles and the tips of ETPs. Read the amazing interview of Gerry and know his views on how we can contribute towards making this world a better place. We also take a look at the many positive tipping points as this is encouraging and empowering thing that we can have today to address the challenges.

How do ETPs work – Feedback loops – Vicious to Virtuous cycles:

Largely, ETPs transform/work on the basis of ‘feedback loops.’ To break out of ‘vicious cycle,’ the feedback loops (circular chains of cause and effects) need to be identified and reversal to the ‘virtuous cycle’ can be obtained by identifying strategic manoeuvres which can reverse the ecological destruction to ecological restoration, thereby driving positive change and sustainability.

Feedback loops: These are the key to the working of ETPs. They not only identify the cause and effect of the vicious cycle that is destroying society and ecosystems; they also depict the strategic points where the cycle can be reversed to restoration.

And restoration happens with the same force as decline had…

EXAMPLE of an EcoTippingPoint ‘flagship story’ (The Negative and Positive tip added by Eric):

A marine sanctuary at Apo Island in the Philippines set in motion community fisheries management that reversed a vicious cycle of destructive fishing and depletion of fish stocks, restored the island’s coral-reef ecosystem and fishery, rescued a fishing village’s valued way of life, and created new avenues of prosperity. Seven hundred fishing villages in the Philippines now have marine sanctuaries.


Negative Tip: Introduction and increase of destructive fishing methods by using dynamite, cyanide and small mesh fishing nets. This led to reduction in fish stock and degradation of coral reef habitat; leading fishing further away from the island thereby increasing risks.

Positive Tip: Creating a marine sanctuary aided in increasing fish stocks. This helped fishermen use less destructive methods and stay closer to home; and also marked a concern for the marine ecosystem and sustainability.

The pictures and graphics below show the factors for success and the way ETPs work.

Payal asked Gerry about the 10 most important ETPs from which each individual, each community, each city and further each country needs to learn from. Here’s the list and little stories of each EcotTipping point project as given by Gerry in his interview. Eric has added their negative tips and positive tips along the way…

The example above and the first four in the list below are ETP’s “flagship stories”

New York City’s “Green Guerillas” created community gardens in vacant lots reversing a vicious cycle of urban decay, crime, neglect, and population flight while producing food, flowers, community space, and wildlife habitat to nourish the bodies and souls of 800 neighbourhoods, stimulating local residents to renovate the neighbourhoods and inspiring urban community gardening across the nation.


Negative Tip: Breweries and slaughterhouses, elevated railroads disturbing the populated streets, urban riots, landlords began abandoning or maintaining properties, reduction of government services due to less investment (less business income and taxes) towards vacant lots, and public systems such as police and fire stations, infrastructure and safety. All this led to the decline of the city ending up with garbage, rats, drug dealing and chop shops.

Positive Tip: Restoration through a community garden – efforts taken by a single person and her team “Green Guerillas” towards restoring the space by cleaning it, removal of garbage, cultivating food and flowers. Spread of a garden led to better infrastructure, safety, more gardens, residents flocking back to their properties, payment of revenues and taxes finally leading to a better life, better maintenance and services.

Agroforestry and community forest management in Nakhon Sawan (Thailand) reversed a vicious cycle of deforestation, watershed degradation, dependence on expensive agricultural inputs, debt, population exodus, and carbon dioxide release due to deforesta (Tropical deforestation is responsible for 30 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions). The region’s villages restored local forests and the ecological health of their watersheds, secured their livelihoods with agriculture that was sustainable because it mimicked forests, and helped to reduce global greenhouse gases by returning atmospheric carbon to a once-again verdant landscape.


Negative Tip: Expansion of markets for timber and cash crops leading to monoculture, less use of draft animals for manure, high use of chemicals, usage of multiple cropping. All this led to soil erosion, deforestation, less food for home consumption, water shortages and increased debt.

Positive Tip: Introduction of agro-forestry and community forest. Diversity of agro-forestry provided farmers more income, weeds to restore soil fertility, less fertilizers and pesticides, greater role of draft animals and less mechanization. Community forest aided in healthy watershed, flood prevention and availability of forest products for home consumption.

Cotton farmers in Andhra Pradesh (India) used “Non-Pesticide Management” with neem and other ecological methods to reverse a vicious cycle of pesticide resistance in insect pests, heavier use of chemical pesticides, human pesticide poisoning, debt, and the highest suicide rate in India. They restored human health, family budgets, and local wildlife (including birds and predatory insects that provided natural pest control) and were inspired by their success to embark on new improvements for their village. Non-Pesticide Management has now spread to more than 3,000 villages.


Negative Tip: Introduction of pesticides for cotton farming proved fatal. Pesticides were initially introduced for killing insects, but pests developed resistance leading to a higher usage of pesticides. Birds that used to eat insects were also killed by higher usage of pesticides. This also led to pesticide poisoning and higher medical expenses for the farmer and further debts and suicide.

Positive Tip: Introduction of non-pesticide management by using neem and other ecological insect control methods. Birds and predatory insects returned to farm with lesser usage of chemicals. Farmers started becoming free of debt and medical expenses slowly turning things into profit. With this money, farmers leased more land and increased income, generated employment and helped hundreds of children return to schools along with other entrepreneurial activities and community projects.

“Water Warriors” in Rajasthan (India) revived traditional rainwater catchment dams in more than 800 villages, reversing a vicious cycle of depleted aquifers, dried-up wells and rivers, fuel wood depletion, agricultural decline, and population exodus while bringing back the water, original vegetation, wildlife, and a decent life for the people.


Negative Tip: Logging of forest reduced watershed from soil erosion. Sediment from rainfall increased in johad ponds reducing the channelling of water to aquifer. People started digging deeper and deeper into tube wells, reducing the water table significantly, along with reduction in irrigation water. Simultaneously, the johad ponds were left unattended as people moved to cities for better avenues.

Positive Tip: Restoration of a single johad in one village along with the beginning of a gram sabha to manage it. As the water returned to johad, villagers restored more johads which rose the water table, expanded irrigation agriculture facilities, thereby more vegetation and underground water. The villagers planted trees reducing soil erosion and more men came back to villages for jobs.

Community coastal mangrove management in Trang Province (Thailand) reversed a vicious cycle of mangrove destruction, fisheries depletion, and the forcing of local inhabitants into increasingly destructive activities as resources deteriorate It restored mangrove habitat, coral reefs, coastal fisheries, and economic opportunities while inspiring more than 50 villages to improve the ecological health of their entire watersheds.

Negative Tip: Commercial aquaculture and charcoal production began cutting through coastal mangrove forests along with commercial trawling. Decline of estuaries led to decline of marine ecosystem leading to a decrease in fishes. Fishermen used hazardous ways of dynamite and poison to catch more fish. This led to deterioration of mangrove forests and fishermen moved towards working in charcoal production, trawlers and aquaculture. Medicinal plants and construction material for local consumption reduced.

Positive Tip: Establishment of a community mangrove management. Healthy estuaries improved marine ecosystems increasing fishing stock as fishermen used less destructive methods for catching fish. Local consumption increased as fishermen moved back to fishery and left charcoal production, aquaculture and trawling jobs. This further helped in recovering the estuaries.

“Envision Utah” involved thousands of citizensinmap-based, regional planning workshops creating an informed public opinion that reversed urban sprawl in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, preserving agricultural land, transforming transportation corridors with light rail, and setting the 98 municipalities in the region on a course of healthier urban growth.

Negative Tip: An unprecedented growth in the city had started creating a chaos. Long commutes, farmland being taken over, congestion, nuisance ordinance against farmers (by local government), and no support was given for feed stores and an increasing population was putting pressure on families.

Positive Tip: A small professional staff was set up to fix the problem. Map based workshop processes involving thousands of citizens were conducted. Implementing strategies led to reduced local energy consumption and infrastructure costs, a plan on how to save the farmland along with filling the extra people coming in and the construction of an initial light rail line was the main tipping point with lines being now added every year.

Arcata (California) created a coastal wetland at the former site of the city’s dump and derelict millpond, providing low-cost municipal sewage processing along with wildlife habitat and nature recreation in an urban setting. Expansion of constructed wetlands to surrounding towns changed urban development in away that helped to contain urban sprawl.

Negative Tip: Arcata’s wastewater treatment plant was not treating wastewater adequately. A new sewer pipeline would lead to the bay making the pollution worse. This would create expansion in infrastructure of malls and housing societies. Aracata had recently saved its agricultural land and adjoining forests turning into community parks. The plant and pipeline would also be costly.

Positive Tip: Creation of a wetland which led to purifying water, promoting wildlife habitation and treating municipal sewage and wastewater. 30-40 acres of unused wetland or industrial brown fields were developed into marshes by cutting concrete. Marsh plants were allowed to grow naturally and vegetation was added to some marshes. Marshes are now used for scientific study, recreation and birding and excursions and it supports 100 species of plants, 6 species of fish and many birds and mammal species.

Indigenous communities in the Mixtec region of southern Mexico planted millions of trees reversing a centuries-long vicious cycle of deforestation, overgrazing, and desertification, setting a barren landscape on a course of restoration, and inspiring the communities to take greater charge of their destinie

Negative Tip: Bad land use practices led to desertification, converted forests into wastelands, over grazing by animals prevented recovery of forests. Cultivating monoculture cash crops led to heavy soil erosion and increasing use of fertilizers made Mixtec one of highest eroded lands on the planet.

Positive Tip: Guatemalan refugees had taken shelter in this region with the help of an American NGO. Seeing the plight of this region, they began sharing their soil conservation, sustainable agriculture and planting of beans in a row (rather than random) with the farmers aided by Mexican NGO CETAMEX. Soon more farmers and other communities chipped in. Green manures were used, seeds were selected to improve varieties of corn and marketed as an organic crop. Reforestation began, plant resistance with regards to storage, drought and pests increased, and productivity increased leading to better nutrition and health with the setting up of farmers’ own organization CEDICAM.

Freiburg, Germany is an inspirational “greencity” which overcame a vicious cycle of ever-increasing consumption and dependence on fossil fuels, switching to a course of sustainable transportation, energy, waste management, and land conservation while creating a far-reaching green economy that perpetuate seven more environmental progress.

Negative Tip: World wars, increasing population and an industrial revolution led to increasing usage of fossil fuels and nuclear power. This led to environmental pollution and mass consumption of goods with an uneven economic growth and unreliable jobs.

Positive Tip: Awareness amongst the residents and government of this unsustainable economy led to the ‘Green revolution.’ Emphasis was laid on recycling, transportation in terms of cycle and bike paths. Energy saving methods, efficient technology and resource conservation methods were stressed upon rather than wastage. This led to creation of more jobs and promotion of land conservation and renewable energy sources.

Eric Schneider and Payal Bhatnagar in an interview with Gerry:

  1. You have been on a unique life’s journey. If you look back and we ask about key steps and breakthrough, forming moments of Gerry Marten to where he is today, as a person and with his work, which are those key moments? 

My experience with the civil rights movement while a student at the University of California (Berkeley) in the early 1960s heightened my social conscience and showed how civil society can make good things happen. It impressed me with the value of following one’s heart and doing what is right, with non-violence and respect, even if it’s necessary to disregard existing laws, rules, or practices.

This revelation has served me well throughout my personal and professional life. The same courage to depart from comfortable conformity is conspicuous in almost every EcoTipping Points story.

Community pioneers have responded to an unacceptable situation by embarking on a course of dramatic positive change despite social obstacles. When I think of my breakthroughs as a scientist, many have occurred unexpectedly when I met someone who provided a perspective of “how the world works” that was new for me, revolutionizing my understanding of scientific questions with which I had been struggling.

For example, when I was a graduate student, a pioneering professor introduced me to “systems thinking,” a powerful lens for making sense of the complexities in ecosystems. Years later, I teamed up with an anthropologist who introduced me to his vision of “human ecology,” which provided an effective way to include the human dimension in environmental research. It fitted perfectly with systems thinking because we approached environmental problems and their solution in terms of interaction between “human social systems” and “ecosystems.”

Other breakthroughs have come from years of hard work that eventually led to success in a way that extended far beyond my original intentions. For example, when I discovered and developed a new “eco-technology” for controlling disease-transmitting mosquitoes, Vietnam used it to eradicate the dengue mosquito in more than a thousand villages, a story featured as “Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever, Copepods, and Biological Control of Mosquitoes” at the EcoTipping Points website (

Through this experience I learned firsthand what it takes to develop an eco-technology and what it takes for people to put it effectively into use. The lessons that I learned became the basis for the “Ingredients for Success” used to interpret success stories at the EcoTipping Points website.

  1. On this trail of discovery of the planet’s web of life and life-support systems, have there been moments, from where something in you shifted from scientist to steward?

Fifty years ago, while hitch hiking through Mexico and Central America, I saw places so overpopulated that farmers had to use every bit of available land, including cornfields on hillsides so steep that the farmers worked on those fields held by a rope to keep from falling off. I saw severe erosion on those fields, which were too steep to be cultivated sustainably. The farmers were desperate. They had no choice. This impressed me deeply with the destruction that overpopulation was already doing to our planet.

Fifteen years later, when studying the fishery of Lake Victoria, I saw decent people enduring heartbreaking hardships because they had damaged the natural resources on which they depended. It was clear that people often create environmental disasters that they cannot fix by themselves. I decided that I should try to help through my work as a scientist.

  1. I can hardly imagine the many encounters and places of beauty you must have seen. Can you share some moments, maybe the most touching?

One of the most touching times was in the “Mountains of the Moon,” a remote part of Uganda, where for several days my wife and I sat within a hundred yards of a family of Mountain Gorillas to observe their life. These gentle creatures had a good, peaceful life. They displayed strong “family values,” enjoying life with their playful children.

Since then, it has been sad to know that Mountain Gorillas are headed for extinction because of hunting and habitat destruction. 

  1. What professions have you had, and, based on all those experiences, what would be your profession and job title, today?

I have always been an ecologist, but the focus has been very different at different times in my life. I began as a biological ecologist, fascinated with the beauty of nature and studying how ecosystems function. Later I focused on studying ecosystems that are particularly important for meeting human needs. For example, agricultural ecosystems. The key question was “How can we live sustainably with our environmental support systems?”

When I discovered “human ecology,” my perspective as a scientist shifted from focusing only on ecosystems (as a source of resources for people) to a broader perspective that included people as an important part of the story. Since then, I have thought of myself as a “human ecologist” with a mission to convey what human ecology can offer that people who are not human ecologists should know.

  1. How (did the idea emerge) and why did you feel the need to create the ETP series?

Ten years ago I published a book about using systems thinking to understand how humans interact with ecosystems – and what makes the interaction sustainable or not sustainable. The book is online free at After publishing the book, I was brainstorming with a journalist about how to communicate some of the same ideas to people who would not read the book. The challenge was to think of a theme that people would care about.

We had a sudden breakthrough when we realized that people would be interested in how to “leverage” positive change – i.e., “small things that can make a big difference.” We decided to use an investigative journalism strategy, collecting environmental success stories from around the world to show that people can do amazing things, working their way out of environmental messes, and that systems thinking can help to understand their success and how we can all discover or create ways to make things better.

  1. How do you learn about these amazing changes that take place in countries far and wide?

It started in 2004, when I worked with a wonderfully talented environmental journalist, Amanda Suutari, who found descriptions of more than a hundred environmental success stories on the internet. Amanda, my wife, and I made field visits to document the best stories, hearing firsthand from the people in the stories about what their problem had been, what they had done about it, and what happened after that.

These people were so happy to have worked their way out of a bad situation and eager to help others with their story. In more recent years, people who have learned about the EcoTipping Points Project through the Project website have contacted me to bring important stories to my attention.

7. What is your message to the communities suffering from vicious cycles where the ecosystems are on the brink of extinction?

Communities that are in trouble should set up a dialogue to take stock of their situation, to understand why their environmental support system and their lives have deteriorated, and explore a variety of possible actions for doing something about it. If it’s too difficult to do this, or it’s not working out, they should seek outside help to get more ideas about what to do. There are people who can facilitate effective community action.

However, while outside help with ideas can be helpful, communities should not wait for financial assistance from outside or become dependent on it. The people in our EcoTipping Points stories achieved success with their own hard work and their own money because nobody else was going to pay for it or do it for them.

  1. What, do you think, is lacking in the people to stand up and clear the disorder around them and make the world a better place? How can they overcome the inhibitions and be motivated to stand up and act?

It’s difficult to solve complex and overwhelming environmental problems. It’s more comfortable to be in denial about the problems than to face up to them and do something about them. Often negative change is so slow that it’s not noticed until things are really bad and difficult to fix. Even when people decide to do something, it can be difficult to know what to do in today’s complex world. And even if a community knows what it wants to do, there can be serious social obstacles.

For example, it can be difficult to mobilize a community to action because there are so many other demands for people’s time and attention. And people who feel threatened by change may try to stop the progress. An effective strategy for a community to overcome seemingly insurmountable social obstacles is to work toward greater local autonomy and self-sufficiency, so the community can be functional despite disfunctionality in the world around it.

  1. Which, according to you, are the 10 most important and powerful ETP stories which people can and must learn from? 

The photo links at the top of the EcoTipping Points “Our Stories” page [] go to some of the best stories. I’ve listed ten of those stories below. The first five stories in the list are EcoTipping Points “flagship stories.” Many can be seen in a short video. The “How Success Works” lessons provide an educational package for understanding the lessons offered by each flagship story.

Note from YL: The 10 stories have already been mentioned above in the ETP flagship stories section.

10. Which areas/countries do you think require further such restoration programs and changes?

Because decline is happening in one way or another everywhere in the world, there is a need everywhere for the kind of turnabout from decline to restoration that we see in EcoTipping Points stories.  Sometimes it’s difficult to see the decline, particularly in wealthier nations that can compensate for damaging their environmental support system by using the environmental support systems of others.

It can also be difficult to see decline because everything is so complicated in today’s world. Resilience can be declining – increasing the risk of disaster– and people don’t notice the vulnerability until something bad happens.

  1. From what we have learned, the use of a negative and positive Tipping Point graphic can help a lot for approaching problem-solving and for taking solutions to greater scale – because they help others understand the impacts better. What if a community is facing a complex problem, can they get in touch for your help in analyzing the web of problems? Or could organizations that have a proven model solution get in touch for developing a graphic together? So they can better convey their work to others?

The EcoTipping Points Project never helps people by giving them money, but the Project is always ready to help with ideas, including how to use feedback diagrams and other methods to understand a bad situation, how to learn about new possibilities for effective action, and how to use “Ingredients for Success” from our stories to make their efforts more effective (

Community groups are always welcome to use “contact us” at the EcoTipping Points website to see if we can help (

12. What is your suggestion to corporates and governments to be a part of introducing ETPs to improving approaches for sustainable development programs?

Governments can help by providing training programs to local communities on how to turn from decline to restoration. A hundred years ago the United States Government created the Agricultural Extension Service to show American farmers modern methods for improving crop yields. The benefits have been enormous. Governments can provide a similar service to help local communities pursue sustainability.

Corporations can also help, not only by setting a good example when they take the initiative for sustainability, but also by  collaborating with non-profit organizations and by promoting sustainability principles among companies with which they do business, actively helping businesses and non-profit organizations to work for sustainability.

13. In an earlier conversation, you mentioned that your daughter has tested ETPs with her students. How was her experience?

My daughter Julie developed theEnvironmental Conference on Sustainability in Action” and “Town Hall Meeting” lessons, which are listed on the “For Teachers” page of the EcoTipping Points website ( These lessons are ways for students to become familiar with EcoTipping Points success stories. The lessons are fun, and students have a good time.

Julie also helped to develop the “How Success Works” lessons, which I have used in classrooms ranging from primary and secondary schools to university and mid-career professional leadership courses (

People of all ages find it easy to understand the stories and their lessons. I always begin a lesson by showing students an EcoTipping Points video. The students then discover lessons from the story in the video by diagramming vicious cycles and virtuous cycles and by discovering “Ingredients for Success” in the story.

After that, the students decide on an environmental problem of their own, usually a local problem, and use the same tools to examine what is causing the problem and what they can do about it.

14. And then, you have developed this outstanding selection of teaching tools. How have teachers, students communities benefitted from these stories? Their reactions…

I have personally seen how well students do with the teaching tools, and I’ve received enthusiastic feedback from teachers.

All teaching materials are available for free download at the EcoTipping Points website ( I don’t really know how many teachers are using EcoTipping Points teaching tools, but I suspect it’s less than I would like. I may be better at developing teaching materials than I am at promoting and distributing them on a large scale. The EcoTipping Points Project needs help with this.

15. Are they best suited for specific school subjects? What range of applications do you suggest? Maybe even as an extracurricular activity?

EcoTipping Points can be fitted into many different school subjects. They are being used not only in science courses but also in social studies, literature, and philosophy courses. Students can start with academic study in a class, but the greatest rewards come when they apply EcoTipping Points principles and methods to a problem in their own community, following through with action as agents for positive change.

16. How can youth and YL help you in spreading this initiative for more people to act and apply it?

Youth Leader can help to get EcoTipping Points materials to people who will really use them.

For EcoTipping Points to help people do things that make a difference, it’s important for the materials to fit what those people really need and will use. Youth Leader could help to get input about what people really want, so the EcoTipping Points Project can tailor its materials to user’s needs.

17. Your project is an example of how a few people can achieve a lot. Who are the key people in your team? And how have your paths merged?

The EcoTipping Points Project started eight years ago. Different people have carried the ball over the years as the Project has evolved through different phases: collecting stories, interpreting the stories, preparing educational materials, distributing materials to users, and working with community groups to help them be more effective. At every step, Project volunteers have moved the Project forward because they believed deeply in the Project’s goals and found the time to do the work.

18. What does a typical day in the ETP project on Hawaii look like? Besides sunshine and lush vegetation?

A typical day might include reading email inquiries about EcoTipping Points and replying to the messages. Maybe also working on a new EcoTipping Points story for the website or working on an EcoTipping Points magazine article. Sometimes I spend a few hours at a school, doing EcoTipping Points lessons with classes. I also spend a lot of time talking with other scientists, working with them to develop strategies for dealing with important issues such as food security. Where security is declining, we need to find ways to leverage a turnabout.

19. For the ETP project in general, what areas do you still wish to develop and add to?

Dissemination of what the EcoTipping Points Project can offer has been a priority the past few years, and there is still a lot to do. We want to develop a “toolkit” that people can use to create their own EcoTipping Points. This is a lot of work because development and testing requires working closely with community groups. And that requires a large time investment by the EcoTipping Points team.

So far, the EcoTipping Points Project has not used grants because preparing grant proposals takes time that is better devoted to Project work. However, the small budget limits what the Project can do. It looks like we need financial help for some of the more difficult jobs that remain unfinished.

20. Can universities and sustainability sciences connect with you? And – for example – could interested university students connect with you for having skype presentations or even setting up a research project at their university?

The short answer is “Yes.” It’s a “two-way street.” The EcoTipping Points Project has a lot to offer university students, and students can help the Project. The EcoTipping Points Project has grown through the efforts of people who have helped to document environmental success stories, or told us their own stories, and people who have helped to disseminate the stories and their lessons to others. University students can explore EcoTipping Points stories at the website and learn from them. They can also help the EcoTipping Points Project to move forward by helping us to find and document new stories and figure out the lessons from those stories.

Perhaps most important, university students can use EcoTipping Points principles and methods for action in their own community, and through their experiences, help us to develop an EcoTipping Points “toolkit” for use by people everywhere. The EcoTipping Points team and I are always eager to help university students with any of these activities, as well as anything else that students might devise.

21. Gerry, we appreciate your commitment and genius in making complex things easy. I’ll say you are a very learned man – do you still experience surprises?

There are still surprises. The surprise that impressed me most in recent years was absolutely shocking. It was when Hurricane Katrina transformed half of New Orleans into a ghost town. I lived in New Orleans twenty years ago, and the house that I lived in has been empty since Katrina. The entire neighbourhood is empty for miles. Most people in New Orleans had no idea that a hurricane would be so devastating. The city had experienced hurricanes in the past, but there was never lasting damage. In fact, in New Orleans hurricanes were a time for “hurricane parties.”

Katrina was devastating because of slow changes during the previous fifty years, which increased the vulnerability of the city to hurricane damage. As the city grew, developers built new subdivisions in low-lying, floodable areas. No one worried because the flood-control levees gave a false sense of security. House construction changed too. Before, houses were built “local style” to survive floods, but houses during the past fifty years were “American style.” They were ruined if water came into the house. Eventually New Orleans became so vulnerable that collapse from a hurricane was a certainty. It was only a question of when it would happen.

Today, the same thing is happening in hundreds of ways all around the world. I call this gradual, difficult-to-see increase in vulnerability the “Katrina Effect.” For example, how safe is the food supply to our supermarkets? It depends on agricultural lands that can barely produce enough food for an overpopulated planet. It depends on food production that requires good weather, although crop-destroying droughts and floods will be more common with global climate change. And we all depend on multinational corporations and a complex, energy-intensive and possibly fragile food transport system to bring the food to our cities.

Unexpected events such as a global influenza pandemic or economic crisis could trigger a sudden collapse in the food supply. It doesn’t have to be that way. Recognizing the problem, breaking away from denial, and doing the doable things to increase resilience in our food system is the greatest EcoTipping Points challenge facing us today. For example, larger stocks of stored food could make a difference. In the past, worldwide food storage was enough for several years. Now it’s only enough for a few months, and in most cities it’s only enough for a few weeks. 

22. I cannot but mention it. Hawaii. Is it like nature enthusiast Gerry Marten’s perfect, final destination? What’s your greatest love for Hawaii?

Hawaii is a great place to live, particularly for people like me who enjoy outdoor activities such as snorkeling on coral reefs. However, what I like most about Hawaii is the “aloha spirit.” It’s about the “commons.” It’s about respect, kindness, and generosity, and it’s real. For native Hawaiians, the aloha spirit is not only about relationships between people; it’s also about respect for nature. However, nature in Hawaii is in trouble because the fragile island ecosystems have been devastated by the presence of so many people and their modern lifestyle. More species of native plants and animals are extinct and endangered in Hawaii than in all the other states of the United States combined.

23. And from this special ocean jewel, – what’s your message for today’s youth?

My main message is:

“The environmental crisis is very real and very serious. You have inherited the responsibility to do something about it.”

The crisis was created by your parents and grandparents. It’s not fair, but that’s the way it is.
Every human generation has its challenges, and you have yours.

You also have a choice. You can make the problem worse, or you can break away from denial, face up to the problem, and do something to deal with it. It means working with friends, family, and anyone else who will help, to consider possible actions and then work hard without giving up. It can be very difficult to know what to do.

You can’t wait for government to lead the way. A good strategy is to use your imagination, experimenting on a small scale and expanding successful experiences to a larger scale. And remember that it’s not enough to “just be green.” The social forces driving decline in our environmental support system are powerful, and positive change will happen only when communities take the necessary actions with enough force to overcome the forces driving decline.

The good news is that once that happens, the same forces that were driving decline will reinforce the restoration as “success breeds success.”

Ingredients for success: 

Ingredients for success are factors that make the ETPs a success story -its key characteristics of eco-technology and the role of the lever which sets in motion a cascade of changes.

1. Outside stimulation and facilitation: Not just the local communities, but people from outside the communities should come forward to discuss the problem and fresh ways, programs and approaches to deal with it and stimulate actions required to overcome the disordered situation that has been created over time.

2. Strong local institutions and enduring commitment of local leadership: Community needs to participate in the development programs towards achieving their one goal by utilizing their own manpower and resources.

3. Co-adaption between social system and ecosystem: Social system and ecosystem fit together, functioning as a sustainable whole (Marten 2001). To augment the sustainability of man and environment, all need to function as one with shared interests.

4. Letting nature do the work: Many a times, ETPs themselves set the nature to work in the reversal motion and restore the perishing environment.

5. Transforming waste into resources: As it’s known – Waste is not wasted. Land, buildings, garbage which is considered ‘waste’ can be converted to a valued social or physical item.

6. Rapid results: Quick results in the form of ‘paybacks’ or benefits can pull the social, economic and political processes towards it for greater and better value additions.

7. A powerful symbol: Sometimes, a leader needs to stand up and support a cause which can energise and motivate the community to take action for everyone’s well-being.

8. Coping with social complexity: Many times, people themselves are an obstacle to growth. Either they do not participate in community development, or outsiders take advantage of improving situations, or dependencies stop the way to growth. Individuals and communities need to overcome this tendency.

9. Social and ecological diversity: Diversity provides better choices in decision making. Social and ecological diversity too enhances the restoration process.

10. Social and ecological memory: Learning, knowledge and technology of the past is of value even today. Similarly, ecological memory creates flexibility and better interrelationships in living organisms in their ecosystems.

11. Building resilience: Resilience helps in working against unexpected and disturbing forces. ETPs work in conditions which can withstand threats, and communities can adapt to change by testing and learning from mistakes and successes.

You too can create your own ETPs. Here’s how….

 1. The feedback loops can be discussed and processes can be decided to bring about the cause and effect for social and environmental problems.

2. Identify the negative tips.

3. Chalk out the positive points (or interventions) that need to be drawn out which will reverse the momentum to virtuous cycles and build their own pace to positive reversal.

4. Finally, build the ‘ingredients for success.’

Also interested in knowing more about such amazing stories?

Check them out at:

ETPs for Teachers:

K-6: ETPs mini books constitute of a set of five stories set in three different countries encompassing the cases of water pollution, acid rain, soil erosion, fish depletion and water supplies. The stories are addressed using vocabulary, questions and graphical explanations. A power point presentation is also available which focuses on environmental education through an individual’s commitment with transformation and sustainability.

K7-12: There are several types of offerings for students and teachers of science, social science, environmental studies and English –

How success works: 5 environmental case studies are discussed along with their ingredients for success. Videos, power point presentations, vocabulary, assessment tools, identification of ingredients for success and read along cases are provided for students.

Environmental Conference on Sustainability in Action: A jigsaw format is used to teach students the environmental problems and how they have been overcome by communities towards sustainability. Students can prepare their cases for conferences using human geography terms and questions.

Feedback diagrams for teaching ETPs: Students learn how to diagram feedback loops and how ‘levers’ work. Henceforth, the students can apply this to their own communities.

Changing Nature’s Course: A look at ETP models: Students understand how human activity has disabled ecosystems. Then using the ETP model, they learn what situations and events reversed the process. Students can undertake this using graphical activity, debates, role-playing, tumbling block situations and essays.

Town hall Meeting: Role-playing and simulation teaches children about environmental crisis and their own critical thinking and problem-solving skills on the various ways to deal with it. Finally they are explained the actual procedures taken for restoration.

Learning to play by nature’s rules: Students learn to recognize vicious to virtuous cycles and the different measures (mainly regarding approaches to water) taken to improve the situation.

Something Fishy: Students learn about fish biology, ocean ecosystems, and human-ecosystem interaction. They learn how marine life survives despite changes.

Resources we live by: Students can create geography vocabulary books about natural resources used in making or breaking communities.

ETP Mini books: Similar to K-6 level offering.

To Diaper or not: Using diapers as an example students learn the importance of creating simple and effective methods of waste disposal; including discussing issues about the disposal, and biological hazards/ benefits of industrial waste to the environment.

An introduction to Environmental ED: Similar to K-6 offering.

College level: There are two types of offerings here:

How success works: Similar to that of K 7-12.

Feedback diagrams for Teaching Eco-Tipping Points: Students can learn how to make feedback loops based on the case studies. They also learn how “levers” work – the small actions that create the big change from the vicious to virtuous cycle.

School wide Projects: Cross-curriculum projects can be undertaken to teach children the concept of sustainability.

Edible School Yard: Students can grow a variety of crops, finally offering the harvest at their café. They can then use the scrap compost for recycling to the garden itself.

Habitat-Based Learning Center: Download a power point presentation showcasing diverse biomes that can be used for environmental study.

Check out the link below for more details:

Wish to know more? Check out..

Eco Tipping Points project wishes to disseminate information related to social and environmental concern. It wishes to provide information on basic principles, real applications and how they can be applied. They also wish to collaborate with people who would like to develop toolkit and/or apply ETP in their own community/schools etc.

For more information, contact:

Gerry Marten:

For teaching lessons, sharing more stories or needing speakers for your events:

Mail at:

A note from us at YL:

As we said in the beginning that not only are these wonderful solutions but they are also different from anything delivered by the UN, other good practice organizations, Ashoka, expert organizations, etc. whose material cannot be used in schools. The young generation being 50% of humanity, who are open to learning new things and have to learn even more than adults because they would grow up with this world view and with this thinking over the years. They also have the time and passion to start promoting these works and solutions in their own environment. They have the time and skills to start developing this look at their own environment and they have the time to promote these. This is very different from adults who are coined by being apathy or who are not able to think this way or not having the time to do anything because they are busy working or taking care of kids and watching television and all kinds of other addictions. And here the ETP project has come up with an awesome resource. And we are happy to say that Eric talked to Gerry before the UN world conference on ‘Education for Sustainable Development’ and he asked Gerry whether they could come up with a format for school education. And Gerry said that ‘my daughter is actually using this for students and its very very successful.’ They understand the principles very fast and they can discover themselves as to what actually are the tipping points in the system. And we found this so encouraging that we asked Gerry to please create educational resources that we could share with the world and just two months later Gerry surprised us with something we would never have imagined. And now he has given us this fabulous rich collection of ETPs along with videos, rich resource links, rich imagery, teaching tools and graphics to use in classrooms, and not only for use in higher classes but for classes from Grade 1 to Grade 12. We are humbled and floored by these resources and its one of the most powerful and valuable things that we really have to share with the global audience from Youth-Leader magazine.

It is a crucial call for the future. And it is up to us to listen because the solutions are there for us to act upon.


Step 1: Use the materials.

Step 2: See the change and feel involved by identifying the tipping points and issues to be addressed.

Step 3: Promote an ETP and awaken many who can be a part to change the world and save it from social and environmental damage.

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Two brothers’ drive to educate the under-privileged children and free the children from child labor through various programs.


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