Schlagwort: IPCC

The Biggest Story of the Century:
How to Tell It

Comment to: „The Biggest Story of the Century Needs More Coverage“ by James Fahn on 2018-11-15 in the blog of Scientific American

Dear James,
thanks for sharing your article in Scientific American.
Unfortunately there is no comment function under your article. So I choose this way to comment.

Honest, often, open – and transparent

Rightly you write that „journalists have a responsibility to be honest about our planetary prospects, and to report as often and openly as possible about climate change.“

Despite the fact, that publishers and other media have a much greater responsibility to increase climate and climate policy reporting, it is not honest and not open to frighten people with phrases like „planetary catastrophe“. There will be no doomsday on the day we reach 1.5 degrees C (or 2 degrees C). There will not even be „a single 1.5 degree C world“, as the IPCC authors stress in their special report 15 (SR15), as well as „there is no single answer to the question of whether it is feasible to limit warming to 1.5°C and adapt to the consequences“.

What openness and transparency mean

Source: IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C

It should be part of honest and open reporting to tell people, that the 1.5°C level may be passed already in 2025 according to the model calculations in IPCC SR15, but likely some time between 2030 and 2055. This means, that the earth will not perish in 2040.

In my opinion it is misleading to tell people that climate change cost „the planetary economy an estimated $54 trillion“.

It is perverse, but true: every war, every catastrophe increases the GDP at least of a richer country, creates jobs, and lets the economy roll. Just look at hurricane Katrina 2005 which helped considerably that the construction businesses in Louisiana flourish.

Foto: Neubert

On the other hand, villas and mansions of wealthy families on beaches, luxury office sky scrapers, or inadequately secured construction sites in the rich countries add disproportionally to the price tag. Whereas the death toll paid by the poor is not included. Economic costs contribute nothing to stories about climate issues. They are only important for insurances.

Do not connect things where there is no connection

Another thing: Many of my fellow journalists irresponsibly connect climate change in their stories with the wild fires in the California, Europe and Russia this year. Why did no one explain people that the global area burned appears to have overall declined over past decades, and that there is increasing evidence that there is less fire in the global landscape today than centuries ago! Misleading stories tend to foster availability cascades, leading to false decisions in the end.

You mention the US and Brazilian climate deniers. Well, there are many more of such figures in governments and administrations around the world. But it worries me much more that climate polluters occupy positions as directors in environmental organisations like Erik Solheim of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). You did not mention him, and Margaret Sullivan, who’s article you linked in your piece[ref]Margaret Sullivan (2018-10-08): The planet is on a fast path to destruction. The media must cover this like it’s the only story that matters. The Washington Post.[/ref], even quotes him uncritically. He spent nearly half a million USD within 3 years just for travelling – usually by plane. Fortunately he left his job now.

Do not mourn: Our civilisation is not compatible with nature

You mention Margaret Sullivan’s piece in the Washington Post as: she „explains quite eloquently that our civilisation may be at stake“. Although I cannot interpret her column the same way, it may be true that our civilisation is at stake.

But what does that mean? Scientifically seen, it means that our civilisation is not compatible with nature. In the past we thought that nature is not compatible with our civilisation and we did everything to make nature compatible – with the results we experience today and will experience in the near future. So we need not to mourn our civilisation, better say good bye to it and find a new one.

Admittedly our civilisation has been quite successful in solving human and societal problems. Between 1990 and 2015 the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than half, the proportion of undernourished people in the developing regions has fallen by almost half, the working middle class has almost tripled, child mortality rate has declined by more than half, more than 90 per cent of the global population can use an improved drinking water source today, terrestrial and marine protected areas in many regions have increased substantially (in Latin America and the Caribbean it rose from 8.8 per cent to 23.4 per cent).[ref]UN Millennium Developing Goals 2015[/ref]

However, the poorest and most vulnerable people are still left behind and millions of poor people still live in poverty and hunger, without access to basic services.

Successes for humanity and societies built on CO2

But it is important to tell openly, that the past successes for humanity and societies are built on ever increasing carbon dioxide emissions, which are incompatible with nature.

Thus we cannot avoid that our civilisation will be gone one day making room for a new civilisation. I fear that just changing our existing civilisation will not be enough. The question is: Can we do it now, as long as we have the freedom of choices (democracy), or do we wait until we have no choice at all when nature (and thus physical law) overtakes?

As journalists we have to tell people the full truth, including the options we have, and the options we do not have. Physics will leave us no options. Mathematical models deliver projections, but no predictions or forecasts. That is a very important difference to be considered in all our reporting and stories, but it is too often neglected!

Telling about options within physical boundaries

Therefore we should put more focus on the variables and the uncertainties which climate models produce in order to force our governments to take the right decisions.

Foto: Neubert

For example, just switching from dirty to clean energy in our home country (in my case Germany) is by far not enough. We have to take the carbon footprints into consideration, which our consumer products create in other countries (e.g. China). The increased production of solar and wind power units added considerably to the carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere, and finite resources have been deleted, like Cobalt, Neodym, Indium, Gallium, Tellur, Selen, and others (many from DR Congo!), but also Silver, Aluminium and Copper. Probably it is time to switch off the lights, to scrap our cars (even the electric ones), to ban blockchains (Bitcoin and the like).

For stories about our options for adaption and mitigation such information are of course parts of openness and transparency.

However, it is increasingly possible to attribute weather disasters to climate physics. This research gives us increasingly better tools to convince courts in order to doom governments and administrations. Why do we widely ignore such attempts in our journalism? Such tools are able to empower people and organisations!

Gain more knowledge

My impression after more than 30 years in science journalism is that the knowledge base in physics and mathematics especially within environmental and climate journalism is eroding and replaced by advocacy communication. Having knowledge in biology, ecology is not enough. Even when reporting about climate court rulings, a solid understanding of physics, chemistry and mathematics is inevitable because they are also foundational in lawsuits.

It does not help to grumble and paint doomsday pictures which journalists falsely repeat over and over again. Instead it should be part of an open, comprising, transparent and critical journalism to show the physical options and the borders of our earth system on one side, and the societal actions on the other side in order to help our audiences to find the right tracks and balances, avoiding biases.

Flying by plane to the coming Climate Conference: Shame on you

Finally: I wonder how many journalists and delegates from Europe will take the train or the bus when going to the Climate Conference in Katowice in Poland, which starts in a few days. Katowice is quite in the centre of Europe and very easy to reach by train mostly in less than a day.

Probably many delegates from Sweden will prefer public sea-ground transport, as is becoming a fashion in Sweden, not to fly. Swedes nowadays feel ashamed when they have to admit that they took an airplane (#flygskam). There are even ministers who take the train to Brussels, about 1,500 kilometres away. From my own experience I can say that it is quite comfortable to work on the train. But how did such awareness rose among the citizens in a country? Interesting question…

All the best
/ Hajo

Our brain not made for saving the climate

The fight for saving climate and environment is above all a fight against the neoliberal global economic system. Why climate actions proceed so awfully slow may be revealed by a closer look into the biological structure and psychological function of the human brain.

Magnetic resonance imaging of the head

Brain (Magnetic resonance imaging of the head). Wikimedia Commons

Our tragedy as humans is that we are no rational subjects. While thinking we are rational in our decisions we overlook that our brain provide us with biased answers. Of course we can overcome these biases, but that means work for our conscient brain which is much slower than the evolutionary older, but once very adapted parts of the brain. In order to work rational, our brain needs to be awake and energetic. It is nearly impossible to reach rational agreements when delegates of conferences — such as the climate summits — lack certain physiological or biological conditions like sleep and sugar. Moreover some training is needed to realise and circumvent the biases of the brain.

Many intellectuals are able to understand the interaction between the modern conscious and the older unconscious brain parts. But neither politicians nor delegates seem to belong to this group, and proposals of intellectuals are usually not considered. This is proofed by the fact that delegates and heads of states want to fly to summits. They want to see each other, because people are most interested in people. But this is an emotional thing, and thus the first bias. When just exchanging letters or hold screen conferences things would immediately become more rational.

To go deeper into this subject it may be helpful to read academic biological, psychological and brain science literature. A good and comprehensive summary give the works of Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman, which I really recommend[ref]Daniel Kahneman in Wikipedia_,_Fast_and_Slow (2015-01-02)[/ref].

Short term thinking

Thus I am not very optimistic that humankind can reach an effective climate agreement in order to stop climate change within the next 500 years or so. Humans are not made to, and used to think in time frames of 500, 1000 or more years.

For example: Solar panels and wind mills are high on the agenda to save carbon dioxide emissions. However, for the production of such toys enormous amounts of carbon dioxide are emitted in a short time, while carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is degrading on a time scale of 100 to 150 years, as long as the oceans can provide a buffer. But solar panels and wind mills will only be good for 20 or 30 years. A simple mathematical calculation reveals that it will not work to save the climate this way in the long run. Besides, both technologies need enormous amounts of precious metals and rare earths, which are often exploited under inhumane conditions and which will soon be exhausted. Another simple mathematical calculation reveals that we cannot use windmills and solar panels forever. The only solution is not to use energy at all. But that would be a catastrophe for the world’s economic system, and probably even more for the poor.

Dilemma of solutions

All solutions to save the environment and the climate are on the table. But they are not used. The basic and biggest obstacle for a change is our globalised, capitalistic, economic logic and the financial system, which are indeed more a religion than rational structures. As long as humankind will not overcome this systems, I see no solutions for saving environment and climate.

So we have to fight on two levels: Against the stupidity of politicians, heads of states and public servants as climate summit delegates, and the neoliberal and colonial economy. With the latter we are in dilemma: Millions of people will suffer after the capitalistic system has brought them a little bit out of poverty.

Nature will find its own solution

However, nature will find its own solution, even if millions of people will cease or suffer: Whatever comes first, the breakdown of economy, or increasing natural disasters as results of the climate change. Nature had always solutions for overexploitation of ecological systems. Old species become extinct or move to other places, making place for new species. Why should it be different for humans with a brain of which they can only make limited use of?

What we can do now is to save the narration of the coming disasters as a memory for future generations in 500 or 1000 years. Then maybe a tenth of the current world population may live around the south and north poles because the rest of the earth may be unliveable for humans. And hopefully these rests of humankind may have learned from our narratives.

This is developed in more detail in the findings and thoughts of Erik Assadourian in „State of the World 2013“ by the Worldwatch-Institute[ref] Assadourian, Eric (2013): Building an Enduring Environmental Movement:[/ref].

Majority of environmental groups lack holistic approach

A statistics which I recently read in an issue of Technology Review revealed, referring to a survey by the online version of the German magazine »Der Spiegel«[ref]Spiegel-Online (2014): Grünen-Wähler halten Rekord bei Flugreisen: (2015-01-02, German only)[/ref]: Most flights are performed by people usually aware of ecological and climate damages and even very engaged in saving the earth, such as voters of green parties or environmental advocators. There are many examples for the ignorance for cultural and environmental values of environmentalists. Like the Greenpeace gang in Peru which invaded the Nasca lines and possibly destroyed small parts of them while demonstrating for saving the climate. Or a recent email advertisement in the EJNet mailing list from a Nepalese journalist coordinating the Seven Summits Women Team with the slogan „Together We Reach Higher“ with a focus on Education, Empowerment and Environment. In my opinion such actions have more to do with destroying the environment and the climate than saving it. While business people seem to be more rational than environmentalists because they are able to make their deals and contracts without seeing each other in person.

History of idle

Well, these are my thoughts on climate policies. I am an old science journalist who studied oceanography in the 1970s. Already then it was very clear for us scientists that something dangerous was happening with the oceans and the atmosphere. I measured these changes in the North Atlantic during my research cruises and colleagues used already computer models developed in the 1960s in order to simulate the future climate. In 1972 these changes where documented in the »Limits to Growth«[ref]Club of Rome (1972): Linits to Growth: (2015-01-02)[/ref] of the Club of Rome. Nothing happened. Another 10 years later — the number of scientific publications about climate change had already doubled –, scientists warned more and more strongly leading to the foundation of the IPCC in 1988. Its reports since then always require immediate action.

And today? Nearly 27 years after the IPCC, 33 years after the Limits of Growth and 50 years after US-President’s Science Advisory board’s warning in the report »Restoring the Quality of Our Environment«[ref]Science Advisory Board to the US-President (1965): Restoring the Quality of Our Environment:,%201965,%20Restoring%20the%20Quality%20of%20Our%20Environment.pdf (2015-01-02)[/ref] essentially nothing has happened. On the contrary: We emit more greenhouse gases than ever, still increasing from year to year. From these facts I derive my pessimism: Within 50 years of increasing knowledge about the climate development humankind was not able to change its way of living and of its economy, and it is still not willing to change.

Easy to see, impossible to act

I remember two sentences from my mother which she said in the 1950s, very long before climate change was a scientific and public issue. My mother was a simple woman. Referring to the second world war she said: „Maybe ever now and then a big war is needed to kill millions of people in order to keep humankind on a level which is sustainable for nature.“ She did not mean it in a sarcastic way since all my family except my grandmother, mother and sister died during the war. Looking in winter at the smoking chimneys of our city, she said: „All these gases from the smoke will fill the atmosphere. It will be the end for humankind when the atmosphere is full.“

One needs not to be a scientist to see what is happening. But you need to be a politician and a climate summit delegate to ignore what is happening and to ignore the urgency to act. But as long as people are not able or not trained to use their brain avoiding integrated biases, and as long as a religious economy governs policy, I have no hope for humankind. But on the other side: Maybe it is better for the earth if humans disappear at all. It makes me happy indeed to live with the idea that nature is able emancipate itself from humans.

This article is the outcome of an e-mail interview with Ruth Aine, a journalist and blogger from Uganda who writes for »Foresight for Development«. The article appeared on her Foresight blog[ref]Ruth Aine: Our minds not made for saving the climate: (2015-01-02)[/ref].