Climate Change Seminar

Climate Change: How do we Deal with Complex Science and Growing Urgency?

Speakers: Peter Barrett & Martin Manning, NZCCRI
Attended this yesterday. Peter Barrett gave an overview of the process for the next IPCC assessment, a lengthy process indeed, currently at the stage of gathering authors for the various chapters. I was interested to see that the open ocean is being treated as a distinct region for this report, for the first time – it’s pleasingly indicative of a step away from an anthropocentric framing of the problem. Sea level change is also a particular focus for this report; Peter took us through the findings of previous assessments, where sea level change estimates have been roughly constant but with what seemed to me a steadily rising upper limit.
What struck me most about Peter’s section was the sheer scale of this enterprise. It’s a global effort, driven by and through governments but populated by scientists. It’s massively multidisciplinary, spanning immense fields and sub-fields of knowledge and application. There’s never been an enterprise on this scale before, in any field. It’s humbling to consider the effort that goes into these assessments, in particular the drive for knew knowledge that underpins them.
Martin Manning, who was until recently the head of the Technical Support Unit for the IPCC’s Working Group I, spoke next, giving a picture of the projections for emissions and emphasising that carbon dioxide is just part of the picture. He also noted that the political maneuvering around emissions in the different countries is mostly based on what is produced in those countries, but does not reflect what is consumed; tracking by consumption produces a different picture. Should the emissions cost of a side of beef be applied to NZ because it was prepared here, or to the UK where it ends up being eaten? That’s a political question with no clear answer, but it’s important to be aware of the question.
Ultimately, Manning didn’t present a positive picture. A 2-degree warming target is seen as increasingly unlikely; a 3.5-degree target might be what we’re in for. Either way we’re headed for massive lifestyle changes, either self-inflicted to achieve the 2-degree limit, or forced by an unruly planet as we head north of 3 degrees.
Rough time ahead. One of Manning’s slides caught my attention though, saying that “climate scientists are increasingly pessimistic” about achieving the target. To me, that’s the wrong framing. We’re not talking about impersonal processes that will happen regardless of human action. I would swap out that word “pessimistic” for another – in my perspective, it should say “climate scientists are increasingly active“. As I’ve said over and over, the political ground is changing quickly, and great advancements are still possible. The political world is made up of people, and people can be convinced that urgent action is necessary; if enough of them are, then even sluggish global systems can be hauled on to a different course.

One thought on “Climate Change Seminar”

  1. Hey, I read a really fantastic YA book called ‘Carbon Diaries 2015’ which I think you’d enjoy. I haven’t managed to blog about it yet, hence the comment 🙂
    Wellington library has it.

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