Thursday, October 27, 2011

Climate change and the financial crisis: what can we learn?

In April 2008 I attended a workshop in Berkeley on climate change. Over dinner I had a discussion with a German climate scientist about the magnitude of the problem. I ventured the idea that it would pale in comparison with a (then hypothetical) financial crisis, looking at the the short to medium term effects. He was vehemently opposed to this idea. In the meantime climate change has receded from the headlines and the financial crisis has taken prime attention. Both issues have several things in  common, but there are stark contrasts also.
Let me start with the commonalities. Both the financial crisis and climate change are global and require some kind of global intervention, or at least an intervention by resourceful actors who are in a position to make a difference.
Both could jeopardize the well-being of societies in different parts of the world. Both require enormous amounts of money for their management. Both are wicked problems in the sense that we do not have a solution at hand that will solve the uderlying problem once and for all. But I am jumping ahead already.
What are the differences then?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Praxis Check: Tsunami Messbojen in Indonesien

Wir müssen uns an die Folgen des Klimawandels und von Naturkatastrophen anpassen lernen. Dazu brauchen wir exzellente Wissenschaft und eine nahtlose Umsetzung in politisches Handeln. So kennen wir es aus unzähligen Sonntagsreden, so ist es in jedem Institut plakatiert, so werden Forschungsgelder verteilt. "Wissen schafft Nutzen", so die Devise. Ab und an ist es ganz nützlich auch einmal hinzuschauen, wie die Praxis aussieht. Die ARD hat das wohl getan. Dazu ein etwas nachdenklich stimmender Artikel von Patrick Illinger in der Süddeutschen über das Schicksal von Messbojen zur Tsunamiwarnung in Indonesien: Keine der neun Messbojen, die mit 45 Millionen Euro aus Deutschland gefördert wurden, ist dem Bericht zufolge mehr in Betrieb. Das macht aber nichts, aus zwei Gründen:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Climate Cultures: sensing weather / climate / change

Climate is the statistics of weather. Mean temperatures, global climate models, calculations. The scientific discourse reduces a complex phenomenon to the language of numbers.  Complex climate put into little language boxes. It is amazing that there is only little interest in climate change as part of our actual life world. Remote sensing does not substitute senses of place; statistics do not much tell about how it feels to inhabit places inside a fragile climate envelope. This is where poetic scrutiny, close observing, thick description is needed. If climate change is real, we can't reduce reality to yes or no, skeptic or alarmist; instead, we have to acknowledge the complexity of feelings; the ambivalence of emotions; the simultaneity of sensory experience of weather and the weather report; of climate information and talk about heat waves or cold winters. We have to add lived reality to the abstract scientific reality.
In the current edition of The New Yorker,  there is a poem by W.G. Sebald, which gives an idea of the difference between remote sensing and sensing weather & climate as an integral part of everyday life. The poem is called October Heat Wave.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Students' risk perceptions, part 2

I also asked my students to tell me about their attitudes towards costs of risk regulation, the role of the media, and the role of NGOs. The results are shown over the 12 year period. Very few students think that risks are unavoidable and we cannot do anything about them, that the press exaggerates environmental problems, or that NGOs are a nuisance. An earlier deep green attitude (as indicated by high agreement with the statement that risk should be regulated regardless of costs)  has been replaced by a more mainstream/realistic view that risk reduction must be cost-effective. In 2009 there were clashes of opinion between deep greens and more contrarian views.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Eurobarometer studies opinins on climate change in 2011

Eurobarometer has surveyed European citizens about their view of climate change and reports about the results in its Special Eurobarometer 372.

The Executive Summary reads:

Friday, October 7, 2011

Journalism, science and rising sea level, part II

Some weeks ago, we discussed here on klimazwiebel a spiegel-online article by Alex Bojanowski (here the English version). This article has made an astonishing career and is published now in a new version in nature geoscience (unfortunately hidden behind a paywall). The main message of the article, which is based on a choice of scientific literature, is that there is no scientific consensus on the question of sea level rise. Quite the contrary, he says,  there are huge differences in the estimates. According to Mr. Bojanowski, a group of 18 scientists from 10 different countries is commissioned by the IPCC  "to decide which prognoses will be considered in the next United Nations (UN) climate report."
In my opinion, there are two major points of interest, one concerning the (change of) content, and the other one concerning the specific journalistic perspective. Both are closely interrelated, which makes things really interesting. The articles give a great insight into the blurring boundaries between science, media and the public.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

My students' perception of risks

For more than 10 years I have collected data from my final year students (n~35) who study "Risk, environment and society". They are provided with a list of 11 environmental issues and asked to rank them according to their perceived relevance. I should point out that the survey is done in week one, before any of the topics are taught. Here is the result (no data is available for 2009):

Several things are obvious. Top runners have always been ozone depletion, climate change, nuclear accidents and nuclear waste. However, climate change has dropped in this year's class to a level last seen in 2003. Water pollution is on the rise, as is population growth.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A comfortable truth

A new article in Physics Today wonders why the ordinary dummy folk is at pains accepting the theory of anthropogenic climate change, instead of listening to the glorious infallible science. Steven Sherwood argues that many novel scientific theories in the past - other inconvenient truths - were seldom accepted by a recalcitrant folk from the start. It seems to me that the reasons are much more simple. Scientists like Sherwood are unable to accept that reality is not like they would it to be, and I am not referring precisely to global warming.