26 March, 2018
With a change of scale from cells to planets, I’ve recently become involved with tackling climate change. Over a century ago, Arrhenius predicted that CO2 emissions could cause global warming. In recent decades, industrial societies have burnt vast amounts of fossil fuels, inadvertently proving his hypothesis correct. CO2 emissions have risen at an unprecedented rate, and global temperatures have increased accordingly, with profound consequences. Climate change is melting the poles, warming the seas, drastically reducing biodiversity and exacerbating extreme weather, from fires to floods and droughts to downpours. The world now faces stark problems associated with water shortages, declines in food production, weather damage and health issues, along with the political instability and humanitarian crises these yield. To borrow from 350.org: ‘its warming, its us and its bad’.
Climate change has been classified as a severe threat to the world economy, human health and global security. If such significant dangers were posed by an enemy, we would expect a swift and decisive response, but a DIY crisis seems easier to ignore. 15,364 scientists from 184 countries recently drafted a ‘Warning to Humanity’ outlining the catastrophic potential of climate change and urging immediate action. But, will societies change our bad habits before we render our only home uninhabitable?
The good news is that we can still fix this problem. Emerging technologies, from solar energy and wind turbines to electric cars and lithium batteries, make the necessary changes achievable. With this window of opportunity open, but closing fast, the remaining question is whether the political and societal will exists, and whether complacency will be replaced with rapid action.
The Climate Reality Project is a non-profit organisation, founded and chaired by Al Gore, to tackle the climate crisis. The group is focussed on catalysing solutions and, as part of this, runs ‘Climate Reality Leadership’ training programs around the world. The aim of this scheme is to create a global network of activists, of all ages, nationalities and occupations, to raise awareness and mitigate climate change. I joined around 1300 new trainees in Pittsburgh, USA to complete their 3-day course, with generous support from KEC and Churchill College.
The event was a comprehensive introduction to the climate crisis and its solutions, alarming and inspiring in equal measure. Through lectures, panel discussions and break out sessions, we learned from an array of world-class climate scientists, politicians, technology experts and activists, and received fantastic training in public engagement and media communication. Al Gore was present throughout and delivered a masterclass in PowerPoint with the presentation made famous by his documentary ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and its recent sequel.
Following this event, I recognised that my role in research presents a great opportunity for taking climate action. Although scientists are well placed to understand the issue of climate change, we perhaps don’t appreciate the extent to which our daily work contributes to the problem. Science is an energy and resource heavy endeavour, where there are many opportunities to reduce our large environmental footprint without disrupting our research. Mitigation of the climate crisis will require all of us to do as much as we can, as fast as we can, and we scientists have an important role to play in leading these changes.
In the coming months, I’ll work alongside Institute staff, and other experts, to devise a ‘Green Labs’ scheme to improve energy efficiency and reduce waste on campus. This scheme has the additional benefit of saving much needed funds to invest back into our science. More information will follow on this scheme, and if anyone would like to get involved, please let me know!
26 March 2018
By Joanne Durgan