Have people stopped caring about global warming?
Climate change : "Now is the time to act"
The designated director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Johan Rockström, recently relocated from Sweden. Together with the economist Ottmar Edenhofer, he succeeds Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. In an interview, Rockström explains why Germany is the perfect place for him to really make a difference and how ten billion people on the planet can be fed in the future. His good news: A sustainable future is also a healthier, more modern and more attractive future.
Professor Rockström, in his youngestreport the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes why we have to avoid global warming of more than 1.5 degrees. What's so bad about it when it gets a little warmer?
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Today the earth is one degree warmer than it was before industrialization began, and that is largely due to the fact that we burn coal, oil and gas. We are already seeing more and more extreme weather events and their consequences, from droughts and floods to hurricanes and forest fires. Just one degree more! 2018 is not over yet, but it will perhaps go down in history as the year in which many of the consequences and consequences of climate change for the economy and society around the world became clear.
In addition, if the temperature is more than 1.5 degrees, we may already exceed tipping points, which could lead to self-reinforcing further warming. For example, when the arctic ice surfaces melt on the sea and so less solar radiation can be reflected. Or because methane is released into the atmosphere as a result of thawing permafrost and the soil becomes a source of greenhouse gases.
We cannot rule out that a warming of well below two degrees will trigger processes that would drive climate change further in the long term and perhaps irreversibly without further human intervention. We would expose all future generations to this.
Climate researchers have always warned that it is five to 12 and that emissions must fall quickly, at the latest after 2020. Now the IPCC is throwing a new number into the round: A halving of emissions by 2030. Is it now ten to 12 again?
The impression is deceptive. In fact, from my point of view, the IPCC's statements are clearer than ever before: however we turn the data back and forth, we only have a decade to make the CO2 U-turn and get people to face the greatest risks of climate change protect. With this report, we know better than ever what is at stake with a warming of just 1.5 degrees Celsius. We have to bring the greenhouse gas emissions curve down quickly, that is a very clear message from the report. Now is the time to act.
How do you assess the German government's climate policy in this light?
I understand that Germany is also facing great challenges in terms of climate protection. The German energy transition and German climate policy at the European level have always been very constructive. If they were fully implemented, they would have a major impact on the future of Europe and on the global climate agenda, and I admire that. At the same time, I am concerned that there are also major contradictions in Germany, for example when one considers the dependence on the Looking at coal. It is a country that is struggling with its fossil fuel dependency.
For me, Germany is the perfect place to really make a difference. That's why, as a Swede, I'm here now. Germany is the fourth largest economy in the world. It is a leading industrial and technological nation. It takes climate change seriously. If Germany succeeds in transitioning to an economy without fossil fuels, it will also show other countries that it is feasible, we can do it. The work of the Federal Government's Coal Commission also plays a major role here.
Do you understand that the German government in the EU is campaigning for low CO2 limits for cars in order to protect the domestic automotive industry?
I've worked as a scientific advisor for Volkswagen, I know how Volvo and Scania, for example, think about the subject, and I've led a major initiative in Sweden to decarbonise the transport industry. There is a great deal of insight within industry today that the future does not lie in the internal combustion engine. From electrification to different types of biofuels to digital autonomous driving - I believe we are facing a potential revolution in mobility.
This carries an enormous risk for companies of being among the losers if they are not at the forefront of this revolution. It was recently reported that, for the first time, more Tesla cars were sold in the US than Mercedes or Audi, for example. We live in exciting times where we see exponentially growing, disruptive technologies that have long been on the go and could now grow big fast. That will change the industry in Germany as well.
However, this has to be linked to a certain policy. In fact, strict and science-based regulations are industry's best friend. If you show clear paths to reduce emissions or give carbon dioxide a price, it may feel tough at first. But it forces the industry to set priorities from which it will benefit in the medium term. A strict policy would therefore not be a policy against the auto industry in Germany, but for it.
You have been dealing with sustainable food production for many years. Can we feed ten billion people on the planet?
Our food system is already one of the most important drivers of climate change, the overexploitation of water resources and environmental pollution. Whether we can limit global warming to well below two degrees and, if possible, even 1.5 degrees, will also depend on whether we manage to reduce emissions in agriculture or counter deforestation and soil degradation accordingly. This is an enormous challenge, especially since we have to increase the production of food by half by 2050 in order to be able to feed a world population of up to ten billion people.
But it is possible, as we recently showed again in a study published in Nature. In order to keep food production within the planetary load limits and thus within a safe margin of maneuver for mankind, we can do three things: Eat more healthy vegetables and less meat, systematically reduce food waste and improve agricultural technologies and management, such as in tillage or the Fertilizer recycling. Another study showed that 29 percent of farmers worldwide already use such sustainable practices. We have the knowledge for it. But it also needs a change in lifestyle.
So do we have to give up our good lives?
20 years ago the answer might have been: Yes, we have to give up our good life. That was the way the problem was discussed: either we protect nature or we have a good life. Both are not possible together.
Today I would say without hesitation: No, we don't have to give up our good life. There is so much evidence that a sustainable future is a healthier, more modern, and more attractive future. Take Beijing, for example, where air pollution is already affecting health and life. So I would go even further: if anything threatens our good life, it is an unsustainable lifestyle. We have so much evidence and evidence that reliance on coal is not a modern, healthy, attractive, and clean future option for humanity. A technology-driven society with zero emissions is a completely different and promising perspective.
Of course we have to change and develop ourselves and perhaps our values as well. There is no doubt that the consumer behavior that we have seen over the past 25 years is unsustainable. This is a completely different world than it was a few decades ago. But less consumption does not mean giving up the good life. It is the opportunity for a different, better life.
How can you motivate people to participate?
We should stop talking like protecting nature is a sacrifice for which we have to give something up. And prefer to say that you care about the environment goes hand in hand with a good life. If you want jobs, a strong economy and a competitive Germany, you cannot do without sustainability. That would be a new perception of sustainability as a more innovative, more competitive and more successful alternative and opportunity.
But it is also clear: Neither in Germany nor in Sweden do people primarily care about sustainability. First they take care of their family, their children and their everyday life. So if it is easy for people to live sustainably, they will. If it is difficult and more expensive, then they will not live sustainably. It has to be an easy choice. For example, if you have a wide range of public transport options and really good bike lanes and easy access to healthy food, that can in itself be a path to a sustainable future. At the moment it often seems to me to be too difficult to live sustainably. Even in a country like Germany, it is sometimes easier to take the plane than the train.
Another construction site is the pollution of the oceans with plastic waste. The Germans even consider this to be the greatest environmental problem. Which is worse: climate change or plastic waste?
Hardly any other problem affects our lives as far-reaching and global as climate change. Get me right: plastic litter in the ocean is a very serious matter and a big problem. However, dimensions and urgencies may not necessarily be comparable. Nevertheless, people's engagement against plastic can be a valuable lever for people to concern themselves with their environment and sustainability.
Some topics are probably more dear to the heart than others. But once a topic touches you, the step may not be far to take action against the loss of biodiversity or against climate change - topics that are much less tangible and more difficult to communicate.
The consequences of plastic pollution, on the other hand, are captured in very concrete, terrible pictures, for example in pictures of sea birds that have died with plastic in their stomachs. The American artist and filmmaker Chris Jordan is currently guest at PIK as artist in residence, who takes up exactly this in his film "Albatros".
I think we need this kind of ongoing reminder that if we continue as we are, we will destroy the life support systems of the earth. Because that is a moral unacceptability. Any engagement, on the other hand, is very good. You just have to keep an eye on the whole picture. The seabird represents so much more than just the plastic problem. He represents everything that is going wrong on the planet.
The interview was conducted by Susanne Ehlerding
Johan Rockström was head of this until recently Stockholm Resilience Center in Sweden.Together with other earth system researchers, he developed the Concept of planetary limits. A future for mankind is assured within these nine limits, and severe disruptions are to be expected outside of them. In terms of biodiversity and the availability of important minerals such as phosphate, the limits have already been exceeded. Has been researching for many years Rockström too on food security and the resilience of ecosystems.
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