British scientist gives best human rights talk of the year

This is not about just incre­men­tal change. This is about doing things dif­fer­ent­ly, about whole sys­tem change, and some­times it’s about doing less things. And this applies to all of us, what­ev­er sphere of influ­ence we have.”


This video makes us ask: where do we go from here? And – what’s hold­ing us back?

Below are some themes that we’re devel­op­ing for future pieces in City Atlas, based on the accel­er­at­ing dis­cus­sion among experts across fields.

While every glob­al polit­i­cal dis­cus­sion now includes cli­mate change as a lead­ing issue, and the Paris COP21 talks are com­ing at the end of next mon­th, gov­ern­ments have not com­mit­ted to solv­ing the prob­lem – nor may gov­ern­ments alone be capa­ble, because it takes an entire cul­tur­al change to solve cli­mate change at the source. It involves all of us, begin­ning to talk about it open­ly with each oth­er.

The cur­rent com­mit­ments from nations do not achieve the emis­sion cuts nec­es­sary for sta­bi­liz­ing warm­ing at a lev­el sci­en­tists believe soci­ety can tol­er­ate, the 2°C lim­it. Cur­rent com­mit­ments equate to a like­li­hood of 3.5°C of warm­ing.

Here in New York State, Gov­er­nor Cuo­mo has tak­en a great step in sign­ing on to a glob­al 2°C com­mit­ment for regions and local gov­ern­ments.

As quot­ed in the New York Times (10/8/15), Gov­er­nor Cuo­mo said “Cli­mate change is an issue of society’s sus­tain­abil­i­ty. To deny that cli­mate change is real is to defy reason…denial is not a sur­vival strat­e­gy.”

And yet New York State is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly mov­ing to mod­ern­ize LaGuardia Air­port (NYT, 7/28/15); air trav­el is a high emis­sions sec­tor that like­ly does not fit into the 2°C lim­it. Sub­sti­tutes need to be found, and lifestyles adjust­ed, because every part of the econ­o­my, and every­thing we do, needs to fit into the 2°C lim­it. Cli­mate sci­en­tists are now among the sign­ers of a peti­tion to reduce aca­d­e­mic air trav­el.

Broad­er adop­tion of the same doc­u­ment Gov­er­nor Cuo­mo signed, by New York’s cul­tur­al lead­ers, by uni­ver­si­ties, and by cor­po­ra­tions – which can cut high emit­ting activ­i­ties like busi­ness trips – would be a step that could move us much closer to a real­is­tic solu­tion.

It’s already clear that no New York-based busi­ness or insti­tu­tion will pros­per in a 3°C world; we need to slow the plan­e­tary changes that are under­way. We are also depen­dent on a glob­al respon­se, so our actions must seem fair to the world in order to win the coop­er­a­tion that will achieve our goals.

Rapid decar­boniza­tion is nec­es­sary to sta­bi­lize both emis­sions and the econ­o­my.

As Bows-Lark­in points out, to reach the 2°C tar­get takes a much big­ger com­mit­ment from the peo­ple and politi­cians of high emit­ting coun­tries, with the US among them; and with­in coun­tries, a big­ger com­mit­ment from those with high emis­sions, who have the most abil­i­ty to change behav­ior and provide the cru­cial first steps towards rapid decar­boniza­tion.

In par­al­lel to Bows-Larkin’s state­ments, but out­side of the cli­mate research com­mu­ni­ty, the finan­cial world is ful­ly aware of the impli­ca­tions to the econ­o­my of a fail­ure to decar­bonize, and of tip­ping points where the eco­nom­ic land­scape is abrupt­ly shocked by sud­den dis­in­vest­ment of fos­sil fuel assets and reac­tion to the cat­a­stroph­ic risk port­fo­lio of coastal prop­er­ty.

Mark Car­ney, the Gov­er­nor of the Bank of Eng­land (Britain’s cen­tral bank), spelled out the per­spec­tive of finan­cial experts in a speech to Lloyd’s of Lon­don on Sep­tem­ber 29, the con­clu­sion of which is excerpt­ed below:

Our soci­eties face a series of pro­found envi­ron­men­tal and social chal­lenges.

The com­bi­na­tion of the weight of sci­en­tific evi­dence and the dynam­ics of the finan­cial sys­tem sug­gest that, in the full­ness of time, cli­mate change will threat­en finan­cial resilience and longer-term pros­per­i­ty.

While there is still time to act, the win­dow of oppor­tu­ni­ty is finite and shrink­ing. 31

When Carney’s words are matched to Bows-Larkin’s esti­ma­tion of the need for rapid decar­boniza­tion, it reveals how the path to finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty comes from nation­al, region­al and indi­vid­u­al action to curb emis­sions. The world finan­cial sys­tem will hit tip­ping points well in advance of the full effect of cli­mate impacts (the loss of coast­li­nes, dimin­ished agri­cul­ture), and tur­moil in the finan­cial mar­kets may only desta­bi­lize the glob­al respon­se to cli­mate fur­ther.

Future out­comes bright­en quick­ly if we begin to decar­bonize imme­di­ate­ly.

Enor­mous ben­e­fits come from fast action, and future out­comes bright­en quick­ly as our col­lec­tive emis­sions drop. But this means that pub­lic dia­logue and under­stand­ing are key, and an open con­ver­sa­tion is a place to start. By mak­ing vis­i­ble your own steps to move to a low car­bon lifestyle, you can provide trust­ed peer-to-peer lead­er­ship in change. Polit­i­cal engage­ment on cli­mate is anoth­er lev­er for change at the pol­i­cy lev­el.

To fix what Bows-Lark­in says is going wrong, exper­i­ment with the Glob­al Cal­cu­la­tor (and talk to your friends).

A much more basic iPhone app from Cli­mate Inter­ac­tive pro­vides a pock­et-size dis­play of the impor­tance of ear­ly action:

Cli­mate Path­ways App Intro­duc­tion from Cli­mate Inter­ac­tive on Vimeo.


For many of the steps nec­es­sary for the 2°C tar­get (fly­ing less, con­sum­ing less), peo­ple need ‘social per­mis­sion.’ It’s very hard for peo­ple to change on their own with­out the col­lec­tive recog­ni­tion of a com­mon goal; once that is found in a cir­cle of friends (or in poli­cies at work), each per­son can arrive at the lev­el of change they can man­age, and some areas will be eas­ier than oth­ers for dif­fer­ent peo­ple. The most impor­tant thing is to begin, and to have each per­son move towards a decar­boniza­tion plan as far as they can, as fast as they can, given their cir­cum­stances – because the pay­offs are imme­di­ate.

Why does it mat­ter what you say to your friends? A year-long research project from the UK found that sim­ply ‘get­ting more peo­ple talk­ing to each oth­er’ is among the first steps to pur­sue with the pub­lic. Here’s a fas­ci­nat­ing descrip­tion of how opin­ions and new social norms can rapid­ly spread. For suc­cess, we want to nor­mal­ize mit­i­ga­tion that avoids cli­mate change, not nor­mal­ize the impacts of cli­mate change.

And impacts are more trans­par­ent now. Cli­mate Cen­tral has been map­ping pro­jec­tions of sea lev­el, with com­par­isons along the US coast­line, and ani­ma­tions of cities under 2°C and 4°C sce­nar­ios.

A suc­cess­ful drop in our demand for ener­gy means build­ing few­er new machi­nes that burn fos­sil fuels.

Drop­ping our demand for ener­gy now gives us time to switch over to alter­nate tech­nolo­gies with­out a con­tin­u­ing boost in emis­sions. Fos­sil-fuel pow­ered cars, trucks, planes, build­ing fur­naces, and pow­er plants last from years to decades, and by 2018 build­ing new ones may soon car­ry us past our car­bon bud­get, because they will run for years after they are built. This analy­sis, from a paper by Steven Davis (UC Irvine) and Robert Socolow (Prince­ton) is explained in a short video.

Equi­ty is not altru­ism; we need the coop­er­a­tion of every­one, and so the car­bon bud­get should be shared fair­ly.








And it’s the advanced nations that need to change the most rapid­ly.

[Post updat­ed with new Cli­mate Cen­tral links, 11/11/15.]