Entering the new era of climate change

In a two-part series today, Jutland Station is reporting back on the key thinking from Sustain Festival which took place at Godsbanen, Aarhus, over the weekend. In our first article we interview German physicist Anders Levermann, and hear his thoughts on the latest climate change development – including last week’s discovery that the Western Antarctic ice sheet is melting and this is irreversible. It’s a worrisome advancement but one that as a scientist, he tells us he’s pleased to hear about.

 By Laura Myllymäki

Anders Levermann im Gespräch

Photo: Elitsa Marinko

German Anders Levermann, a physicist and a lead-contributor to the latest United Nations IPCC report on climate change, is visibly excited about the latest news concerning global warming. “The era of irreversible climate change has begun,” he declares.

An expert on global sea level rise, he addresses his Aarhusian audience with a smile while explaining that the Western Antarctic ice sheet has started tipping, which is, according to the scientists, unstoppable.

Wait, what?

It doesn’t seem quite right that someone is excited about the devastating news that caught the eye of international audience only last week.

According to new studies, the latest discharge can cause a sea level rise that might add up to 3.5 meters. It will affect everybody, since the sea levels will rise evenly around the world. In addition, his team of researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research also found that a part of Eastern Antarctic has started showing signs of potential tipping.

Talking to the Sustain festival audience, Levermann tackles the issue by clarifying that as a scientist, he is childishly in awe every time he makes a scientific breakthrough on climate change. New data on the global warming excites him in a way that is intractable to understand for an average person. He is thrilled because this is what he does for living, on a daily basis.

As a citizen, however, Levermann admits a deep concern.

A myriad of actions need to be taken to save the planet, and the last chance for reconciliation will be at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris next year, he says. All the previous international climate conventions have failed so far, and movements like climate skepticism still earn their share of media attention.

“It’s very basic physics that makes us so certain that carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are increasing the temperature of the planet. It doesn’t depend on models or observations,” he surmises.

A new social movement

It has been difficult to commit politicians to take part in the the task of reducing CO² emissions. “We don’t have a global government, but we do have incentives to fight global warming,” he stresses.

There is indeed something Levermann has started doing by himself, with the help of his Ph.D students. In the beginning of the year, he started a project called Zeean.net.

Levermann explains that what the world needs to better adapt to the climate change is a computer based model to understand the economic ramifications of extreme wheater related catastrophes.

“This way, we make the network more resilient,” he explains.

For example, when a hurricane hits the US East Coast, the ways it affects the flows of food and goods are often unknown before the crisis truly strikes locally.

The key actors in the process, according to Levermann, are the common people. “We really want to start a social movement,” he explains.

In fact, what Levermann has created is something like a 2.0 version platfrom for climate change social movement. Anybody can enter data onto the platform, and everybody can benefit from its service.

What can an average Aarhusian, then, do?

One starting point could be going to the website of Statistics Denmark and finding the GDP of Jutland. After entering the information onto Zeean, the algorithm creates a visualization and analyzes the data.

The burden of climate skepticism

Despite startling evidence, 23 per cent of Americans are even today climate skeptics, according to a Yale study published in November last year. What has possibly gone wrong?

Levermann sighs deeply.

“I think I can answer a lot counter to this skepticism, but why we have this is very difficult to understand because it is a social problem.”

He thinks climate skepticism is a sum of many things: people might not care too much, and there’s a lot of money in the fossil fuel industry.

Also, in some countries, the media tends to avoid being biased, resulting in giving the same amount of space to both the scientist who accept climate change as a fact and those who deny it – even though the deniers represent only one percent of the members of the scientific community.

“I’m reluctant to even call them scientist, because you can’t really find at least a climate scientist to say that. It is like finding an astronomer that says there’s no gravity.”