Friday 22 April 2016 was Earth Day and Tim Flannery was keynote speaker of the first Aspiring Conversations, “Cool It: dealing with climate change”, with Suzi Kerr and Veronika Meduna. Here are my notes of the event.
Climate change is not a destination. It is a process. We decide on the tempo of the change.
December 2015, February 2016 and March 2016 were the hottest months in 150 years. O.3°C warmer than ever recorded. Two consequences were observed this year: The Arctic ice formation did not replenish as it usually does in winter and sadly, 93% of the great barrier reef has been hit by bleaching. way beyond anything we’ve seen before.
By now, we’ve released enough CO2 in the atmosphere to add 1.5°C to the earth temperatures by 2050. Lots of ecosystems are and will be in strife. Every year, we add 50 gigatons of CO2 in the atmosphere. In the last 2 years, emissions stalled. It is a very good news. What has just been signed in New York will limit/enable a 2.7°C to 3.3°C warming by 2100. Again it is very good news as if we were to continue as we are going, temperatures would rise by 4 / 5 degrees by then.
The hope is: we understand clearly now that there is a problem and we know what tools and what paths we can take. We are at the peak of emissions. Half of energy investments last year were in solar and wind energy. Existing coal plants need to stop. And this will only happen through regulations.
A basket of technologies
We can draw CO2 out of the atmosphere.
- We can plant trees. However we would need to plant trees on an area as large as Australia to absorb 50 giga tons. So we can manage to absorb 2 Giga town with planting trees.
- Fairly recent studies show how kelp can absorb CO2 and provide protein so kelp farming will be part of the solution.
- Carbon negative cement will be part of the solution to the carbon dioxide emissions.
- A University of Washington researcher has demonstrated that we can pull CO2 from the atmosphere and transform it into carbon nanofibers, producing a very strong plastic at a cheaper price than steel.
- Other studies show that silicate rocks can absorb large scale CO2.
With all these creative solutions, we could absorb 40 to 50% of the carbon in the atmosphere by 2050.
It is difficult to imagine 2050. Think of 1916… horses, start of the war, first electricity supply scheme in NZ… and think of 1950, post war, growth, cars etc. It was unfathomable for someone in 1916 to imagine 1950. In the 21st century, technology and change has accelerated. So there is no way we can imagine what our world will look like in 2050.
If we take a good look at what we do wrong now, we give ourselves permission to be creative, to progress, to be positive, to hope.
Adapting to change
Today is a turn. The Paris climate agreement signed today is saving us from the worst. There is hope but we are so late, change already happens so we need to think about adapting to it. It is a slow emergency. It is so hard to grasp the problem and the possible impacts that it is difficult to get started. If we knew about the local impacts then we could think of our own actions. New Zealand has a wide variety of climates, influenced by many factors.
NIWA is mapping climate change as locally as possible. Air and oceans are and will be warmer, sea levels rise and will continue to do so. In the mountains, the snow cover thickness is forecast to be 90% of what it is now in 2040 so there is minor change for ski resorts until then.
There will be however 50% more rain in winter and spring while there will be more dry days. This means storms, heavier, more damaging, more floods as well as more droughts. How do we adapt to that?
The higher winter temperatures mean insects don’t die in winter. How do growers adapt to more pests?
There will likely be more fires, worsened by wilding pines. What shall we do today to prevent the worse in the future?
We need to get used to that so we can think about how to manage it.
Suzi has worked in Bogota, way back in the 80’s when the Columbia capital was a pandemonium of aggressiveness, danger and pollution. Today, Bogota is a prosperous and fairly safe city with a extensive public transport.
What happened? A visionary mayor, Antanas Mockus, created a social transformation by creativity and leadership. A bit crazy, one of his well-known action was employing young people to ridicule drivers bad behaviours. In parallel, his associates created infrastructure and deep institution changes.
We don’t know where we go. We need to be creative. There is a lot of private energy and it is better if the government helps. Reducing emissions is a huge opportunity for electric cars. Creating big fleets will enable energy storage. We need to innovate. Politicians wait for people support to pass emission reduction laws. It is down to politics.
Planting trees is definitely part of the solution with lots of co-benefits. If the government commit to maintain a regular carbon price, then it is an incentive to plant more trees as it can double the yield of planting trees. Down to a technical issue…
Solutions exist, and when they don’t yet, we can create them if we look.