Sunday, November 20, 2011

A social contract for sustainability: But what if we fail?

A couple of days ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture by Dr. John Schellnhuber, the founder of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (located in Germany). It was a short lecture but it was very enlightening. He is a theoretical physicist whom has many accolades and international environment awards because of his work in Europe as a leading climate scientist.

I was able to scribble out some notes from his lecture, and I'll share some of them here.
Schellnhuber considers these three factors to be the biggest challenges to our planet:

1) Dangerous climate change
2) Depletion of cheap energy
3) Large global population growth. (which he described as "superexponential")

Over the past 4 decades, our planet has warmed by 0.5 degrees Celsius. Now, he said, you may think that 0.5 is a very small figure, why are we so worried? Schellnhuber said, think of the planet like a body. The earth's temperature is predicted to rise by 2 degrees Celsius in the coming decades. It's like having a fever - it puts your body in a poor situation. If we think about the body, 37 degrees normal body temperature is very different from 39 degrees.
What more if the increased temperature is more than 2 degrees?

He dismissed the notion of Geoengineering (eg releasing SO2) into the atmosphere as a mere fairy tale solution to the earth's climate problems.

Some other notes:
- Transport problem is the hardest to solve; consumes the most energy
- We need a bottom-up approach
- Making a social contract for sustainability through Twitter? Why not!
- Fossil fuel subsidies are an extremely inefficient means of assisting the "poor", however we continue to support them, around $600 billion -- could have been used instead to fund research projects into renewable energy
- Sea level rise will be very uneven and will especially affect the Small Island States

I am glad I was in attendance. I wanted to ask him what he thought the role of the youth was in achieving a social contract for sustainability, but we ran out of time. What do you think? :)

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- Mon

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