Weather Vs Climate: Food, Nuclear Power and Thin Threads Of Hope

MCFly went to the ‘Weather vs Climate’ event organised as part of the Manchester Science Festival on Thursday Oct 27. The first part of the event was a strange mix between a bad science lesson and cheap kids’ party. The presenters had us blow whistles/kazoos to show whether we understood the difference between weather and climate. Personally, I found it a little too traumatic, although families and kids may have found it useful.  Thankfully, part two – where the audience were able to ask a panel of climate experts including Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre any question they liked – was a big improvement.
The panel, chaired by Tyndall Centre research fellow John Broderick, was split 50/50 on gender lines and consisted of:
Mirjam Roeder, a research associate at the Tyndall Centre whose studies sustainable food systems.
Naomi Vaughan, research fellow at the University of East Anglia who also works at Tyndall and her main areas of knowledge include the actual effectiveness of geo-engineering strategies.
Kevin Anderson, deputy director of Tyndall who said his main aim is to translate the climate science to the public and policy makers.
Gavin Bridge, reader in economic geography at Manchester University’s School of Environment and Development, whose interested in the globalisation strategies of oil companies and has a book titled ‘Oil’ due out in May 2012.
(David Schultz, a meteorologist who is the editor of the Monthly Weather Review. was perched at the end of the table.)
First question from the floor was what the panellist’s own personal ‘tipping points’ were which made them realise the seriousness of climate change. Vaughan answered that it was the real unanswered questions she felt surrounding geo-engineering whilst Bridge said he had become fascinated bythe  lack of serious investment into renewables by oil companies. He talked about a ‘stickiness’ of capital which meant that money remained embedded in the same firms and companies. Roeder answered that for her, food security was the real motivator as the food security of the poorest hadn’t improved over the last 25 years and was now set to get worse, despite the existence of the Millennium Development Goals.
Anderson put it down to basic arithmetic.  He had thought his initial calculations of what humans actually emitting must have been wrong. He re-did them and found he was right. This scary picture is one that no wants to look at or do anything about.
Second question was: “do we focus on mitigating carbon or being realistic by going straight to trying to adapt to the climate change we have already committed ourselves to?”  Anderson summed it up well by saying it would be a crime to focus on adaption at the cost of mitigation and that we have to focus on both strategies.
Education and getting the climate change message across was next theme of questions and whilst the entire panel agreed that better education (formally and informally) was important, they also noted that education alone wasn’t enough. Vaughan argued that giving people all the facts doesn’t mean that they’ll take action on it. (Though not mentioned by name, this is the “Information Deficit Model.”)   She also added that action and attitudes/behaviours were two entirely different things.
On the issue of taking action, MCFly asked the panels what action they think Manchester businesses and councils need to be taking, and the panel’s responses will be blogged in detail soon. Being realistic but hopeful about the issues we’re facing was suggested by Anderson, who insisted that there remains a “very thin thread of hope.” He also highlighted the need to develop an adaptive capacity so that communities are prepared for an uncertain future and realise that there is no one solution- rather we need to able to use the best solution for the set of problems we end up facing.  Bridges also made an important point about keeping a robust political dialogue open between all players in a community so that knee-jerk reactions to problems are avoided.
Talking of knee-jerk reactions, the following question was on nuclear power and whether it can really be a solution to our energy problems. Anderson explained that whilst all forms of energy generation have negative and positive aspects, we can’t build nuclear stations fast enough for them to be a real solution to climate change.  He added that whilst some poorer nations such as Yemen may find nuclear power useful, nations in Europe should be making full use of their renewable energy potential.
Next up was the most talked about ‘taboo’ in the world – population control as a solution to climate change. Roeder made very important points about how poorer societies rely on bigger families for income and support in their old age so, until people have the option to be able to have smaller families and still live comfortably, they will continue to rely on larger families. Anderson added that the issue was a bit of a red herring as when it came climate change (as distinct from environmental sustainability, a much bigger topic).  He pointed out that  human emissions of greenhouse gases that are causing climate change are a short-term problem that needs to be mitigated by those who produce the most emissions which is the US, Europe, Australia etc. What poorer nations, with their much smaller carbon footprints, do is not going to have a huge impact.
All very good points I grant you, but I was still shocked when the questioner said he would be re-thinking his views. This is a credit to him, since those who raise the population issue are – in MCFly’s experience – usually not willing/able to reconsider their views.  Clearly, the fact that the event was advertised by the Manchester Science Festival meant that there were some people showing up who were genuinely curious and wanting to find out more.
Overall, a decent event that wrapped up on time. Some good questions were asked which the panel answered succinctly and a mixed audience of newbies and those already interested in climate change made it a little more unpredictable and enjoyable.

Arwa Aburawa
Freelance Journalist

About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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