Event report: Tyndall seminar – when will we stop pretending?

MCFly co-editor Marc Hudson attends (yet) another informative seminar about climate change, but wonders how long we will go on like this…

There was nothing intrinsically wrong with the latest Tyndall seminar, held on Thursday 8th August. Covering recent research on the “embedded” carbon in things that the UK imports, it was short (half an hour), clearly- presented, and with plenty of scope for questions. Sure, the slides lacked pictures and bite, but this wasn’t supposed to be a theatre spectacle .

The main problem is that we – the presenter and the audience – didn’t really talk about our main problem; the unmitigated disaster of unmitigated carbon dioxide emissions and the unavoidable consequences coming at us.  (We don’t know exactly how it will come, or when, but coming it is. We ought to be preparing, not reporting on the might-have-beens.)

One of the questioners, another academic asked if it was time to give up on the whole notion of a “two degree above pre-Industrial global average temperature” target. Dr Ruth Wood, who had kindly answered our questions in an interview you can read here, was obviously deeply uncomfortable when she said “Two degrees is undeniably incredibly challenging to deliver. But it’s not impossible, and if we abandon two degrees, it’s easy to abandon [3 and 4].”

I chipped in with the cheery fact that Todd Stern, chief climate negotiator for the United States, has already come out with “two degrees is a barrier to international agreement” speech. [Though he’s since said ‘That is not what I meant at all. That is not it, at all‘.]

So, over 40 people (Council officials and members conspicuous in their absence, as usual) gathered together to hear about rigorous work done about… something that is no longer in any way likely. I understand and sympathise with the reasons behind academic/intellectual inertia. (I , like any MCFly reader who isn’t superhuman, suffer from versions of them myself.) The funding (probably) isn’t out there to look closely at the social consequences of a rapid ecological debacle (as opposed to a debacle stretched out over decades). I don’t see the ESRC funding a research stream entitled “We greedy westerners have irrevocably trashed the planet, to the point things will go very tits up sometime soon. Now what?” The closest we probably have, at the moment, is the Resilience Alliance folks; “concatenated global crises” and also stuff by Will Steffen et al.

To survive (and – cards on table – I really don’t think we will, as an organised global civilisation) we need to start building interpersonal links, and the habit of linking, now. Tyndall, and other organisations hosting these sorts of discussions could do more to help make those links happen. Even something as simple as a “turn to the person behind you and spend a couple of minutes chatting,” done at every opportunity, builds ‘bridging capital’. FWIW.

Marc Hudson

Things of note
By the end of the year, the UK government is going to say what its position on who “owns” international aviation emissions. That’ll be fun…
The next Tyndall seminar will be at the end of September/beginning of October.

About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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3 Responses to Event report: Tyndall seminar – when will we stop pretending?

  1. Hi Marc, I was surprised by some of the comments of the academics, who seem to not understand the urgency, that we in the Global North, need to cut down on our consumption. There is a fair bit of work out there, stating the fact other than the authors you mentioned.

  2. Sam says:

    I appreciate your report Marc, though I think you expected more than you should have.
    We both recognise that academics relying on funding can only do so much and it is frustating that our cause is not generally appreciated.
    Get used to it, only on the political field, electoral and class stuggle, will the real battle be fought, but we can ally with all those who are moving in the same direction whatever criticisms we have.
    After 50 years of losing more battles than I have won I understand your frustration, but the seminar was useful and WE should have got more people there and should fully publicise what a respected academic said at the seminar.
    All of these remarks are in comradeship and with respect for the substantial contribution that you make. I enjoyed the chat in the Sandbar.
    Best wishes

    • Hey Sam,
      you’re right – we should be trying to get more people along to these things. Suggestions? Flyers? Youtubes? Personal recommendations? Other things?

      Also, we need to go beyond the idea that it’s just information that people lack.

      And we need to warn people about the feelings of distress and fear they will feel when they get their heads around this agenda.

      I too enjoyed our chat!

      Very best wishes


      PS You’re right too about my expectations!!

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