Dilemmas of presenting climate change

Recently I’ve given a series of presentations to students in my local school community regarding climate change. These presentations were to roughly 1,000 students aged between 12 and 16. Our project consisted of calculating a transport carbon footprint for the school, identifying ways of reducing the school’s carbon footprint and convincing students and teachers to do their bit.

As part of this, I had a segment where I had to briefly present the effects and dangers of climate change. This presented quite a few dilemmas. It’s very easy to go onto Google and to find computer generated images which could shock people. For example, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament during a big flood:

London Floods

But I felt that doing so would achieve no purpose but to scare people. It’s also counter productive; when you watch a presentation which takes climate change on such a slippery slope to such ridiculous and shocking effects, your natural thought would be that the presenter is a tree-hugging nutcase. Obviously if that happened we would have failed in the primary purpose of the presentation: convincing people that they need to do their bit.

Polar Bears 

I deliberated for quite a while on this picture of polar bears stranded on ice. This photo is itself often used as evidence of climate change. But do a little more research and you find out that it could simply be due to the Arctic ice naturally melting every summer. And some people point to evidence that polar bear populations seem to be on the up again.

Polar Bears

I felt it was a misrepresentation to imply that the photo was evidence of global warming because it’s impossible to know the exact background behind the photos. But it did allow us to mention a lot of the scientific evidence for climate change: temperatures in the Canadian Arctic have risen by 4C in the last 50 years. 500 cubic miles of ice have been lost from Alaska ice melt in the last 50 years. And polar bear populations have dropped by 25% in the last 20 years: not only that, their physique has declined.

To try and balance out this implication, we added a picture of a polar bear on a deckchair as a way to inject a little humour but also to try and reduce the implied statement that the photo of polar bears stranded on ice could be linked back to climate change caused by humans.

The UK Floods of 2007 

The other main dilemma was whether and how we should present the UK Floods of 2007. The reason why this was an especially potent event to present was because the area in which I live was at the heart of the region which was most strongly affected by the floods. More or less everybody has their own story of the floods.

Here was the problem: scientists and meteorologists suggested that the floods happened because the jet stream being further south then it should have. Some scientists claimed that the floods had a link to climate change. I didn’t feel it was fair to present that: there are simply so many different factors involved in weather systems. Everybody has heard of chaos theory: how a butterfly flapping it’s wings could cause a hurricane on the other side of the world. The weatherman can barely predict the weather for next week, let alone for tomorrow. So to present the UK floods as evidence for climate change would have been a perversion of the scientific evidence. Indeed, a week after giving the presentation, scientists then said the floods were not caused by climate change.

The way I decided to present it was that the floods of summer 2007 showed an example of something that would happen more regularly with climate change. Scientists have a weight of evidence that climate change would lead to more extreme weather. Of course; higher temperatures means more snowmelt which could lead to downstream flooding.

It is always going to be quite difficult to present climate change. I’ve given an example of how some people claimed that the UK floods of 2007 were caused by climate change. When further research was then released which said that the floods were not caused by climate change, the sceptics feel vindicated and take it as evidence against climate change. To state what you do not have reasonable scientific evidence for is, therefore, counter productive to your cause. But at the same time, it’s possible to be so ridiculously sceptical that you won’t have an argument that will convince anybody. And that’s the dilemma of presenting climate change.

Climate Change: The Real Inconvinient Truth

The Daily Mail (London, UK) today published an article by former British chancellor Nigel Lawson on global warming. Mr Lawson looks back at past planetary scares which were unfounded: a fear of a population explosion and global starvation in the 60s, a new ice age in the 70s and suggests that global warming is the modern day equivalent.
In what must be a Richard Dawkins inspired piece, he then goes on to call global warming a quasi-religion equivalent in Europe’s secular society:

But there is something much more fundamental at work. I suspect that it is no accident that it is in Europe that eco-fundamentalism in general and global warming absolutism in particular has found its most fertile soil. For it is Europe that has become the most secular society in the world, where the traditional religions have the weakest hold.

Yet people still feel the need for the comfort and higher values that religion can provide; and it is the quasi-religion of green alarmism, of which the global warming issue is the most striking example, which has filled the vacuum, with reasoned questioning of its mantras regarded as little short of sacrilege.

It is certainly a very interesting article which is well worth a read. I myself get quite annoyed at companies who jump on the green bandwagon as a form of marketing. Take those adverts for washing powder that you see on TV. They tell you that you should buy concentrate because it’ll take loads of lorries off the road and because you can wash at 30 degrees, implying that by switching to their product you’ll save the world. What a load of environmental bullshit.

I think it’s certainly true that people are exploiting the cause of global warming for their own political, commercial and protectionist purposes. (One lobby suggests that we should all buy locally produced British food, it saves on food miles. Now I’m all for supporting British farmers but if you buy British strawberries, they’ll have been grown in greenhouses. This produces more CO2 than the act of shipping it from somewhere like Spain.)

But the many ways in which climate change is being exploited for vested interests doesn’t invalidate it’s existence.

I admit that I used to be a little bit of a climate sceptic. So over the last year I took the opportunity to find out more: I did a lot of my own research watching Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and other scientific material as well as some more sceptical articles. I also spoke to researchers at University College, London. I’ve also worked alongside some scientists who are themselves looking at long term changes to the Earth’s climate.

It’s true to say that scientists cannot prove that climate change is real and that it’s definitely a threat. There is still some doubt because as scientists we should remain sceptical. But because it can’t be proved doesn’t mean the most logical viewpoint is to assume that it isn’t true. The weight of evidence is that climate change is happening and that it’s a real threat. Similarly, I can’t disprove there is a tiny little teapot orbiting around the Earth because there’s no way of looking at every single point around the Earth at once. That doesn’t mean there’s a 50:50 chance that there is a flying teapot orbiting around the Earth. So to say that scientists can’t prove climate change is a misrepresentation. The weight of scientific evidence says that there is, and that we should do something about it.

I’ve recently given a few speeches regarding climate change. I’ll probably comment on this in detail at a later date but it is quite difficult trying to accurately get the message of climate change across with scientific scepticism whilst still showing people how important a problem is and what the deadly consequences could be.

Earth Hour

Tonight is Earth Hour – an opportunity to send out a big message about our commitment to cutting our energy usage and safeguarding the future of our planet. Earth Hour is asking you to turn off your lights and non-essential electrical appliances at 8pm (your local time) tonight.

The first Earth Hour was held in Sydney, Australia between 7:30 pm and 8:30 pm on 31 March 2007. The 2007 Earth Hour is estimated to have cut Sydney’s mains electricity consumption by between 2.1% and 10.2% for that hour, with as many as 2.2 million people taking part.

You’ll all have noticed that Google has turned the lights out on their homepage today!

Of course: this won’t really cut energy usage or help the climate. Because the power stations will still be running and producing the same amount of energy. But this is an opportunity to send out a really strong message to others and to our neighbours and to raise awareness of climate change issues. So I’ll be participating in Earth Hour from 8pm to 9pm tonight and I call on readers to join in!

Energy Saving Day

Did anyone know it was Energy Saving Day in the UK today? I certainly didn’t, but I just found out on BBC News.

They’re hoping for a 3% reduction in the energy usage – the equivalent of taking a coal-fired power station off line for the day.

The hilarious thing is not that nobody even knew it was “Energy Saving Day” but energy usage today is actually up. As of 8:26, usage of power is 0.9% up on usual and overall, we’re 3.2% up on power usage from normal.

Apparently the National Grid is using this as a bit of a scientific experiment, to see how much we can reduce our energy consumption by.

I really wish the experiment the best with this, but there has been zero awareness of this “Energy Saving Day” and it looks terrible that energy consumption is actually higher. I’ll of course be turning off my TV, computer and other appliances when not in use as usual. If you want to see whether power consumption really goes up during commercial breaks in Corrie, here’s your chance.