Climate Change: How Do We Stay Inside The 2°C?

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The 2015 UN Climate Change Conference, to be held in Paris later this year, aims to form a legally-binding agreement to limit global temperature increases to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

How do we go about achieving these goals? Salt asked its Compassionate Think Tank for its views, and as usual an insightful discussion developed.

Much of the conversation revolved around whether information and education were relevant any longer. Salt’s Oliver Haenlein highlighted the need to expose the urgency of the situation. However intrapreneur and columnist Chris Oestereich suggested that information on its own has a limited impact.

He continued: “Climate change is a complicated issue which we can better understand with better information, but even if we had perfect information our cognitive biases might lead us to unexpected places. Given the polarised nature of debate around the topic, I suspect that we’ll continue down the current path – making minor adjustments in the right direction while major problems continue to accumulate – until something truly catastrophic shakes us out of our doldrums. I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but it seems that many of us are quite comfortable as boiling frogs; continually hitting the snooze button while asking for ‘five more minutes’”.

Salt’s Emma Cutting also called for a more unified approach, while sustainability expert Adam Woodhall said action is required from key figures. Both individuals welcomed the momentum building around divestment. “I think the pincer movement of divestment and renewables are creating a shift that is potentially unstoppable,” said Woodhall.

Stanford University professor Antonio Vives agreed that information, or “education of the skeptics” was not the major problem. This was his take on the situation: “The problem is that the effects are uneven and uncertain. If everybody suffered and for certain, the problem would be solved – tragedy of the commons.

“We will continue to apply a ‘high rate of discount’ to the future benefits, because of the high uncertainty and because of the natural tendency in humans, with the results that today´s costs will always seem too high. There are winners and losers and the losers are the ones with less power. There will be nominal progress ‘fueled’ by opportunities to make money in alternative sources of energy or other ‘solutions’ and by politicians’ interest to appease constituencies. But nothing significant. The political economy of climate change is skewed against a lasting solution.

“Please note that I am not talking about the “should be”, but “what will be”. The “should be” is clear. We all agree that we should all work together for the better of mankind, but reality is another matter.”

Oxford University knowledge exchange fellow Christopher Shaw discussed the idea of people power: “The biggest political demonstration in UK history was the march against the Iraq war. That was a problem for people very distant from us, geographically and culturally, but two million people still marched. I think there are some lessons to be learnt there, namely if it could be shown our leaders are acting immorally then maybe people would get active.

Salt editor Alicia Buller put forward the argument of futurist Schuyler Brown, who believes in a more radical approach. Brown told the Huffington Post:  “Scientists say we are now in the midst of the sixth mass extinction on the planet, the worst since the dinosaurs…What’s required now is a swift and confident move in a completely new direction: a leap of faith.”

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Photo Credit: Loïc Lagarde from flickr

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