Gevoelens over klimaatverandering zijn moeilijk

Zeg, hoe voel jij je nou over die klimaatverandering?

Dat deze Christmas voor George Michael ineens de allerlaatste blijkt te zijn, is niet het enige trieste nieuwtje. Ergens ver weggestopt achter in de weekendkrant lees ik dat het kabinet het ‘voorlopig niet nodig vindt’ om kolencentrales te sluiten. Uitstellen dus, naar eind 2017. Dan nieuwe onderzoeken laten doen, daarna kijken of ‘sluiting in beeld komt’.

De rechter bevestigde vorig jaar (in het Urgenda-vonnis) dat de Nederlandse Staat momenteel te weinig doet om de doelstellingen van het Energieakkoord te halen. Daarmee beschermt zij haar burgers onvoldoende tegen de gevolgen van klimaatverandering. Desondanks heeft dit onderwerp nog altijd weinig prio in Den Haag. Sterker nog, volgens de krant kon het kabinet ‘zoals verwacht’ daar geen besluit over nemen. 

Zijn de doelstellingen dan zo moeilijk te behalen? Nou, nee. In 2020 moet de uitstoot van broeikasgassen met 25% zijn teruggedrongen ten opzichte van 1990 en moet 14% van de energie in Nederland duurzaam worden opgewekt. Toch lastig blijkbaar. Uitstellen nog maar even dan. De burgers malen er toch ook niet om. 

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Politicians Debating Global Warming by Isaac Cordal

Angstaanjagende monoloog versus open dialoog

Een ‘verbijsterd’ Greenpeace reageert in datzelfde krantenartikel: “Het klimaat wacht niet op treuzelende politici en nieuwe rapporten. Momenteel is het op de Noordpool ruim 20 graden warmer dan normaal. Nu kolencentrales onnodig open houden zal ons in de toekomst verweten worden door volgende generaties.”

Angst slaat mij om het hart. Gruwelijk moeilijke kwestie! Weerstand! De Act Now-benadering van organisaties als Greenpeace maakt ons bang. Als mensen bang zijn, komt er maar moeilijk nieuwe informatie binnen. Educatie zou ons moeten motiveren ons in te gaan zetten voor een beter milieu. Die paar mensen die zich laten voorlichten, kampen echter met gevoelens van verlies, wanhoop en machteloosheid. Dit activeert hen niet. De gevoelens die klimaatverandering opwekt zijn zeer verontrustend. Gevoelens die je liever wilt vermijden. Men keert zich af.

Hoe nodig je mensen dan uit tot een ‘goed gesprek’ over klimaatverandering? Volgens klimaatpsycholoog Renee Lertzman is het creëren van meer rust rondom het onderwerp een goed begin. Daarmee ontstaat ‘headspace’ om eens stil te staan bij wat het weten over klimaatverandering eigenlijk met je doet. Horen hoe een ander zich voelt, doet je luisteren. In zo’n veilige omgeving, gedijt verandering. Hoe wil je je dan wel voelen over jouw bestaan op deze planeet? Wat het doel van de milieuactivist naar mijn idee zou moeten zijn, namelijk het voeren van een motiverend gesprek over klimaatverandering, begint dan tot de mogelijkheden te behoren.

Een beetje medeleven graag!

Ontdoe het onderwerp van klimaatverandering van die urgentie en laat ons een beetje bijkomen. De verandering zal sowieso langzaam en log zijn. Het realiseren van de doelstellingen van het Energieakkoord is een eerste kleine stap. Uiteraard een hele belangrijke. Als mensen merken dat zij samen, en daarbij gesteund door hun regering, wel degelijk een verandering teweeg kunnen brengen, smaakt dat naar meer. Het gaan aanpakken van de klimaatverandering wordt dan iets tastbaars. In kleine stapjes. De broeikasgas uitstotende wereld is kolossaal en de systemen zijn over de hele aardbol uitgewaaierd. Maar angst aanjagen heeft alleen maar afkeer tot gevolg.

Greenpeace had ook aan de desbetreffende journalist kunnen vragen: “Wat betekent het eigenlijk voor u om te moeten leven met de kennis van klimaatverandering?” Hij of zij zou zoiets gezegd hebben als: “Ik maak me grote zorgen!”  “Begrijpelijk. Voor u en voor mij levert klimaatverandering dagelijks dilemma’s op. De meeste mensen keren zich daarom maar af van het onderwerp. Zoals nu blijkt zelfs onze politici, die toch het beste met ons voor zouden moeten hebben. Deze doelstellingen zijn prima haalbaar en markeren een mooi begin van een nieuw menselijk bestaan. Een bestaan waarin we ons niet langer hoeven te schamen, maar trots kunnen zijn op hoe we nu kiezen ons te voelen over ons dagelijks leven. Ga naar onze website en lees hoe mensen in Nederland zich uitspreken over klimaatverandering. Vergeet daarbij vooral niet het kabinet te attenderen op hun plicht dit voor ons mogelijk te gaan maken. Dan wens ik u tenslotte nog een fijne kerst verder.”

About my design project on climate change

The story of climate change is a complicated one to tell. Scientists and researchers tend to produce pretty inscrutable communication materials, which does little to successfully disseminate the most important information. But the time for radical change is now. My aim with this design project is to wake people up to the reality of climate change through factual visuals which are clear and easy to comprehend.

Motivation

Spring 2014.  I was holidaying in Greece  after a non-stop-working-winter. At one point, the weather wasn’t all too good and I was sitting inside the apartment checking Facebook. This particular headline “It Is Too Late To Prevent Catastrophic Climate Change” caught my eye. What do you mean it is too late?! Of course, I knew things with the environment weren’t great. But up until that point the tenor of any article I had read on the topic – not many  I must add – had always been an enumeration of bad stuff that might happen with a soothing ‘but if we act now, the world can still be saved’ at the end, making you think there are people out there – most probably our government?! – who will deal with this problem.

So I then read the interview with professor Clive Hamilton, downloaded his featured book “Requiem For A Species – Why We Resist The Truth About Climate Change”, read it and for days following I was in utter despair. Clive’s message is clear. The world is now on a path to a very unpleasant future and it is too late to stop it.

Once I got back home in Amsterdam I continued reading publications by science institutes. For me, it was one shock after another, having always been perfectly able to push away concerning news from the environmentalist front. I started casually asking around what people knew about climate change. It was striking nobody – and I mean nobody – seemed to have the faintest idea of the gravity of the situation. It started to dawn on me all this important research had never reached a big audience.

The abundance of unmeaning (sorry!) scientific terminology, the extensive amounts of poorly laid out text (no pictures?), the absence of overarching insights, I just naturally got going on designing information.  I think there’s a task for designers to bridge the communication gap between scientists and the general public, being ill-informed regarding climate change.

Climate Change Denial Exposed

poster-design-climate-change-denial-exposed-melanie-van-dijk2x
Types of climate change denial

 

Psychologists have identified  a range of coping strategies used to manage the unpleasant feelings that follow when we open ourselves to the message of climate science. We use a whole range of ‘maladaptive coping strategies’; admit some of the facts and allow some of the emotions, but do so in distorted form. Climate change denial is a widespread psychological phenomenon and we all seem to be guilty of doing it.

  • Distraction (switching off because the information is too disconcerting)
  • De-problematising
  • Wishful thinking (distancing)
  • Pleasure-seeking
  • Blame-shifting
  • Apathy

Adaptive coping strategies are positive behaviours based on full acceptance of the facts and experience of the emotions.

Distraction

We look for a split second and then we look away, because the information is too disconcerting. Staying pretty hazy on the details and only skimming most of the news stories, especially the really scary ones. Telling yourself the science is too complicated and that the environmentalists are dealing with it.

De-problematising

Or we look but then turn it into a joke (“more signs of the Apocalypse!”).

Wishfull thinking

We look but tell ourselves comforting stories about how humans are clever and will come up with a technological miracle that will safely suck the carbon out of the skies or magically turn down the heat from the sun.

Apathy

We look but tell ourselves we are too busy to care about something so distant and abstract.

Blame-shifting

We look but tell ourselves all we can do is focus on ourselves. Shop at farmers’ markets and stop driving – but forget trying to actually change the systems that are making the crisis inevitable because that will never work. And at first it may appear as if we are looking, because many of these lifestyle changes are indeed part of the solution, but we still have one eye tightly shut.

 A great many of us engage in climate change denial. We look for a split second and then we look away. We deny because we fear that letting in the full reality of this crisis will change everything. And we are right.

We know that if we continue on our current path of allowing emissions to rise year after year, climate change will change everything about our world. Major cities will drown, ancient cultures will be swallowed by the sea, and our children will spend a great deal of their lives fleeing and recovering from vicious storms and extreme droughts. And we don’t have to do anything to bring about this future. All we have to do is nothing. Just continue to do what we do now, whether it’s counting on a techno-fix or tending to our gardens or telling ourselves we’re unfortunately too busy to deal with it.

Notes

1. ‘Requiem For A Species’ by Clive Hamilton.

2.  ‘This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate’ by Naomi Klein

Six Degrees of Global Warming a Bad Thing?

Many abstractions surround climate change. A ‘two degree target for global temperature rise’ is one of them. Why would three, four, Five or even six degrees of global warming be a bad thing?

This post features the first and second infographic in a series of 6 based on Mark Lynas‘ book ‘Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet ‘.

One degree of global warming
One degree of global warming

 

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Two degrees of global warming

 


One Degree

OCEAN Increase in hurricane activity due to warmer oceans. Uptake of excess CO2 makes the oceans acidic causing marine life to die-off.

FOREST Deforestation for agriculture, logging and fuel causing more warming. Less trees means less CO2 uptake and burning forest releases more CO2.

PERMAFROST Permafrost, mountain glacier and snowpack melt causing lake drainage and a downstream water supply shortage.

SEA ICE Arctic ice melt cause more warming. Ice reflects 80% of the Sun’s heat whereas dark ocean absorbs 95% of the heat.


Three Degrees

DROUGHT Parts of Africa and Australia are beyond human adaptation. Drought will be permanent in the sub-tropics and Central America.

MANKIND Population transfers are bigger than anything seen in the history of mankind. Will lead to conflict and international wars.

FOREST Amazon dries out completely. Wild fires in South America cause intense air pollution and heat. The smoke will blot out the sun.

VEGETATION Soil and vegetation start to release C02 rather than absorb it.1/2 plant species Europe become extinct.

HURRICANES Hurricanes start tracking across the Atlantic striking in Europe. Cyclones devastate places as far removed as Texas and Shanghai.


Four Degrees

DROUGHT Further international decline in agricultural production due to drought, reduced river flows, lake disappearance and desertification.

MANKIND Collapse of civilisation.

HEAT 70% summer rain fails in Mediterranean, heatwaves last 65 days longer than presently, wildfires occur in the Alps. In the UK summer temperatures reach 45°.

PERMAFROST Permafrost in Siberia melts, releasing a 700% increase in carbon. Even just of 1% permafrost disappearance equals a doubling in present global emissions.

SEA LEVEL With sea levels rising further Mumbai, Shanghai, Boston, New York and London would be inundated to name but a few.


Five Degrees

DESERT New deserts in Sind, Indo-china, Korea, Japan and the west Pacific and Pacific Isles, Southern Europe, East Africa and Madagascar and parts of Chile.

MANKIND Humans will herd into shrinking habitable areas. Habitable areas will shrink towards the poles. Massive reduction in the supportable population. billions will die.

HEAT Inland temperatures 10° or more higher than now.

PERMAFROST Antarctica starts to melt. No ice sheets remain.

OCEAN Release of methane hydrates from the ocean floor due to changes in deep ocean temperatures.


Six Degrees

MANKIND We are in the realms of dystopia. The human species may survive a 6° temperature rise but it is by no means certain.

HURRICANES The volatility of the climate will see hurricanes throughout the planet of unimaginable ferocity.

SEA LEVEL Sea levels are 20 m higher than current. With Antarctica melting completely, sea levels eventually will be 73 metres higher. Go to map.


Warming of the oceans and melting sea ice
Warming of the oceans and melting sea ice
infographics-global-warming-desert-drought-melanie-van-dijk
Desertification and drought
infographics-global-warming-forest-fires-floods-melanie-van-dijk
Forest fire and floods
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Water shortage (disappearance of lakes) and melting of sea ice
infographics-global-warming-industry-nature-melanie-van-dijk
Graphics of industry and nature
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Graphics of civilisation and rising sea levels

If We Do Act Now

Currently, CO2 levels in our atmosphere are just over 400 ppm [1]. Now, this probably won’t mean anything to you. Not even when you are told that the safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 350 parts per million [2]. This data visualisation attempts to put ‘ppm’ in context.

All this excess greenhouse gas will lead to actual warming. Not many people know that the warming effects are delayed. They think climate change is not true, because “It’s not really getting any warmer”.

The first data visualization titled ‘CO2 level in our atmosphere’ takes you on the path of global implementation of the most optimistic ‘Act Now’ scenario: 

  • The ending of deforestation
  • A halving of emissions associated with food production
  • Global emissions peaking in 2020 and then falling by 3 per cent a year for a few decades.

If that path is taken we will pump out an extra 3000 Gt of greenhouse gas, making atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases rise to 650 ppm (associated with a global temperature rise of 4 to 6°C) [3].

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CO2 level in our atmosphere
Act-Now-slide1
Global temperature rise due to climate change

The second data visualization titled ‘Global temperature rise (in degree Celsius)’ shows the effect this amount of greenhouse gas has on the Earth’s temperature.

The delusional thing about global warming is that actual warming effects are delayed. What does that mean? Think about what happens when you put the heating on in your home. It takes a while for the temperature to rise. The same is happening right now in the atmosphere. Once the oceans and the atmosphere are fully heated up – like the radiators in your home – the temperature will go up. However, once it’s nice and warm, we can’t switch off the sun. Or get rid of the greenhouse gas that traps the heat from the sun. In fact, it will stay there for at least one millennium.

Words of support from Clive Hamilton:

‘If We Do Act Now’ is a powerful visual representation of the threat posed by global warming and I fervently hope it will catalyse many people to accept that the Earth and its human population faces a very nasty future. That may be a despairing conclusion, but it is based on the best science available. We will not know how to respond properly until we have felt the despair a person experiences when they find the courage to face the truth of what the scientists have been trying to tell us.

Notes

1. The world’s most current data for atmospheric CO>2 is measured at the Mauna Loa Observatoy in Hawaii.

2. Why 450ppm is dangerous and why 350ppm is safe

3. Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows, ‘Reframing the climate change challenge in light of post-2000 emission trends’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Royal Society, 2008. Referred to in ‘Requiem For A Species’ by Clive Hamilton.

Carbon Budget Over Expenditure

The world is on a so-called all-time carbon budget, set at 2900 Gt of CO2. The definition [1] is as follows:

“A carbon budget can be defined as a tolerable quantity of greenhouse gas emissions that can be emitted in total over a specified time. The budget needs to be in line with what is scientifically required to keep global warming and thus climate change tolerable.”

Carbon Budget
Carbon Budget

 

‘Tolerable’ is widely regarded synonymous with a global temperature rise of 2°C and a target of 450 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere. If we stick to this carbon budget, we have a two-thirds chance of staying below 2°C [2].

I was wondering how much is left. How many years till we blow the 2°C Carbon Budget? And then what?

From 2011 onwards, the remaining CO2 to release was set at 565 Gt of CO2 [3]. On current trends [4], we will blow the global carbon budget and lock in more than 2°C of global warming by 2025.

Everyone agrees, the world will have to start following an emission reduction path soon. Question is, what is the most hopeful judgment about this path? Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows from the United Kingdom’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research have set out the task we face [5]:

  1. Deforestation rates peak in 2015 and fall rapidly thereafter to half in 2040 and 0 by 2060.
  2. Emissions intensity of food production is halved with an extra 2 billion people to feed by 2050.
  3. Global emissions peak in 2020 and then decline by 3% each year, with energy emissions in rich countries falling by 6-7%.

If that path is taken by the world we will pump out an extra 3000 Gt of greenhouse gas. And there’s only about 400 Gt left in our carbon budget. Politicians might have thought, carbon budget? Budgets are there to overspend!

Carbon budget: even with the most optimistic assumptions about a global emission reduction path, we will end up overspending it by a whopping 90%.

Notes

  1. WWF publication ‘Understanding Carbon Budget’
  2. IPCC AR5 Synthesis Report SPM
  3. Source: Carbon tracker initiative 
  4. Source: Interactive by Duncan Clark for The Guardian (with current human emissions of 37 Gt per year, adjusted by 2% per year since the start of 2014 to account for estimated subsequent increases, based on PBL NEAA 2014)
  5. Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows, ‘Reframing the climate change challenge in light of post-2000 emission trends’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Royal Society, 2008. Referred to in ‘Requiem For A Species’ by Clive Hamilton.

More reading about the carbon budget

Confused about the new IPCC’s carbon budget? So am I.

9 Simple Charts That Explain The Global Carbon Budget

Two degrees of warming closer than you may think

Climate Tipping Points of No Return

These days, we increasingly hear news stories on say a drought in California, or that the cost of olive oil is set to rise by £ 2 a bottle after a disastrous harvest in Italy. We hear the coral reef has bleached for nearly 30 %, 40 % of the Arctic sea ice has melted and villagers in the Pacific Islands are starting to relocate because of rising sea levels.

They are generally snippets of news here and there as opposed to front page headlines or the main news bulletins. Considering the magnitude of the consequences of global warming on each and every one of us, this is somewhat surprising! Our daily lifestyles continue with little impact from global warming, so why indeed should we change anything? Supermarkets are full and unlimited travel locally and globally is still freely available to each and every one of us. Climate change is happening, but is yet to have a real impact on us. Humans have evolved to assess and respond to risk through immediate feelings rather than cognitive processing. We will only act as a population when confronted with a crisis, happening before our very own eyes.

Drought, crop failure, acidification of oceans, rising sea level – these are what scientists call ‘positive feedback mechanisms’. How is it that these disasters are all directly related to climate change?

This work is an investigation into precisely what feedback mechanisms are, how they got here and how they are related.

Climate-Spiraling-outofcontrol-slide1 Climate-Spiraling-outofcontrol-slide2 Climate-Spiraling-outofcontrol-slide3 Climate-Spiraling-outofcontrol-slide4