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Nr. 92, 21.10.2017  voriger  Übersicht  weiter

Something's got to give!

More than a hundred years ago, the first experts were already warning us about man-made climate change. Yet we are still barely even willing to change our lifestyles and sceptics are on the advance. Mojib Latif and Konrad Ott are taking a stance with regard to social uncertainty and responsibility in the post-truth age.


Is this the world as we like it? Animation: Holly McKelley

We are not making things easy for our global climate. Of course it has changed. Between ice age and interglacials there were global temperature differences of approximately five degrees Celsius. But these changes took many thousands of years. Then we took a liking to machines and, in the 19th century, industrialisation took off. A good 150 years later, we are once again facing a radical change in temperatures.

“The speed is astounding. In terms of worst-case-scenario climate change, we are talking about five degrees since industrialisation began until the end of this century,” warns Mojib Latif. He has been a professor at Kiel University since 2003 and since 2004 has headed the Ocean Circulation and Climate Dynamics research group at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel. His research reveals: “Sea levels are rising, the Earth's ice is melting and extreme weather situations are increasing. We can no longer close our eyes to these facts.”

The Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache (Society for the German Language) chose 'post-factual' (i.e. post-truth) as its word of the year for 2016. The coinage indicates that emotions are increasingly employed in place of facts in political and social discourse, was how the jury explained their decision. Researchers have also noticed this. When searching for interviews of the widely acclaimed scientist Latif on YouTube, you find lies and accusations of propaganda in the comments.

“You wouldn't believe how many e-mails I get if it snows or freezes. Many people do not understand that we are dealing with a chaotic system undergoing long-term changes. Weather can be unpredictable in the short-term.” That is, fluctuations in climatic development are normal. Latif admits that every detail of the complex Earth system cannot be predicted or understood. Uncertainties especially exist in terms of regional changes, cloud and ocean currents.

The Kiel environmental ethicist and philosopher, Professor Konrad Ott, also emphasises: “Scientific scepticism is fundamentally commendable. However, the models and data are so overwhelmingly clear that there can be no doubt about the truth of climate change. The so-called climate sceptics abuse the virtue of scientific scepticism.” He relies on objectiveness and discourse: “By means of argumentation, climate ethics has contributed to generating a political will to equitably implement a global objective.”

In December 2015, for the first time, 195 countries signed up to an international climate protection agreement at the Climate Change Conference in Paris. The aim was to curb emissions and limit global warming to considerably less than two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial temperatures. However, US President Donald Trump then arrived on the scene and in June 2016 announced the withdrawal of his country from the agreement.

Konrad Ott has a clear opinion on this: “Whoever sabotages the Paris Agreement is definitely acting irresponsibly from a climate ethics perspective.” He believes that everything must be done to rigorously implement the Paris objectives. It is everybody's individual responsibility to soften the risks of climate change. “The industrialised nations, in particular, must contribute,” says Ott. They have the capital, the knowledge and the technologies available. Furthermore: “Without China and the USA, climate policy will be doomed to failure, because together they cause around 50 percent of all global emissions. Nor should states with rapidly increasing emissions, such as Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia and a few African states such as Nigeria and South Africa, be forgotten.”

But how, specifically, do we implement climate protection? Here, it is not only a question of political action, but also personal lifestyle. Fondly nurtured hobbies such as travelling or vehicles with high CO2 emissions, such as off-roaders, should be reviewed, say the experts. But even innocent examples like single-person households or long-distance relationships can negatively impact your personal CO2 balance. “Lots of people have interests associated with high energy consumption,” says Ott. And they are on the increase. The effects of climate change not only impact multitudes of people in predominantly tropical countries, but will also contribute to a loss of global biodiversity.

“Something's got to give,” Latif is certain. The scientists anticipate that the new German Federal Government will therefore invest in research and a robust climate protection programme. “Environmental policy successes are possible. They only require the courage to pass appropriate legislation such as a carbon dioxide tax or global emission trading with stringent targets. Ultimately, however, we ourselves have the solution,” Ott appeals. The reconciliation of facts and lifestyle starts at home. Emissions in Germany have even risen again slightly. What are we still waiting for?

Raissa Maas
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