Climate change and the rescue of the world – an interview with Dr. Ing. Herbert Formayer

In their new book „+2 degrees – why we should warm ourselves to the rescue of the world“ Helga Kromp-Kolb and Herbert Formayer are presenting the topic of climate change in an understandable and inspiring way. Last week I interviewed Herbert Formayer and talked with him about the new book. His answers and a little foretaste of the book you can find here:

Perhaps you’ve already felt the effects of climate change yourself and you’ve noticed how seasons are shifting more and more, or how hot it was on some summer days. One thing is clear: climate change is unstoppable, it is here and will continue to progress and more and more people are aware of it and it is a complex challenge for humanity. In a sense, however, we have a choice of how strong it will turn out to be.

Since the 1970s, the global mean temperature of the earth has risen by 0.5 ° C. Why does a seemingly small change make such a big difference?

The global mean temperature is a robust measure of global seasons, cold and warm periods, and other factors. It is not just a temperature measurement in the conventional sense. More it is a combination of many different measurements worldwide, which are brought together in a mathematical model.

In addition, particular attention is paid to how much the global mean temperature deviates from reference measurements. The global mean temperature also reflects the energy content in ground-level air layers. As this value increases, it becomes clear that more and more energy and therefore heat is accumulating in the atmosphere.

For 2.6 million years we live in an ice age, a very unstable state of the climate. With 0.1 ° C fluctuations observed from year to year, compared to a global average of 0.5 ° C, the measurement clearly signals a change in a sensitive system, that affects the whole earth.

So climate change is hard to deny. Why are there still climate change skeptics and what is their intention?

Here one has to differentiate between people who feel insecure or are not well informed, and people who deliberately spread false knowledge in order to pursue specific interests.

One can imagine that, for example, Saudi Arabia does not want the support of renewable energy. There is a lot of interest in the fossil energy industry to deny or talk about climate change. It uses methods that the tobacco industry had already used to spread uncertainties and thus politically no action is taken.

So called lobbyists represent the interests of certain industries. Above all, in the fossil energy industry, there is no wish for state interference. It is advocated that problems could be solved by supply and demand in the market and that it is possible to continue as before.

The problem, however, is that in complex and global challenges, such as climate change, only global cooperation is effective. An example would be a worldwide CO2 minimum tax. Those who produce CO2 intensive products would pay more.

You also speak in your book of consequences that are barely noticeable. Can you give examples of such?

Climate change affects every area. No matter if it is the winter tourism, the agriculture or the single individuals. We already notice many consequences: such as droughts, extreme weather events or heat. But in the meantime, many processes that we do not really recognize are running away. These surprise us the most in the end, because we were not able to prepare for it.

Churches or other old large buildings, which are cool, even in summer, tend to mold in the warmer atmosphere with more water vapor. That could destroy numerous works of art and monuments.

Another example is the unbundling of ecosystems. More and more heat-loving insects hatch earlier in the year. Birds, however, are still used to old rhythms. They then have problems when it comes to feeding their young.

Is there a „too late“ in terms of climate change, and if so, when is it?

Yes! We should avoid increasing the global mean temperature by another 2 ° C. Beyond this limit, according to experts, the consequences may be catastrophic.

Even today, the ice sheet on Greenland is about to completely melt. The shrinking ice surfaces lead to more energy input and further warming. White snow also melts very fast, because it absorbs short-wave radiation and reflects long-wave radiation.

What is hidden under this is dark snow. Among other things, carbon was deposited in it. In addition, this contributes to an increase in the greenhouse effect and global warming when released.All of this ultimately results in more ice melting and rising sea levels. If all the ice in Greenland were to melt, then the sea level would be 6m higher.

So far, goals have already been set, for example, the Kyoto Protocol or the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. Even if we achieve this, we must expect further warming of 1.5 ° C. If we do nothing, the global mean temperature will rise by 4-5 ° C.

Can you explain the difference between climate variability and climate change?

There are many natural variations in the climate system, for example due to the interactions of the ocean with the atmosphere, the Millankovich Cycles or the El Niño. El Niño is an anomaly of air pressure and sea surface temperature in the southern Pacific. It affects a change in air pressure due to the higher water temperature and this leads to more extreme weather events. This for example, is a variation that occurs every 2-3 years.

But climate change goes beyond these regular fluctuations. Because the temperature on the earth is increasing worldwide, whereby various ecological processes are disturbed. This starts new processes as more and more energy is introduced into the atmosphere by humans.

People are talking about man-made climate change, which has been given more and more drive since the beginning of industrialization. So it can happen that we leave the ice age. But the transition holds great challenges and takes time to change. For example, the sea level would be 80 to 90 meters higher.

What has the current economic and financial system to do with climate change?

Climate change is a symptom of the way we use our resources. In doing so, the economic system relies on infinite growth on a planet with limited capacities.

Permanent and exponential growth can not work because nature knows its limits. As the population grows, so does the demand for energy and resources. So it depends on how and on what we build our economic system. We need to ask ourselves how we can integrate the environmental, social and economic parts of sustainability in our lives.

In the book you mention that there are still things that would go beyond the scope of the book. What would be an important thing that was missing in the book?

As scientists, we have tried to address as much as possible, highlighting all the links and components that accompany and are relevant to climate change. We wanted to write a comprehensible book that one likes to pick up without being overwhelmed by the amount of information.

What we had to omit, however, were further references and explanations, as we are used to, from our scientific publications. That would have made the readability difficult. Our readers have to believe in this regard that we have researched well and can prove everything.

What is climate justice and what role do we play as the „rich west“?

For more than 20 years, there are negotiations on how climate protection should be designed. No one has more rights to pollute the atmosphere than another. So we should point out that we emit about the same amount of greenhouse gases.

However, there are still inequalities and a widening gap between rich and poor. For example, developing countries have the right to economic development. China was a country that emitted little until the 1980s. With the opening up of the economy and a coal-intensive energy industry, the emission values rose and today the per capita emission output is higher than for example in industrialized states.

We should succeed in creating sustainable systems and a lifestyle change that everyone then wants to copy; so that we achieve a decarbonization worldwide.

You encourage to become active, in your book. What should we focus on as individuals to positively influence climate change?

The most important thing is that we become aware of the change in the climate and that it can not go on like this. The next step is to question your own lifestyle, not matter if it’s energy, mobility or nutrition. We should be able to have as little private transport as possible and to question how often we have to fly, as this is very CO2 intense. Everyone has to think about that for themselves.

To enable and support people by integrating sustainability in their life, village centers should be revived, because this can minimize the dependence on cars. In the city it should be possible to switch as often as possible to public transport. For such changes, however, it certainly needs the use of space and urban planning.

Often, there are other positive aspects associated with a sustainable lifestyle. Thus, a diet with a reduced amount of animal products is better not only for the environment, but also for humans. Or the way we move. Studies show that fewer and fewer people are walking, while movement would not only be good for our body, but also for the world.

You speak of a good life for all in your book. What do you mean with that?

I think the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals reflect what is meant by a good life for all. It is about equipping people with basic functionalities and taking due account of human rights. Everyone should have water, electricity and food for individual development.

As the gap between rich and poor continues to widen, it creates a greater potential for conflict, and that can have dramatic consequences, while the sustainable development goals can only be achieved together.

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