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Predicting Climate Change – Pt 2


To some degree, we lost our link to nature

On people’s responses to climate

When we look at past and modern society, in the past everybody that was working was a farmer, and that was before industrialisation kicked in, people were extremely dependent on grain yields or agricultural output. Also, transport means were quite different, so if there was a drought in some region, it was very, very difficult to bring any goods there and to help them, while in a different region everything might have been normal.  If you look at the Tambora eruption in 1915, which then led to a a year without summer in Europe, and also in America partly, there were regions that just saw a huge increase in rainfall, Belgium for example, these regions would have no output from the fields, the grapes wouldn't ripen etc. But they still got some help from outdoors because…for example, Russia at that time yields were pretty much normal and there was not such a big problem, and the Tsar helped Europe by reporting more grain, so that’s alright.  But then in China, if you go several hundred years back, there would not have been any way to transport over hundreds of kilometres all the grain you need for feeding the people.  And then, if you look at the industrial civilisation today, I think we are spoiled, we can just transport anything to anywhere, you get your meat from Australia or from New Zealand and you carry organic stuff all over the place in a very speedy way, and that’s dangerous because we are still vulnerable.  

To some degree, we lost our link to nature and we thought, OK, with engineering you can do anything, but that’s of course not true.  Just look at the huge drought in California, it’s now in the fifth or sixth year or so, and people start to worry, they worry very late actually, and if you look at this extremely industrialised region where people have all the means of super computers to look more into the system and understand the climate there, it does not help to bring them more water, the only thing you can do, you can drill deeper wells, if you are rich you can drill deeper, but at some point your ground water is gone, and that’s what people do at the moment, they pump it out, and that water is maybe 10,000 years old.  And you actually can see that the ground is lowering because they're pumping out so much water.  And that’s of course leading to other problems, not just directly from the drought but indirectly.  Costs are just enormous.  If the drought lasts another couple of years then people have to move, they will not be able to sustain this for very long, and in America maybe kind of less critical than comparably to India or China where people have no such means or very little. 

On educating people about climate

I think that on the whole people are quite aware, at least in Europe, they are quite aware that such changes are ongoing, it’s also due to different teaching in school and a different information policy in Europe. In America things are different because there’s all this climate sceptics business, but I think here its quite OK.  And again, policy makers are probably briefed quite well, they have scientific advisers, but sometimes you feel like they should actually start doing something.  I have the feeling that politicians actually react, but they react very, very slowly because it costs money, it’s not a popular thing you have to do and it’s also not easy to actually pinpoint exactly what do you have to do to make things better.  But sometimes you would really like to see a bit more action and a bit less bubbling.  For every person out there who is not a policy maker, and that’s the majority of us, we can still do it with small things, everybody can contribute.  Switch your light off, switch your computer off when you go to bed, don’t leave it on standby, you use a hell of a lot of energy for nothing really.  With these kinds of tiny things you can contribute a lot, if everybody would do that we would save quite a lot of energy, and this is something people are not so much aware of. People that are thinking about the environment all the time anyway, they know that, but not necessarily my parents or everybody out there that is really ignorant of such things. 

- Dr Sebastian Breitenbach