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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Public Speaking: Two Degrees

Everybody is talking about climate change, and still I'm always deeply moved when I'm reading the actual figures of how serious climate change really is. This speech - given at the Brussels based Black Forest Toastmasters Club - builds on figures from the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

It's very easy these days to catch a cold, and I'm sure some of you already had this misfortune this winter. Is there anyone who even had to stay home because of high temperature? Someone had his temperature over 39°C? How did that feel?

Two degrees more have a huge impact on our wellbeing, and our quality of life. That not only applies to the human body. Two degrees more also mean a big problem for our planet. A couple of month ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a report where they summarized all known science on climate change and its implications. This is what they say will happen if planet Earth warms by two degrees:
  • Hundreds of millions of people exposed to increased water stress
  • Up to 30% of species at increased risk of extinction
  • Most corals bleached
  • Lower agricultural yields close to the equator
  • Increased damage from floods and storms, heat waves and droughts
  • Millions more affected by coastal flooding each year
  • and an increasing burden from malnutrition and infectious diseases
Not a pleasant outlook, I can assure you. This is also one of the reasons why the European Union says that we have to ensure that under no circumstances global warming exceeds two degrees.

The bad news is: Even if we breathing now - and stop all other activities with it, we have already committed ourselves to about 1.3°C global warming. That is because of the greenhouse gases we've blown already into the atmosphere.

But I don't want you to stop breathing. Actually, I want you to take a deep breath. What you've just taken in has about 0.038% carbon dioxide, that is 380 ppm. In the last 400.000 years that figure never exceeded 300 ppm, and if we continue emitting the way we do at the moment, we'll soon be at 500, 600, 700 ppm. The Intergovernmental Panel tells us where we have to stabilize emissions in order to stay under two degrees: That is at 450ppm. They also calculate how much we have to reduce our emissions to reach this target. For us Europeans, we have to reduce emissions by 80%.

80%. Can you imagine how Europe looks like with 80% less carbon emissions than at the moment? 80% is not going to be easy, so let's have a look at where our emissions come from at the moment.
  • 25% of global emissions come from energy supply: Can you imagine a world where our energy comes from renewable sources, from wind, sun and waves? Where energy is produced where and when we need it?
  • 20% of emissions come from industry. Can you imagine a world that does not produce the cheapest possible things, but the most efficient, in the most efficient way? And that designs them so that we don't have to throw them away after a day of use?
  • 17% come from forests, and especially deforestation. Can you imagine a world where we let our rainforests grow, in peace?
  • 13% of emissions come from agriculture. Can you imagine a world that grows crops to feed people, and not millions of animals in cages?
  • The last 13% of emissions go to transport. Can you imagine a world where we don't have to run around from A to B to C to D, but where we take the time to be where we want to be, where we need to be?
Two very different worlds we can leave to our children: A planet that has a serious temperature problem with climate change, or a planet that has managed to rid itself of its carbon addiction.

It is your choice.

If you don't want to read through the dry science of the IPCC reports, I highly recommend the following books that develop scenarios on how to overcome the ecological crisis:
To take action, join Greenpeace's Energy [R]evolution, or the Climate Action Network.

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