This week I’m participating in an exciting conference, the Science-Based Choices for Climate Action, Insights from the IPCC 6th Assessment Report. I look forward to soaking up presentations, and also to feedback from my presentation about higher education’s future.
Neil Leary, Dickinson College, organizer of the event, welcomed in-person and online audiences.
Then we proceeded to the first panel, with the theme of rising to climate change’s challenges. It included: Ko Barrett, Senior Advisor for Climate, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and IPCC Vice Chair; Fatima Denton, United Nations University Institute for Natural Resources in Africa and IPCC Working Group 3 author; Benjamin Preston, RAND and IPCC Working Group 2 author. Rachel Jacobs, Dickinson College, moderated.
Its opening discussion looked at the unique nature of the IPCC, as a “handshake between science and policy,” for its rigor, and for its diverse population. One point: the IPCC report generation process is very contested, yet ultimately policy neutral. This last point elicits the desire among some writers to write more special reports.
Jacobs asked how politics impact the IPCC report creation process. One response: the scientific literature is biased towards scientific literature from the global North, and towards the English language. Another: the process should be more democratized. A question about how the process works in practice yielded an answer: a writer handed a stack of bullet points, told to translate them into a chapter. This involves working with a huge amount of reading, as well as fellow writers who can be very skeptical. One additional point: the IPCC produces a lot of grey literature.
We returned to the theme of diversity and reputation. The IPCC should encourage more people from the global South, more women, more graduate students to participate, and pushing governments to support this.
The second panel concerned Land, Ecosystems and Climate Change. Heather Bedi, Dickinson College, asked panelists to explain the interface between those domains. Andreas Fischlin, ETH Zurich and IPCC Vice-Chair, answered by describing how ecosystems provide various services for humanity, themselves powered by biodiversity. There are many ways to value these services, including financial ($16-54 trillion, by one estimate). Biodiversity loss rises with global warming.
Gillian Bowser, Colorado State University, COP, described a historical arc of increasing political development. She began with the Glasgow meeting last year, which hosted a people’s summit, which in turn represents political – national – engagement in the process. Yet ecosystems tend to appear within financial discussions in political discussions. Better representation for humans appeared in a succession of meetings, from greater numbers of women participating to more global equity.
Question: how can science address social problems? Bowser asks us to think of water ownership, starting with the American West, deeming it inequitable because so few Native Americans own water. She then asked us to consider land tenure. Fischlin points out inequalities built into agriculture.
How can we improve climate justice? Fischlin points to the need for international equity. Panelists disagree on the importance of COP using the phrase “mother Earth.” Bowser argues that including youth is vital for equity, especially as they are very concerned about justice. Also, representation needs to include ways of knowing: “It’s not enough to say the scientific body looks like society, if it keeps asking the same old questions.”
Bowser offers ten things individual students can do:
- Pay attention to ecosystems.
- Explore the linkages between things.
- Learn the role of small things (like insects) and use innovative ways to communicate their roles.
- Small things tell big stories.
- Use phones to measure the world and share results.
- Watch insects as they respond to climate change.
- Improve science communication.
- Go to a park and learn what an intact ecosystem looks like.
- Be part of the conversation, including policymakers.
- Remember that every landscape has a culture, and every culture a landscape.
Fischlin points out that not everyone has a phone, and adds that the youth has a right to a decent future. Every action can help.
Dr. Leary asks the audience for citizen work. People here do watershed monitoring, greenspace analysis, beekeeping, and farming.
Here we broke for lunch. I’ll post these notes so far, then update over the afternoon.
Afternoon sessions began with a panel on Food, Agriculture, Water and Climate Change. Aditi Mukherji, International Water Management Institute and IPCC Working Group 2 author, argued that climate change negotiations understate the importance of the multi-dimensional water crisis. This includes extreme water amounts, from drought to heavy precipitation and flooding. Non-climate factors make things worse, such as the heritage of colonialism.
Toshihiro Hasegawa, National Agricultural and Food Research Organization and IPCC Working Group 2 author, spoke to climate impacts on food and fiber. Climate change is hitting agriculture, forestry, fishing, especially in low and mid-latitudes, driving increased risk of acute food insecurity. Increasing temperatures will worsen that situation, while challenging food safety, dietary health, and the livelihood of people working in food systems.
Rachel Bezner Kerr, Cornell University and IPCC Working Group 2 author, spoke to inequities in food systems. Marginalized groups (women, minorities, migrants) are at greater risk from climate change. As a result, inclusive governance needs to include these groups, and we should recall that technical responses can worsen impacts. We should also recognize and integrate indigenous and local knowledge in adaptation thinking.
Maladaptation is starting to swim into view, when adaptation results in worsening social inequities or increasing greenhouse gases. One example is irrigation sited badly, which can weaken soil or worsening water access. Instead, integrated adaptation can include social protection programs (cash transfers, asset building) for marginalized populations, forecast-based financing, capacity building for farmer co-ops, regional grain banks, and public purchasing of regional and local good production.
Panelists discussed positive adaptations, including reducing methane.
The next panel focused on Cities and Climate Change. Debra Roberts returned to celebrate cities as a great location of climate action, from production to consumption. Cities are continuing to grow, including smaller (1 million people) ones. Karen Seto returned to argue that cities are crucial, especially in a world with more nations. Timon McPhearson, The New School and IPCC Working Group 2 author, told us we cannot design cities for cars any longer. Planning needs to change, to become more inclusive. 20th-century city development created vulnerabilities and inequities; 21st-century climate change worsens those. The next few decades already have temperature rises baked in. And nature-based solutions are terribly underresourced. We have to take mitigation and adaptation steps now.
Wei Ren, Dickinson College, led discussion on these topics. Panelists approved of urban gardening. Decarbonization should increase social interaction. Energy needs to switch, both in supply and demand. Cities can use materials to store carbon, such as massed timber.
A cluster of audience questions followed, centered around “what should we do next?” then the panelists answered. One calls for the US to cut its BTU/capita usage, while still maintaining a high standard of living. There’s a call for sufficiency, for focusing more on needs than wants (I think). Another wants to couple urban development with policies of rent control and building sustainable housing – i.e., cities need to undertake multiple efforts at the same time. A different panelist notes that the global South often lacks the kind of planning and governance needed to implement such policies.
Example of nature-based development: rebuilding a forest around a city, serving as water catchment, recreating a diminished ecosystem, providing socio-economic opportunities for the locals. Example of development problems: taxi drivers resisting public transit; people voting against stores near their homes. Interesting: people say they hate being stuck in traffic and mowing their lawns, but will resist changing these. Solution: building smaller homes closer to stores.
The day’s final panel was about Dickinson College’s drive to carbon neutrality. Circa 2005 conversations started, towards a climate commitment. A key detail: plowing efficiency saving into a green fund. In 2020 Dickinson took many steps to advance this. Overall, the college’s energy use intensity (EUI) declined steadily. A college farm grew in popularity and usage. A study found major greenhouse gas emissions coming from farm animals (methane) and campus transportation. In response the farm composts food waste.
Coming up: using biogas to generate electricity.
And that’s all for day 2. Now to teach class, then get some sleep. Another post, tomorrow!