A Little Bit of Hope

I went to a public lecture on climate change last night (because I just didn’t get enough of that last week at AGU, apparently), where four professors from different departments at my university spoke about their work. They were great speeches – it sort of reminded me of TED Talks – but I was actually most interested in the audience questions and comments afterward.

There was the token crazy guy who stood up and said “The sun is getting hotter every day and one day we’re all going to FRY! So what does that say about your global warming theory? Besides, if it was CO2 we could all just stop breathing!” Luckily, everybody laughed at his comments…

There were also some more reasonable-sounding people, repeating common myths like “It’s a natural cycle” and “Volcanoes emit more CO2 than humans“. The speakers did a good job of explaining why these claims were false, but I still wanted to pull out the Skeptical Science app and wave it in the air…

Overall, though, the audience seemed to be composed of concerned citizens who understood the causes and severity of climate change, and were eager to learn about impacts, particularly on extreme weather. It was nice to see an audience moving past this silly public debate into a more productive one about risk management.

The best moment, though, was on the bus home. There was a first-year student in the seat behind me – I assume he came to see the lecture as well, but maybe he just talks about climate change on the bus all the time. He was telling his friend about sea level rise, and he was saying all the right things – we can expect one or two metres by the end of the century, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s enough to endanger many densely populated coastal cities, as well as kill vegetation due to seawater seeping in.

He even had the statistics right! I was so proud! I was thinking about turning around to join in the conversation, but by then I had been listening in for so long that it would have been embarrassing.

It’s nice to see evidence of a shift in public understanding, even if it’s only anecdotal. Maybe we’re doing something right after all.


6 thoughts on “A Little Bit of Hope

  1. You are so correct.
    The risks of inaction are now too great.
    No longer can we risk silence. Passive acquiescence is the greatest danger now.

    Thanks for all that you do.

    Now watching a new video of Chris Hedges – a little bit of history.

  2. You certainly are doing something right.

    I encourage you, if the situation recurs, to go ahead and give some support anyway. Don’t let embarrassment get in the way. Keep in mind that the student who was well-informed might be glad to have some support — from someone else who is also well-informed.

  3. I’m not sure what has happened to your post about COP17 in Durban but, like you, I would like to think that it will never be too late. However, the combination of reading Requiem for a Species by Clive Hamilton and Storms of my Grandchildren by James Hansen has left me thinking that it is…

    If we are indeed now passing a tipping point (i.e. as the widespread rapid thawing of Siberian permafrost suggests) both mitigation and adaptation will be almost impossible. If we are passed the point that we can reverse damage already done (i.e. how can we make permafrost re-freeze or reverse the retreat of mountain glaciers?), we must reconcile ourselves to the fact that temperatures will now rise to a level at which the Antarctic first became glaciated 35 million years ago; and sea levels will therefore rise continuously for several centuries – making any permanent settlement anywhere near the coast impossible… Basically, it’s Kevin Costner’s Waterworld here we come!

  4. Ah, the self-control! I don’t think I would have been able to prevent dropping into lecture mode… when I was in Iceland in 2008, on the plane back home, I found myself explaining the climate birds and bees to a nice lady by my side, part of a group that had been on holiday enjoying the fantastic landscapes over there… and she actually ‘got’ it, how much warming we already have seen, how much still in the pipeline, and the delays involved in switching to a non-carbon economy even if we were to actually get our act together on that. And that many of those landscapes, the backdrop of Iceland’s sagas, are to disappear, literally melt away, within mere centuries.

    Never lose heart… too much is at stake.

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