3 Tools to Help You Channel Your Inner Climate Scientist
If you read a lot of news about the climate crisis, you probably have encountered lots of numbers: We can save hundreds of millions of people from poverty by 2050 by limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but policies currently in place put us on track for a more than three degree increase; sea levels could rise three feet by 2100 if emissions aren't reduced.
But it can be hard to understand what all these data points look like on the ground, and what can be done to avoid the scariest numbers. That's why universities, nonprofits and businesses have started creating tools to help non-experts interact with their findings.
"Research shows that showing people research doesn't work," leader of the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative John Sterman said.
Instead, these tools help people conduct research of their own.
1. En-ROADS Lets You Choose Your Own Climate Future
“En-ROADS allows people to learn for themselves by exploring how the policies they choose affect the energy system… https://t.co/0bW3ujF2BK— Sustainability Initiative (@Sustainability Initiative)1575392498.0
The latest tool to drop is the En-ROADS climate solutions simulator, a joint project launched Tuesday by the Sustainability Initiative at the MIT Sloan School of Management and nonprofit think tank Climate Interactive. The simulator is free and easy to use, and allows anyone to assess the impact of different climate solutions in less than a second.
En-ROADS presents users with two graphs, one showing current energy sources and one showing projected temperature changes by 2100. Business-as-usual has us on track for 4.1 degrees of warming by century's end, according to the simulator. But below the graphs are a series of policy choices: subsidizing or taxing coal; decreasing or increasing energy efficiency in buildings; encouraging or discouraging deforestation. By moving the cursor away from the status quo and towards either less or more ambitious climate policies, users can watch the projected temperature increase rise or fall.
"Powerful simulators have fueled climate wonks for decades," Climate Interactive co-founder and co-director Andrew Jones said in a press release. "This one works for users ranging from corporate CEOs and policy makers to smart eighth graders."
2. Virtual Planet Helps Coastal Residents Plan for the Flood
Sea level rise is one of the most talked-about impacts of climate change, but estimated average increases don't tell coastal dwellers what it will look like in their communities.
That's why the start-up Virtual Planet is developing virtual reality (VR) simulators to help coastal communities make decisions about their future, according to The Smithsonian. Developer Juliano Calil built the first model of his current home of Santa Cruz, California, NPR reported. It is now on display at the downtown branch of the Santa Cruz Public Library, according to The Smithsonian. The team designed another simulation for Turner Station in Baltimore, Maryland to help the community decide on a project to dredge material from the harbor to build up low-lying areas. Another is in the works for Long Beach, California.
So far, VR users are shown a birds-eye view of their hometown and can slide right to watch water levels rise up to six feet. But Calil hopes to build a model that would also show what happens after various solutions are implemented. Even the current model is making an impact on viewers, however.
"You hear about global warming and the effects of it, but to really be able to see it in real time is an eye-opener," Eric Johnson, pastor of the Turner Station Union Baptist Church, told NPR. "It shows you this is something we needed to work on, like, yesterday."
3. Climate Central Helps You Screen Your Flood Risk
By 2050, #SeaLevelRise will push average annual coastal floods higher than land that is now home to 300 million peo… https://t.co/wfWGDL5lOn— Climate Central (@Climate Central)1572368942.0
While VR may be more immersive than two-dimensional visualizations, it is also less accessible.
If you can't get to a Santa Cruz library or a Turner Station community meeting, Climate Central has you covered. The nonprofit's Coastal Risk Screening Tool shows you whether your home is likely to fall below the yearly flood level this century, no matter where you live. The tool includes a map and satellite view, and users can zoom in on particular locations to see their risk. They can also see what flood levels are projected depending on the year (from 2030 to 2100), degree of carbon pollution and luck.
The map is based on a study released by Climate Central in October, which showed that sea level rise posed a greater risk this century than previously believed, because traditional elevation readings had included the tops of trees and buildings. When it used machine learning to correct for this error, the study found as many as 300 million people could be impacted by annual flooding by 2050 if emissions are not reduced.
"These assessments show the potential of climate change to reshape cities, economies, coastlines and entire global regions within our lifetimes," lead study author and Climate Central senior scientist Scott Kulp told The Guardian at the time.
With the Climate Central risk screening tool, anyone can now explore that potential for themselves.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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