I’ve just come back from a talk on geoengineering and, okay… my normally well-managed fiery temper is feeling a little less well managed right now.
At the best of times, I’m a little too passionate about almost everything – and when it comes to the way we look after out planet, I can ruin a good party in under 20 minutes. Rather than forever be labelled as “that person”, I conscientiously started suppressing the more socially awkward parts of myself. At dinner parties where people sprouted nonsense about nuclear power, global warming or geoengineering, I kept my opinions largely to myself and concentrated instead on filling my entire body with red wine. I also learned how to pick my battles and I threw my energies into spreading the word about SASSI and teaching Habitable Planet workshops. And it worked when I lived in Cape Town because SASSI and Habitable Planet worked.
Well, I live in Scotland now and all those checks and balances just aren’t cutting it anymore. While not all of my friends would agree that I’ve successfully mastered my frustrations (I’ve certainly unleashed at not-always appropriate times), my own father recently asked me how I could justify doing a PhD on a topic that had nothing to do with climate change. Let me make something very, very clear: Everything I do – yes, everything – is done with this looming multi-headed medusa in mind.
How do I feel about geoengineering? The speaker today suggested that as a scientist I should endeavour to take the middle ground; measuring things on a case-by-case basis. Well, this is my socially awkward opinion on it: Bullshit.
But let me back that rather dramatic statement with some science:
What is geoengineering?
Before I can explain this broad concept adequately, I’m going to state here what I said in the Q&A session after today’s seminar: The general public doesn’t believe that global warming is REAL. So now I need to add another socially awkward opinion to the pile. Except that this is less opinion and more socially awkward fact:
Anthropogenically-driven (man-made) climate change is real, it is happening and its impacts will be large, serious and almost impossible to predict.
Understandably, some scientists have lost faith in the political machinery and they have given up on YOU, the public – they have stopped believing that global efforts to reduce emissions will be enough to mitigate climate change, if they happen at all. Enter onto the stage the blossoming field of geoengineering, defined in a 2009 publication of the Royal Society as:
the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change
The sad truth is that we’re not reducing emissions at a rate that is going to have enough of an impact, so instead of preventing (mitigating) climate change, we’re now looking at how to deal with it. Do we send massive mirrors into space to deflect sunlight (SRM) or do we experiment with carbon dioxide methodologies (CDM) which extend from dumping iron into the Southern Ocean to capturing carbon dioxide from the air and burying it under the seabed? Yes: These are very real options that scientists are contemplating because nobody will listen when we get socially awkward.
I know I’m simplifying things, but the most effective way of preventing climate change is by changing the way we live today. I’ve been avoiding updating my blog for weeks now because I know that a post on this exact thing has become inevitable… and I don’t quite know what to say yet, or how to say it without alienating, like, everyone.
There is a quote that I love, and I like to think these few sentences encapsulate the way I (try to) operate as a scientist:
To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away.
For a while now, I’ve been so caught up in my homesickness that I forgot to be brave. Right now, it being a Friday evening and all, I have to go show some Scots how to braai. But tomorrow I’ll finally write about what climate change means to me. As a South African and as a scientist, but also just as a girl trying to make sense of the incredibly complex planet we like to call home.
(also: thank you MG, you do a superb Hayley impersonation)