Mark Maslin was one of the climate scientists interviewed in the Attenborough programme “Climate Change – the Facts.” He has a new article (his 24th) at the Conversation, “..in which a climate scientist interviews his climate striking daughter.”
James Dyke, Senior Lecturer in Global Systems, University of Exeter also has a new article at the Conversation (his 44th) called “Climate change: ‘We’ve created a civilisation hell bent on destroying itself – I’m terrified’, writes Earth scientist.”
Both of them are packed full of interesting facts. Unfortunately none of the facts are about the climate. Most of them are about Dyke and Maslin.
It was the spring of 2011, and I had managed to corner a very senior member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) during a coffee break at a workshop … Given the impact the IPPC’s findings can have on policy and industry, great care is made to carefully present and communicate its scientific findings. So I wasn’t expecting much when I straight out asked him how much warming he thought we were going to achieve before we manage to make the required cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.
“Oh, I think we’re heading towards 3°C at least,” he said.
“Ah, yes, but heading towards,” I countered: “We won’t get to 3°C, will we?” ..
“Not so,” he replied…
“But what about the many millions of people directly threatened,” I went on. “Those living in low-lying nations, the farmers affected by abrupt changes in weather, kids exposed to new diseases?”
He gave a sigh, paused for a few seconds, and a sad, resigned smile crept over his face. He then simply said: “They will die.”
That episode marked a clear boundary between two stages of my academic career. At the time, I was a new lecturer in the area of complex systems and Earth system science. Previously, I had worked as a research scientist on an international astrobiology project based in Germany.
Dyke was looking for life on other planets, and explains how this led to looking at what we’re doing to our own planet. [What is it about exobiologists that makes them such worriers?]
..my research involves thinking about how surface life can affect the atmosphere, oceans and even rocks of the planet it lives on… So it wasn’t a very large step from thinking about how life has radically altered the Earth over billions of years to my new research that considers how a particular species has wrought major changes within the most recent few centuries. Whatever other attributes Homo sapiens may have.. we humans can make an almighty mess.
He goes on to describe this mess, in terms which are surprisingly measured for this kind of article:
Humanity has swung a wrecking ball through the biosphere … the biosphere may be entering one of the great mass extinction events in the history of life on Earth. What makes this even more disturbing, is that these impacts are as yet largely unaffected by climate change. Climate change is the ghosts of impacts future. It has the potential to ratchet up whatever humans have done to even higher levels.
In other words, climate catastrophe is like the honeymoon in the Noël Coward/Gertrude Lawrence dialogue: “It hasn’t started yet.”
After a brief nod to Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion he gets straight to the point, which is the meaning of life, the world and everything, or as he calls it, the Technosphere:
Coined by US geoscientist Peter Haff in 2014, the technosphere is the system that consists of individual humans, human societies – and stuff.
What Haff coined was the word “technosphere” not the thing. This is not idle quibbling. It’s like: I coined the word “Craposphere” to describe the content of the Conversation – the thinking fellow’s Readers’ Digest – but I didn’t invent the phenomenon. This is important, because, by using a word coined in 2014 to define human society, Dyke effectively ignores any view of who we are and why we are that’s more than five years old, and may not gel with the stuff you’ve been reading the Conversation for the past five years. Which is what he does; at great length, taking us via Malthus and Limits to Growth to Ocasio Cortez’s Green New Deal, and the tentative conclusion that:
Perhaps the way out from fatalism and disaster is an acceptance that humans may not actually be in control of our planet. This would be the vital first step that could lead to a broader outlook that encompasses more than humans…
And so the most effective guard against climate breakdown may not be technological solutions, but a more fundamental reimagining of what constitutes a good life on this particular planet. We may be critically constrained in our abilities to change and rework the technosphere, but we should be free to envisage alternative futures. So far our response to the challenge of climate change exposes a fundamental failure of our collective imagination.
To understand you are in a prison, you must first be able to see the bars. That this prison was created by humans over many generations doesn’t change the conclusion that we are currently tightly bound up within a system that could, if we do not act, lead to the impoverishment, and even death of billions of people.
So the conclusion of this very long article spanning the entire history of humanity is that we’re in prison and we can’t see it, and billions will die as a direct result of our blindness. And to tie it all up nicely, Dyke comes back to his chat with a climate scientist in the coffee break:
Eight years ago, I woke up to the real possibility that humanity is facing disaster. I can still smell that bad coffee, I can still recall the memory of scrabbling to make sense of the words I was hearing. Embracing the reality of the technosphere doesn’t mean giving up, of meekly returning to our cells. It means grabbing a vital new piece of the map and planning our escape.
So it’s not really about the world, (or technosphere, as it’s been rebaptised) is it? It’s about the day some anonymous bloke told Dyke that we’re doomed – the day his world was changed utterly.
But not mine, not yours. Only Dyke’s.
Mark Maslin‘s article is shorter and more to the point:
He starts with an upbeat comment, confirming our view that Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and Attenborough on Netflix and the BBC have “changed the conversation on climate change.”
there’s now a groundswell of public concern that human impact on the planet is unacceptable and we’re smart enough to correct it.
The evidence for a “groundswell of public concern” is a link to an article by Roger Harrabin on the BBC website claiming that “Climate change ‘may curb growth in UK flying”
The evidence for this claim comes from a statement by a senior civil servant at the Department of Transport, backed up by Professor Kevin Anderson of Manchester University, who “told BBC News that curbing the growth in aviation would be politically possible because, in his opinion, most flights are taken by the rich.”
I don’t know when Professor Anderson gave up flying in order to save the planet – possibly in the 1950s. But if the BBC thinks that two quotes from a civil servant and a climate scientist constitute “a groundswell of public opinion,”well, it explains a lot about the BBC.
Then Maslin gets to the meat (or more likely tofu) of his subject:
I’m a climate scientist – and have been for 25 years – but I rarely take my work home. You don’t want to be the dad that goes home telling the family the world is screwed. So I was taken aback and pleasantly surprised when my 13-year old daughter Abbie said she wanted to go on the climate strike and asked if I would go with her. Brilliant, I thought – and then there was that moment of doubt. Is this because of me? Have I influenced her in some way and she is doing this to please her dad? I decided to have a chat with her to find out why she is going to strike.
There follows a transcript of the interview with his daughter and a rather nice, though sombre, drawing by Abbie titled “the Last Flower.” She’s worried about melting ice caps, rising seas, hotter temperatures, coral bleaching, wild bush fires, storms and floods. She wants people to save energy by switching off lights and computers, turning down the heating and putting on a jumper. She wants to recycle and reuse thing a lot more, use plastics less, “… and of course protest and make adults listen to us.” This is a young lady who is heading for straight As in her Geography and Environmental Science exams.
After the interview Maslin comments:
It seems that the world doesn’t revolve around me – my daughter has been absorbing information for years and has come to her own conclusions.
Well, yes, professor. The world doesn’t revolve around you. It revolves around you and your daughter (and eventual granddaughters, as your colleague at UCL Chris Rapley will explain to you.) We knew that.
What most struck me was Abbie’s views on politicians, and her bewilderment at why leaders aren’t doing the right thing. Maybe her generation will demand better leaders – ones that really care about people and the planet..
Of course they will. We’re all demanding better leaders to “do the right thing.” Trouble is, we don’t always agree about what “the right thing” is. Which is why, up to now, we have chosen politicians as leaders, and not professors with security of tenure, because we can throw the politicians out when we want to. But what with the groundswell of public opinion and us being hell bent on destruction and all, that may have to change.
We’ve always been ruled, even if indirectly, by an unelected élite. It may be inevitable in a complex society. But once upon a time the “élite,” however you defined them, were bound together by a common culture, a common understanding of how the world is, which would stop them (mostly) from falling off the edge of rationality. They didn’t think you could enlarge your understanding of humanity by calling it a Technosphere for a start, or by embedding it in a new geological age called the Anthropocene.
One small example: anyone who has read Freud (or Wordsworth for that matter) would know that when a thirteen-year-old girl does a drawing called “the Last Flower,” she’s not commenting on the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. She’s talking about herself. We all are, most of the time. We humans are like that. And lecturers in complex systems more than most.
As well as being a full time professor, Mark Maslin is a Founding Director and Chief Scientific Officer of Rezatec Ltd. Rezatec applies data science to satellite imagery and geospatial data to deliver sophisticated, cloud-based analytics to customers owning and operating high value, distributed land-based assets. Rezatec data services enable improved margins, enhanced competitive advantage and optimised asset management for its customers.
If word were ever to get about that the climate is doing ok and your high value land based assets were quite safe in the hands of Gaia, and had no need of sophisticated, cloud-based analytics, then Professor Maslin would be out of one of his jobs. Luckily, that word isn’t likely to get about, thanks partly to Maslin senior, tenured professor and sometime BBC talking head, and Maslin junior, school striker and demonstrator.
One final note: Rezatec (founder and executive director Mark Maslin) offers its customers “enhanced competitive advantage,” presumably by keeping the information it sells out of the hands of competitors. I wonder if the IPCC (sometime author Mark Maslin) knows about that? Isn’t sophisticated, cloud-based analytics something the IPCC has admitted it doesn’t know much about?