…There is no other news. It has been cancelled until COP26 is over. Another day, another email, this one from the Oxford Alumni newsletter, “Quad”. Where to start? Well, maybe an extract from the Vice-Chancellor’s 2021 Orationi:
The pandemic caused us all to change our behaviour to protect our grandparents. The climate crisis requires us to change our behaviour to protect our grandchildren. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we have successfully launched our new Environmental Sustainability Strategy, committing the University to achieving net zero carbon and biodiversity net gain by 2035. We have, moreover, created a new University committee, the Environmental Sustainability Sub-committee, to embed sustainability in the University’s high-level governance and decision-making and to oversee and direct progress on delivering the strategy. Key environmental information, focusing on our greenhouse gas emissions and impact on biodiversity, will now be included in the University’s Annual Review, to enable us to track our progress on delivering the strategy over time.
This year’s events – of record-breaking temperatures, catastrophic forest fires and floods – have heightened awareness that humanity can no longer behave like Nero, fiddling while the biome burns. Moving from Nero to Net Zero will, however, take courage, resources and imagination. Oxford is determined to lead in this shared endeavour, on which the future of all nations and peoples, and all living creatures depends.
The rest of the newsletter certainly reinforces the message. It starts with “TRUE PLANET: COUNTDOWN TO COP26”ii and the early part of it is devoted remorselessly to COP26, reducing emissions, and lots of climate worrying. I suppose that’s inevitable, but what I find troubling is that a leading university once devoted to teaching its students how to think now believes that there is only one way to think. Article after article is devoted to a single narrative with the assumption that it is all self-evident. And if this is how the people at the University address those of us who have long since graduated, how much more monolithic must the message be for those young people who are there to learn?
In passing I notice that the international intake makes up 45% of Oxford students and that 65% of Oxford’s graduate students are from outside the UKiii. I wonder if the emissions from those students making their long-haul flights will be taken into account as part of the University’s net zero strategy? For be in no doubt, thousands of Oxford students, especially postgraduates, will be making long-haul flights to study (and presumably again to return home, if not at the beginning and end of every term, then probably most of them at least at the beginning and end of each academic year). Briefly, as at December 2020, the largest groups of international students at Oxford were from USA (1,606); China (1,556); Germany (747); Canada (427); Hong Kong (366); India (335); Singapore (309); and Australia (299), and with many others from far-flung locations all over the globe.
How is Climate Changing Our Weather?
This one is for John Ridgway, as it’s written by Dr Friederike Ottoiv.
Not only can they now say how likely extreme events are to take place, Dr Otto and her team, can determine to what extent this has been affected by the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Dr Otto, associate director of the Environmental Change Institute, uses mass computer modelling to calculate the likelihood of extreme events and of climate change in different regions.
She says with assurance, ‘We know how much greenhouse gas is in the atmosphere…Climate change is a real game changer when it comes to heat waves, making them 100 times more likely in some places.’
COP26 ASK: I hope this evidence is used to really up the game on adaptation and adaptation finance.
Is The Future of Transport Electric?
This is the next short articlev generated by the email I received.
Professor Schwanen emphasises that electricity cannot be the sole route pursued to mitigate CO2 in the atmosphere – especially since some electricity still relies on coal-fired power stations and not all vehicle types, such as lorries, can be converted.
He insists that, in the longer term, research into Hydrogen fuel offers an opportunity to avoid CO2 emissions. But in the present, we need to move away from large heavy SUV-type vehicles in favour of smaller, lighter, more efficient cars.
But all motorised transport currently involved emissions and he argues for more ‘active’ transport – by bicycle or on foot or lightweight electric transport. And, he says, more use needs to be made of public transport.
COP26 ask: Address transport holistically – focus on technological change but also behaviour. That means more walking, more cycling, more e-scooters and less flying… We need to redesign our public spaces and connect them with attractive and affordable high speed rail networks.
Can Finance Help The Climate?
This seems like a strange title to an article in a postgraduate newsletter. Does the climate need help? Maybe (just maybe) humankind and other life on the planet might be helped if the climate didn’t change, but I don’t think “the climate” is much concerned one way or the other. And while I appreciate that this is all just a bit of hype ahead of COP26, the articlevi itself seems to me to be shallow, to say the least:
‘Finance matters,’ says Dr Nicola Ranger, head of Oxford’s climate and environmental risk research, about why finance is one of the core themes of the COP26 conference.
Dr Ranger is deputy director of the UK Centre for Greening Finance, a Government-backed organisation established to provide up-to-date analytics on the risks to the financial sector and investment of climate change. One of the biggest challenges for the investment community in future is understanding the risks and recognising the potential opportunities.
‘Investment needs to flow where it is needed,’ she says. ‘[Green investment] is the biggest investment opportunity in history.’
At Oxford, she says, we have brought together experts from across the disciplines and from a dozen universities to provide information and advice for investment, ‘enabling countries and governments to see the risks and the opportunities’.
COP26 ask: We need policymakers to set the right environment.
Still, for those who can be bothered to read all this stuff, we learn a bit about just how many organisations are busily sucking at the taxpayer teat of pointless climate mania. To my shame, I had never heard of the UK Centre for Greening Finance & Investment, but now I find that it exists and that it has a websitevii.
From this I learn that it is a national centre established to accelerate the adoption and use of climate and environmental data and analytics by financial institutions internationally. Also, that it claims that it will unlock opportunities for the UK to lead in greening finance and financing green.” I wonder how much some PR agency was paid to come up with that last sentence?
Still, one thing leads to another, and now I learn:
In February 2020 a call for proposals (‘Climate and Environmental Risk for Resilient Finance’) was launched by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Innovate UK, both part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), for a new £10 million research and innovation centre to support the integration of the financial risks of climate and environmental change into mainstream financial decision-making. This was one of the key recommendations made by the UK Green Finance Taskforce in 2018 and contained in the UK Green Finance Strategy in 2019.
Wow! What a lot of “green” troughs!
There’s more. I won’t bore you, dear reader, with the rest of the links to my email in any detail, but I will just mention “Watch the COP Conversations Livestream Series”; “Take Action: Join the Oxford Climate Alumni Network”; and, best of all, “Why are People Bored With Climate Catastrophe?”viii:
Dr Pete Walton…Knowledge Exchange Fellow at Oxford’s Environmental Exchange Institute, was approached by one of his American students, Josh Ettinger, in 2018.
Josh wondered why large swathes of Americans seemed utterly uninterested in climate change, despite its terrifying challenge to humanity.
My answer would be that people aren’t worried because they don’t, deep down, actually believe it, certainly not enough to ruin their finances and trash their lifestyles. But it seems that’s not it:
The short answer to that question is given by Pete. ‘Josh discovered that, broadly speaking, if you scare the bejesus out of people it doesn’t really work, and equally if you fill them with sunny optimism that doesn’t work either. But if you present them with actual solutions it might engage them.’
And this is where things become really clever:
This brings in another fast-maturing avenue of inquiry that Oxford has taken a lead in.
It’s called Extreme Event Attribution or EEA and began with the group of researchers around Professor Myles Allen, head of the Climate Dynamics group at the University of Oxford’s Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics Department.
Nowadays, when there is an extreme weather event unfolding in front of our eyes on the six o’clock news, Oxford researchers can quickly run two sophisticated climate models with observed data from the event, and then a counterfactual model that takes away all the additional human-emissions that have accumulated over the past two centuries.
Then, before the journalists have moved on to another story, the ‘once in five hundred year’ narrative can instead become a different formula, such as ‘this event was four times more likely because of climate change than it would have been.’
‘If you throw out science, science, science, it just bounces off,’ he says, ‘but if you tell someone their house might flood if they live by a river they will possibly listen intently.’
With the UN conference on climate change coming up in November, he suggests, communicating successfully to the broad public across the world will be very important.
To make any of it land with the public, the scientists will need to listen to the educationalists and find ways of ‘facilitating an exchange; having a conversation among and between peers, not a sermon from on high.’
I don’t know about you, but I can’t help thinking that reminds me of politicians who, when confronted about their latest election defeat, respond that they need to work harder to get their message across. They never seem to accept that the electorate received and understood the message – and rejected it.
That’s it for this month. Goodness knows what my next newsletter will bring, given that I fear it is due to arrive just before COP 26 ends. Maybe I’ll let you know in due course.