What do I think, What can I do?

Last days the most commented climate change news are the words coming from catholic church’s leader Pope Francis in a encyclica called Laudato Si.  It is everywhere,

  • in climate change webs it is celebrates and extensively commented: climate progress, carbon brief, skeptical science, quark soup…
  • In skeptic webs it is criticized: whatupwhiththat, or this one.
  • In general newspapers it is mentioned profusely. For example, New York Times has 22 news in their climate change channel last week (12-19th June), 17 are about Pope’s encyclica, including an editorial. relationship with poverty, american politics reactions, or critics to current global market. Many others like BBC, El Pais (in Spanish),… It is well described in this post.
  • In Google a simple “Laudato Si” search gives 2.000.000 answers.

So,is this document a turning point in climate change? I agree with Carbon Brief‘s post that explains it is very positive and influential but just that. There are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world but the two great actors (USA and China) are not Catholic and most influential catholic states are among the “convinced” in climate change (Italy, Brazil, Spain). Even more,  if this document is clear and with a lot of media attention, the opinion of catholic church with respect to climate change was not different with previous Popes. Nevertheless, in my opinion the three most positive points of the encyclica are:

  1. The moment is crucial. We need commitment and clear ideas in the governments and public opinion to start a way now that will avoid greater problems in 50 years. This document helps in this sense, to gain commitment. This year COP in Paris is a great opportunity to start a serious change.
  2. Many people in several western countries listens contradictory words about climate change, or they do not get a sense of urgency. The Pope will be a new word for them, as it is a highly respected opinion for many people and can help them inform more or get conscious about climate change. Every people’s opinion counts in this issue, at least to some extent.
  3. Finally Pope Francis connects the fact of the poorest with climate change. Climate change is becoming a great problem for them in many ways and this is the way it will become an humanitarian problem to the eyes of many people.

The news maybe was present  in many media like NYT, and celebrated in the climate blogs like climateprogress or carbonbrief. Last year was the first one in the recent history with reduction in CO2 emissions without a great war or economic disaster.  The wind power was important in this achievement increasing 51477 MW of installed capacity. By countries China started to change its emissions trend with less coal and more wind and sun,  UK also fell 9%, on the other hand the USA stopped the emission reductions from last years, increasing a 0.7% due to coal use.

Is this the beginning of a successful story?  Of a peak in the global emissions? and a path to a control of climate change in the next decades? I hope so, but it is too early to claim any success as this level of emissions is very far from the one we need is approximately 400% higher. But this is the first step we needed to start the emission reduction pathway and to get the felling that some effective actions are being taken. I dare to say that this step was at the same time the easiest one (technically) and the most difficult one (psicological and socially). We will see if we remember it in the future as a good start of many other steps.

Climate change is not only about the polar bear or arctic ice. The consequences will be and are just over the corner and they are getting expensive. Some experts are using this argument convincingly. This was also the clearest message in Tony Blair‘s decided climate change action.  Insurance companies are repeatedly showing their opinion about climate change risk assessment. And the consequences in some sectors are starting to be economically noticeable as last  California’s water crisis affecting beer production. Or two from las winter: winter sports and destructive storms.

There will be more and more, attributions will grow at the same pace and some will realize that the economic cost of a low carbon economy (real, no doubt, in my opinion) is small compared to the cost of inaction. The problem is that the first one is short term and measurable, the former medium-long-term and more difficult to measure precisely. It is not again about environment and economy it is about short term and long term, and mainly about the well being of our descendants in one, two or three generations and so on.


It is not necessary to be a visionary to guess that winter sports in general will suffer from climate change. In fact, they have been suffering with the limited amount of warming already experienced. Now that we have recently finished the winter olympics (I did not follow them, I admit), a study found that in the high emissions scenario (the one we are still in) most of the former host cities will not be suitable for another opportunity. And many sportmen claimed climate action.

Of course these kind of consequences will be secondary compared to sea level rise, extreme weather food security triangle. Yet, they are important for many people, and many jobs. In this case the effects are getting visible even now and reflect the huge economic effect climate change will have in many sectors. For example in the regions living from winter sports, are they conscious enough? I don’t think so, with climate  change many times happens that we are somehow aware of it but not to the extent of thinking about the possible consequences or implications, it is like a nightmare we expect to wake of.

The problem is that it will not disapear alone, the good news is that we can do a lot to reduce it.

Photo from Aizkorri beachclose to Bilbao

Photo from Aizkorri beach close to Bilbao

One of the fastest consequences of climate change are the strong storms. The equation is simple: the more heat in the ocean the stronger the storms, helped by the small but noticeable increase of sea level rise. In fact, the first news of the sea level rise,
The beginning of the year has been particularly violent in the cost around here with many strong storms and one really impressive. This link provides some pictures from the beautiful city of San Sebastian. The damage of last storm was important (even more in some other towns/cities) and economic impact is greater than direct repairing works in a city getting high income from tourism.
The media have not been extensive in the comments regarding climate change link, though it was mentioned in some cases. But I was quite happy to hear some clear words from some colleagues not involved in these discussions.
Of course, it is important to be cautious with attribution as climate and weather are not the same thing and being too emotional can enforce the type of discussion that helps skeptics. I think that wise comments accompanied by account of economic effects are much better in the crucial discussion of what is more expensive? To start carbon emission decrease (mitigation)? Or pay the effects?    

Three months ago I finished my first Cousera course. I was new to this learning platform and even to the concept itself (the MOOCs), nevertheless my experience was great, sometimes more demanding than I previously thought but at the same time very satisfactory. In fact there were many courses  in Coursera about or around climate change and this is a significant data itself and perfect subject for another post. Concretely, the one I did was Global Warming: The Science of Climate Change by David Archer.

The basic data about the course: It is 8 weeks long, with quizzes, activities, (small problems), optional number crunchers (longer and more numeric problems) and a term project (not long, not determinant in the final grade and interesting). A good part of the problems was related with several web models about aspects of climate change that allowed a lot of play from the students. And the temperature data for the term project are really interesting. But the most important thing for me were the lectures, they were short, clear and well focused. So, this course offered me a good overview of the climate change problem, starting for the science of the whole carbon cycle and arriving to the consequences depending on several emission scenarios.

As an extremely short summary three paragraphs (not literal):

  • In the long term the deep earth carbon cycle (a geological cycle) will stabilize the CO2 and the climate again. But it will need a million years so we cannot wait for it. In the short term there are many uncertainties but we are facing the alternative of reducing our emissions clearly to approach a 2ºC warming or continuing in the business as usual scenario towards the 4ºC or more.
  • The important parameter is how much carbon we burn, the total amount and we have burnt half of what is considered “safe”. (David Archer has some doubts about the complete safety of the 2ºC target). All fossil fuels are important and even land use but Coal is the most dangerous because is cheap and there is a lot to burn.
  • As the total carbon budget is the key the earlier we start reducing the smaller the effort. If we start too late we will be at risk of arriving to unknown scenarios.
  • The consequences are not crystal clear but it is clear that can be very dangerous in the long-term for more than 2ºC. Sea level rise, water scarcity, extreme weathers among others can make our life difficult and our societies unstable.

Next month a new edition will start, very advisable for anyone with interest in this important subject, more considering the flexibility of MOOCs, you can participate actively or just watch some lectures to learn about particular aspects.

Last months I haven’t written anything in the blog due to a combination of lack of time in my personal life and spending my remaining “free” hours in coursera platform learning about climate change. It has been a very well spent time, I have learned many interesting things about climate change, but I hope to talk about it in a further post. Today I want to greet the new year with some short wishes about climate change:

1.- It would be wonderful to stabilize the carbon emissions worldwide as many important countries have done in their particular cases. Or even better, to start reducing them making 2013 the peak emissions year.

2.- If the previous is too optimistic, it would be good at least to stop Coal plant growth in most parts of the world.

3.- And combine it with a robust growth of renewable energies.

4.- An international carbon tax would really help, adopted broadly, or at least by the greater emitter countries. Next COP would be a good place to agree on it.

5.- If all of these does not happen, or it is too weak, and international social movement could help to raise public opinion awareness and move some reluctant governments.

6.- or … we could just stop talking and act with the seriousness to be expected from an intelligent being.


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