“Rather than going back to nature, we must use ingenuity to live better with less” (“Turning the Tide on Climate Change”, a book by Prof. Robert Kandel)
As climate change negotiators have left the shores of Copenhagen and its now frustrated mermaid, climate negationists have voiced louder against the need for climate policies, as if the failure of the United Nations Climate talks were synonym of the failure of the climate change explanations and their scientific evidences.
With a view on Mexico?
On the other hand, some ecologist organisations have claimed that the failure of the Copenhagen talks proved the need to act against climate change and to get rid of the modernity that has caused the greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change is a complex issue: how to make it simple while remaining solid? Is there a way to make some climate information to prepare the next Climate conference in Mexico, the COP 16? Climate change debate is about diplomatic negotiations but not only.
Bring the debate closer to consumers
In his latest book, “Turning the tide on climate change”, Professor Robert Kandel, an American scientist working at Polytechnique Paris, describes the rationality of the need of an emissions reductions policy, proving that an even more modern lifestyle is not only necessary but highly desirable for a more sustainable mankind on earth. Even if it is almost impossible to deal with climate change issues without making reference to giga tons of greenhouse gas (GHG), huge figures indeed beyond common understanding, (who has hosted giga tons for dinners?), Robert Kandel has made the choice to bring the climate debate closer to the levels of the consumers since they have the final say about the trends to be followed in terms of modern life and climate efforts.
Building a bridge between climate change issues and climate change solutions, Robert Kandel does not call for going back to prehistoric caves, but for being more innovative in our ways to deal with everyday life concerns (housing, heating, getting clothes, getting food, mobility…). This is no time to rest: “We all need to act, to change our behaviour and to find innovative solutions”. We are emitting more and thus we need to find a better energy efficiency. For him, climate change is not a new fashion he would follow to remain trendy: as he says, he “began to study the climate change question 40 years ago, at the time of the first Earth day celebration in the US. Since then, the world has warmed, mainly because atmospheric CO2 has risen by nearly 20%”.
As a specialist in astrophysics, Robert Kandel has developed an intimate knowledge of the data of the cycles of weather, climate and GHG. As a pedagogue, he draws connections between natural and physical phenomena and the human being scale: it is possible to reduce our carbon footprints provided we use the right tools. Otherwise, it becomes wishful thinking to push all people for a behavioural change because they would have to protect polar bears with which intimate relations are somewhat rare for most of us on earth.
No do-it-yourself book… but what pedagogy?
Publishing a new book on climate change was indeed a kind of challenge in a time where such a theme is disputed without definitive results. People have been overloaded by climate publications. The choice has then been to make a book in an innovative way, trying to avoid pictures too far from daily lives and refusing too moralistic speech like “switch off the lights when leaving your bedroom…”. Turning the tide on climate change aims in fact at being both instructive (with maps and figures) and entertaining with beautiful pictures, avoiding giving the impression of a do-it-yourself book.
To reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, Robert Kandel seems to show that it is not enough to convince that consumers need to be empowered but that we also need to seduce them with attractive reasons, feelings or means. A part of dream may be useful like the feeling you face surprising techniques that can be used to reduce your energy bill. A solar plane is probably not the tool that your children will use to go to school. However, by using existing low carbon technologies and by needing new ones, it shows that climate change requires further research and development for improved tools but also further dissemination of existing technologies. Climate change solutions are possible to implement provided we use the right tools.
“This is then not just one more book on climate change. “ Indeed, Kandel uses different techniques to raise our curiosity.
Among them, one is to check if we are sure to know what we are speaking about when dealing with climate change issues.
Dealing with cold temperatures in winter, it is quite frequent to hear people refusing the existence of climate change. In fact, weather and climate, these are not exactly the same topics: “It is often said that “climate is what you expect; weather is what you get”. Climate includes the damaging events that you had better prepare for even though you do not expect them often and hope never to see them. A complete climatology must also include the likelihood of extreme values”. Without ignoring the danger of not facing climate issues, Kandel refuses to use a catastrophic discourse, as a way to show we have to act because it is needed, because we ca do it.
Do we know our carbon footprint?
In the same trend, are we sure to know the carbon impact of such or such behaviour? As Kandel states, it might be interesting to know the full life cycle analysis of a product and to check how beneficiary in terms of emissions it can be from the cradle to the grave of a product. For example, if nature is definitely not the place to store plastic bags, a proper usage of them can be highly useful to reduce our carbon footprint.
How can we be sure we have to act to face climate change issues? How can we be sure human beings have to reduce their footprints, their carbon emissions so to tackle a climate change linked to human activities? Is that not only the results of theoretical models that push us to reduce our emissions?
Not for Kandel, “Model-based projections for the remainder of the 21st century are no simple extrapolations of global warming trends of past decades. In computer models of the climate system, the established laws of nature – Newton’s laws, the laws of conservation of matter and energy… – are translated into computer language and applied to realistic schematizations of the Earth’s atmosphere, surface, and oceans.”
The impact of energy efficiency
As another technique of pedagogy, the Turning the tide on climate change book shows we can act at our personal level in an efficient way, in our daily life by improving our energy efficiency. There are some people that still question the existence of climate change but they can not deny that some climate friendly solutions like a better insulation foam is also a way to reduce their energy bills.
This is of course a message people are interested in during winter time, with possible cold and still short days in northern countries: all this counts for energy expenses and additional emissions of greenhouse gases.
The current lack of energy efficiency in our houses, mainly due to improvable insulation and insufficiently advanced lighting systems already exert strong pressure on our home budgets. Facing the current winter constraints in a more sustainable way is also a way of preparing a stronger climate protection and of saving money at the same time. Thanks to chemical products, innovative lighting saves each year 700 million tons of greenhouse gases and modern insulation foam saves 2,400 million tons of them.
As recognized by the Öko Institut, a German scientific think tank, innovative chemical products play a significant role in our climate change solutions. In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, they enable great savings in areas as diverse as housing, mobility, food, renewables, clothes, lighting systems…
Heating for example still causes around 14% of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU whereas lighting and domestic electric devices account for 12% of the energy consumption of households in the EU. Reducing the energy consumption of European households by 20% in 2020 would allow savings of 60 billion euros per year, 1000 euros per household and 700 billion tons of CO2.
What modern life style facing climate change?
Other examples show it is possible to have a modern life style by having adequate tools for our daily life events. All consumers are concerned. That may require changing some fashion, some consuming trends since “Lifestyle plays a part in these emissions, an extreme example being the choice common in much of the United States to heat to temperatures above 23°C in winter while cooling below 18°C in summer”.
But it may require also changing some tools, some techniques, not necessarily all of our habits: ” However, technological factors are at least as important”. Indeed, “For existing as well as new structures, improving thermal insulation is without any doubt the most important measure for reducing energy requirements and CO2 emissions related to heating and cooling.”
Reducing our carbon footprint is often a theme associated to sustainable development and it makes sense in the management of resources. As Turning on the tide on climate change shows, climate change must take into considerations all side effects of tools reducing greenhouse gas emissions: recycling may look to be a good tool to have a sustainable management of non renewable resources. But that proves wrong if the recycling framework causes more emissions. Climate change policies are incentives to develop new technologies but a great attention must be paid to check if the savings they enable are not counterbalanced by other aspects like unexpected pollution or shortage of resources to other sectors.
What climate change lessons for society?
If we want to limit temperature increase of 2°C by 2020, as the Heads of state agreed in Copenhagen at COP 15, then we definitely need efforts from all sides. Climate change is now more a matter of needed solutions rather than of being guilty. Consumers have a great role in that matter but they are not the only ones.
As Robert Kandel reports, an international study run by the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) proved that the potential of savings in terms of greenhouse gas reductions was not fully used. Climate solutions will need to disseminate more such low carbon techniques from various origins. Politicians have probably a part of responsibility for easing the dissemination of such techniques: some of them are still quite costly and some taxation issues may here play a role. As more innovative solutions are needed, some research and development capacities must be preserved and funded. Industry must also do what it preaches by having sustainable ways of producing.
A more intimate and science based knowledge of climate change tells us to have a time management not too connected to emotional sense of the urgency. While Kandel shows it is necessary to act now, he reminds us on the same time that greenhouse gases need a huge amount of time to leave the atmosphere. In addition research programs are working on technologies that are not yet mature, like organic solar cells. They will provide inputs that will influence further climate solutions and modern life style.