St Matthews Digital
05 March 2017
Climate Change - can we make a difference?
Dr Jenny Salmond, Associate Professor, Environment, University of Auckland, spoke in a Lenten series on Water about what we can do to make a difference
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Climate Change - can we make a difference?
It's a privilege to be here and it's slightly scary. I'm used to having an hour to talk and to hide behind my slides. I have neither of these today, so I wondered as I was thinking about it to myself. What can I say that more mean something to you in 10 minutes? And perhaps, the easiest way to convey that is to use a story. So rather than give you some facts and figures. I'm going to tell you a story, but as you're listening to the story, I want, if you could think about the In between our minds and our bodies, our bodies and our environment, and by environment. I mean a community as well as the environment in which we live.
Before I begin the story. I want to make two distinctions when we think about climate change. We can use the term loosely climate change, but actually it's important to make two distinctions. The first is we think about climate change climates, are variable climates, aren't static. We Define climates, we Define them as an average climates are changing, they change independently of what we or make may, or may not do. But in addition to that At the something we can also think about, which is global warming or anthropogenic change change that we created change that. Our actions are imposing on the world, a type of pollution. So when I'm talking about climate change today, I'm not talking about that natural variability. The climates that change outside Of Human Action, but actually the climate change Because Of Human Action.
So, let's look at my story. Well, the story is actually based on one that was told in the late 1990s at a time when the global ramifications of global climate change and to be genic change was being identified and the guy who first wrote it is a guy called Stanley Chang Jung and he was the state hydrologist Illinois.
So I've changed the story a little bit and made it my own. But this is it was rooted in his story originally.
So, I want to take you back to the 1800s, if you can imagine a group of Shawnee, Indians living on the plains of the Mississippi, the floodplains the Shawnee, Indians live essentially in harmony with nature. They live on the flood Plains Every Spring the Mississippi river floods and they move their settlement up on to the higher ground, then when the floods have gone, they go back onto that fertile land and grow their crops, Fish the river. They grow Maize, they live in tents, they are entirely dependent on the land and they are at its Mercy. They have lived essentially adjusted to the environment they have adjusted to their climate.
Now Along Comes a medicine man, and he sits them down. He says to them look in 100 years, time, the climate is going to be 2 degrees. Warmer, your river is going to flood more often, but this time when it floods, the rains will be. So severe it's going to wash away or your fertile lands, your lifestyle, as you're living it now will not be possible.
And the Indians looked into each other and they look. And they think that's not really something I can imagine.
I hundred years time na medicine man's. Got it wrong.
So they go back, they're not back to their normal lives.
100 years on the city of st. Louis is now on their floodplains the medicine man's prediction about how the climate would change held true.
The Shawnee, Indians were gone, but they weren't gone because of the climate, they weren't gone because they couldn't adapt to their environment. They were gone because white man put a bounty on their head and individual white men and women. Took those Indians and put gave them into the state to get their hundred dollars.
Now, the city of st. Louis for those of you who've been, there is a beautiful city and many years on from that environmental Story, the city stands on the banks of the Mississippi.
But in 1993, there was some torrential rains rains that have never been seen before. At least not in the lifestyle of history of the reporting and these rains broke. The levees that were controlling the Mississippi 12 billion dollars worth of damage. We're done 55,000, buildings were destroyed 95,000 people became refugees.
50 people died.
The hydrologist said, look, this is a one in three hundred fifty year event. We can recover, we can rebuild our city and they did, they spent Seventeen million dollars. We building new levees to control the Mississippi. They engineered structures to enable people to play along the sides of the Mississippi safely. They relocated people who were living in flood. Plain areas to new locations.
And in 2013, when a second one in 350 year event, came this time, the levees held this time. The only people who were affected by the floods, were the ones who hadn't listened to the engineers, the ones who have decided that they still wanted to live in their houses. However, hard the government had made it for them to do so. So I want to think now about two different questions First thing, I want to think about the information that we need in order to think about change.
So when the Shawnee, Indians were given their information by the medicine, man, they were told to degree degree change your the river is going to wash away your lands.
Now, you could argue that they weren't given information that was relevant to them, a two degree change, they probably didn't even know what two degrees meant and even for us today. If we think about two degrees in the context of a baby who has a temperature of 38 degrees going up to 40 degrees, 22 degrees of a lot to degrees is a panic. Two degrees is a trip to the doctor, but if we take one of the celebrity chefs and say, you know, you've got to put your oven at 180 2 degrees versus 180 degrees, it's not going to mean much to them.
I think I just make any difference.
And I is a climate scientist, can think a two degree change and global warming global temperatures I'm thinking, wow, all that extra energy. You multiply 2 degrees by the size of the atmosphere, all that energy that has to be redistributed all that, all that influence on the rain and on the oceans. As they the globe tries to re-equip equilibrium State itself. That's huge, that's enormous change.
But I could also think two degrees. Today might be a bit nicer to be 2 degrees warmer.
So the information that we look for the information that we need in order to make our changes and to change our Behavior can be quite important.
As a climate scientist, I could give you facts and figures, but I think the essential message is that climates are changing that. We are changing our climates.
But that it's very difficult to identify the cause and effect, it's very difficult to identify the effect of my action on the globe. It's very difficult to say the things that I do have an effect, why? Because the climate system is immense, it is so poorly understood that we have difficulty forecasting. The weather still often on most accurate forecast is a persistent forecast, which essentially says the weather today will be the same.
Is the weather tomorrow?
We struggle to understand our climate system.
But not only that, the way in which we understand the climate system, and its impact on us is mediated by social economic political and cultural circumstances.
White man was able to adjust to changing climate technological fixes enable white man to live on the Levee and it wasn't actually environmental change that change the Shoney's lifestyles.
So, we need to think about the information that we're given in order to make changes.
My second point is in, what do we need in order to motivate change? If we've got the right information, we still have to change our behavior. And I think there are two different types of behavior change or two different categories that this might fall into the first is imminent, risk. If you were living in those floodplains the first time it flooded in 1993, would you move? Or would you stay put And one in three hundred fifty year event, you're told it's likely to happen to one in three hundred and fifty years. You might think well I've had my one in three hundred fifty year event. I don't need to move and the trouble with science is science isn't just about facts and figures. We also need to understand how we value and the values and the meanings that we ascribe to those facts and figures. So actually, at one in 350 your event doesn't mean it's only happen once in the tenth next 10 years. It means that on average Over a thousand years is only likely to happen one in 350 times.
So we need to think about how we interpret the risk. What value and meaning? We ascribe to our lifestyles for some for some people, maybe they couldn't imagine living anywhere else, maybe their homes, their history, and experience and their culture men, that it just wasn't possible for them to relocate.
Sometimes too. When we're thinking about how we respond imminent risk, we need to think about What technological fixes or what things might be around the corner, but it isn't just that either again, it's socially mediated.
So that's motivation to change in response to immediate risk. But what about motivation to change in response to indirect consequences In my story. I didn't ask, I didn't offer an explanation for either why the climate was changing.
I didn't, the Indians were given the statement. The climate is changing. They weren't asked, or told, who was to blame And when we have, when we're living with a pollutant, where the indirect consequences are so subtle to identify, it's very easy to say, on perhaps this doesn't affect me to find excuses as to why not to change our behaviors.
If it's hard to see the impact of our actions, it's hard to make sacrifices as individuals, or collectives to change those impacts.
And I wonder if this is where we as Christians need to stand up and pay attention, actions, have consequences.
And in this case, although the actions perhaps, aren't as tangible as other pollutants, we do need to look for those consequences. If we think about the Industrial Revolution, we could see the pollution the polluted cities that The Factory outputs the smoke from the chimneys. We could see that pollution and the Clean Air Act in the 1950s, were an example of how we could deal with that.
Lucien we move our chimneys downwind. We change the ways in which we heated our homes. We created another problem though the acid rain problem in Europe from the long-range transport of our of the power stations, created a new problem, we remove one and created another. And now we've dealt with the tangible pollutants, arguably. In some places, we're still left with the intangible. One carbon dioxide a gas that has very little Moore has no smell. There's no, you can't see it. And yet, it has consequences.
Semi final point is, how do we live our lives and lifestyle in recognition of this? How do we accept our individual and Collective Behavior has an impact? What can we do? Living relatively privileged life styles here in Auckland to try and mitigate that impact accepting, that most of the impact occurs away from where we are on people who have even less impact on less control over their environment?
So, I bring you back to the mind-body community environment links.
I'm one of the ways in which / one example is, one of the ways, in which we can think about. This, is to think about transportation.
Globally, one fifth of our greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels are from transportation.
But in Auckland, if we were just to take 5% of our vehicle kilometers down, we would have a significant reduction in our Global greenhouse gas emissions. What does that mean? For most of us? That might mean that just two days a week, we might walk to work. We might bike to work, we might catch a bass rather than drive a car.
And not only that because of the mind-body environment connection walking to work, has a co-benefit. Our bodies will feel better if we're moving. It will have an impact on our health care costs, because we are moving our bodies.
We start to feel better in our minds because we're moving our bodies. And now, we have an example where we have taken an indirect impact, and indirect consequence, we've given it personal relevance. And now we can say, this has an effect on me too. And I'm Not only myself my community and my environment, but those who attend gentle to it.
We can argue. There are lots of ways to promote this kind of activity. Fitbit's games, peer pressure. There are lots of ways we can encourage people to make small changes.
And it does require some self-discipline and my six-year-old asked me for chocolate cake for breakfast. I say no, it's not a big thing for me but it's a big thing for her.
Self-discipline is required, we need to think about the world. In terms of our Guardian ship, our stewardship, our love and responsibility for ourselves each other and the environment. And in doing that we perhaps have taken some of the small steps towards thinking about how we manage and how we change our Behavior to be living in a responsible way to reduce the impacts of global warming. Thank you.