Let’s give young people something really useful this Christmas: hope!

The speech delivered by Greta Thunberg to the UN plenary at COP24 in Katowice was truly amazing. Not only does it take guts for a teenager to tell the world to grow up, she also made more sense than most politicians ever have. I am not the only one saying this. Here are some reactions on Twitter:

Naomi Klein: Ok Greta, you are officially a superhero.
Michael Mann: Thank you Greta — one person can indeed change the world…for the better. You are proving it. 
Kevin Anderson: On climate change @GretaThunberg demonstrates more clarity & leadership in one speech than a quarter of a century of the combined contributions of so called world leaders. Willful ignorance & lies have overseen a 65% rise in CO2 since 1990. Time to hand over the baton.

I was particularly impressed with her using the term emergency brake. The message could not be simpler: only if we are prepared to change our lives completely, our children will have a future. Very few people realize this. This is what makes the interview with Greta and her father so important.

We all know what we need to do. So, stop flying, stop buying, and change your eating habits. You will be happier, more relaxed, and have more time for important stuff. And you will give your children a chance to live. That would be an excellent Christmas gift and it wouldn’t cost you anything.

BTW, if you aren’t already convinced about the need to act, I can recommend this video.

I wish you all happy and relaxing holidays.


Climate Destruction – when do we pull the emergency brake?

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.

(quotation often attributed to Abraham Lincoln)

Well, it appears that many people have finally realized that they are being lied to. This time, it was a young girl in Stockholm who – much like in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes – pointed out the obvious: if we continue with business as usual, it really does not make sense for young people to go to school, invest in an education, or put money in pension funds. The school strike started by Greta Thunberg has received quite some media attention and inspired young people all over the world. I can recommend you all to read her statement.

ClimateChangeTimeLine

Oops! It turns out that Limits to Growth was right after all. Unlimited economic growth is not possible on a finite planet and we have now reached or exceeded many of the planetary boundaries. Our children are now literally fighting for the lives. It is up to us – their parents – to decide which side we are on. For most people, this should be an easy choice.

Unfortunately, many people and almost all politicians continue to deny the obvious connection between the size of the economy and the rate of environmental destruction. As Greta Thunberg points out, global oil consumption recently passed 100 million barrels of oil per day. This ever-increasing oil consumption is caused by economic growth and it leads to environmental destruction.

Do we need to reduce the size of the economy to save humanity? Is water wet? Our refusal to accept the obvious makes us unable to implement even straightforward measures to avoid disaster. We know that every intercontinental flight emits hundreds of tons of CO2, which will remain in the atmosphere and heat the Earth for many centuries to come. Yet, we are not allowed to question whether all these flights are necessary. 50% of global emissions are caused by 10% of the world’s population. The rich are destroying the world.

We are now in state of Climate Emergency. If we act today, we might still save parts of the planet. If not, we will have abdicated our responsibility as parents and as civilized human beings. The time has come to pull the economic emergency brake and to cease unnecessary economic activity. So, if you love your children, you need to stop flying and stop buying. You should also join the environmental movement, because ten years from now it will be too late.

Oh, and in case you were wondering: global CO2 emissions soared to a new high in 2018.

PS. If you need an uplifting speech after all this misery, I can recommend Henry V. It is amazing what determined and brave people can accomplish.

On Swedish Zebras and AI

I was preparing a presentation on climate change some weeks ago and wanted to include a picture showing the effects of the drought in Sweden last summer. As you might know, PowerPoint now uses artificial intelligence to suggest an alternative text for each picture. This is what came out:

Swedish Zebras

The world is clearly going mad! We are terribly excited about AI, although its cognitive abilities are worse than that of a small child. Simultaneously, we do not mind destroying natural ecosystems far more complex than anything humanity has ever designed. The example also shows that we cannot use past experience to predict the future of the planet. AI works by comparing the picture to a database of old classified pictures. Apparently, the majority of the pictures in the database showing black-and-white animals and dry grass contained zebras. This does not mean that it always has to be like that.

The Cassandra Syndrome

My decision to study physics was based on the conviction that we live in an enlightened society, where the power of science to make quantitative predictions was generally accepted. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Our society does not value science. It values the results of science, if these can be used to make people rich. Physicists were popular because of the laser, the atomic bomb, and the transistor. When they started talking about limits to growth and climate change, their message was less appreciated.

But, as Galileo Galilei pointed out in 1615: “It is not within the power for practitioners of demonstrative sciences to change opinion at will, choosing now this and now that one; there is a great difference between giving orders to a mathematician or a philosopher and giving them to a merchant or a lawyer; and demonstrated conclusions about natural and celestial phenomena cannot be changed with the same ease as opinions about what is or is not legitimate in a contract, in rental, or in commerce.”

Or as Richard Feynman put it: “Nature cannot be fooled”.

“Climate change is now reaching the end-game, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences.” These are the words of eminent climate scientist and the scientific advisor to the Pope, Angela Merkel, and the European Union Prof. Dr. Joachim Schellnhuber. Perhaps we should start listening.

What you really need to know about climate change

It was a great pleasure to give a lecture on climate change, consequences, and actions at the University in beautiful Sønderborg. It finally gave me the opportunity to translate my presentation into English. The slides (as PDF) can be found here

What you really need to know about climate change

I working on a recording of the lecture.

sonderborg