sarahkeenihan

The climate is social?

In August 2014 on August 27, 2014 at 10:20 pm

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Sarah: I’ve signed up for my first online course, an 8-week ‘coursera’ through the University of Melbourne entitled Climate Change

Why? Quite simply, I want to be better informed. Don’t get me wrong, I do strongly believe climate change is happening. But I also feel the need to know more. I want to see the actual numbers; I want to be able to argue the case with conviction; I want to wrap my head around some solutions. 

My first bit of learning hit me straight up between the eyes: week one of the course was not about science.

Huh? Surely they’d want to start with some evidence? But instead we heard from Professor Jon Barnett about climate change as a social problem – an issue of people.

By the end of John’s lectures, I could see why this was a good idea. Yes, climate change is about rising temperatures, melting ice, oceans creeping up in levels and acidity, and changing weather patterns. We can take this as a given – the evidence is solid.

But the primary reason we’re in this predicament, and also why we care, is because of us.

People, folks, homo sapiens. Humans created emissions, humans measure and interpret their changing world, humans suffer the consequences and humans have to come up with solutions to ensure the survival of our species and other animals and plants. 

In his lectures, Jon talked about his own particular geographical area of research, the Pacific islands. He spoke of differing levels of exposure, sensitivity and adaptability of the people in these nations to climate change. He talked us through impacts of increased rates of cyclones, altered rainfall (drought and extreme falls), sea level rises and altered local weather systems. He also imparted a sense of hope about the capacity of people to deal with the impacts of climate change, suggesting that climate change adaptation isn’t so different from thinking about sustainable development, and ethical economic development. Dealing with the social arm of climate change doesn’t have to be a massive step necessarily. 

But….with a proviso. Only if we keep the average global temperature rise to around 2 degrees C. After that, the rules will probably change. 

[image thanks to US Pacific Fleet on flickr]

 

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