Monday, 16 April 2012

Edinburgh Science Festival 7 - Beginner's Guide to Climate Change

This is the 7th in a series of blogs from the Edinburgh International Science Festival. Myself and six other bloggers have been writing about the event during the fortnight.
Professor Richard Wiseman has cropped up a lot during the Science Festival. In addition to MC-ing the firewalking and hosting the comedy evening, he’s presented a series of Beginner’s Guides to various topics. “My role is to pretend that I know nothing, whereas in truth, of course, I am an expert in all these topics,” he said by way of introduction.

My final blogging event was the Beginner’s Guide to Climate Change, in which Richard interviewed the first professor of carbon capture, Stuart Heszeldine.

Stuart is a geologist and he began by introducing us to the concept of deep time, the geological timescales measured in hundreds of millions of years. Over this period, the Earth’s climate cycles between hot and cold temperatures; we’re currently in a minima. This gives climate change sceptics the opportunity to say that climate variation is natural, conveniently ignoring that this variation takes place over ten million years or so.
Real climate change, the sort we’ve initiated, is happening much faster. We’ve taken 400 million years of stored CO2 - stored in fossil fuels - and released it back into the atmosphere in a mere 200 years. There’s no end to fossil fuel use and the climate is changing at an increasing pace.
There will be several results:
The temperature is climbing 

The ocean is becoming more acidic

Sea levels will rise 1 to 5 metres
Populations will start to migrate and resource wars will increase

Globally, there will be a lower standard of living

Climate change has happened before; in fact, it may have been behind 5 previous world-wide mass extinctions. We could be heading for the 6th.

Richard Wiseman was an excellent interviewer, teasing out the facts, allowing Stuart to explain the science and the implications. He managed to keep it upbeat, but the take-home message was clear: We need to do something now. Politicians need to treat climate change as a priority. We’re the ones to make them.
The Beginner’s Guide to Climate Change left me shaken. My view of the world has changed as a result of it. And that’s the power of the Edinburgh Science Festival.

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