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Is time running out to tackle climate change?

What action do we urgently need to take to tackle climate change? Are some suggested solutions too dangerous to undertake? What impact could these solutions have on our Earth?

Climate change is constantly in the news. In the past week alone there have been stories in the press about its alarming effect on our seas and a stark warning about the devastating impact on king penguins. Climate change is also being blamed for the current cold blast sweeping across the UK.

According to many scientists, time is running out for us to deal with climate change effectively. This year, the Cambridge Science Festival (12-25 March) is exploring the threats from climate change during a series of events starting with Climate change is now, on 15 March. With climate impacts affecting many parts of both the developed and developing world, this debate focuses on what action is taking place now and how that is going to shape the world for future generations.  

The panel event is chaired by Oliver Morton, award-winning science writer and author, with panellists Lisa Walker (Ecosphere+) and Renee Juliene Karunungan (Climate Tracker). They are joined by Professor Sir David King, the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor from 2000 to 2007, during which time he raised awareness of the need for governments to act on climate change and was instrumental in creating the Energy Technologies Institute. Professor King was also the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Special Representative for Climate Change, appointed in 2013.

Renee Juliene Karunungan from Climate Tracker said: “Young people around the world are doing many things and engaging in different ways to help solve the climate crisis. We see young people leading movements, creating innovations, and changing lifestyles. It's because as young people, we know that we will be affected the most by climate change. What we are experiencing now will be far worse in the future and we will be living in that future. We want to act now to make sure that those whose future is in our hands will not experience the same things and will inherit from us a planet that is liveable and sustainable.

“Communications plays a big part in solving climate change. UN Environment chief Erik Solheim recently said that we need to explain to people what it means in their daily lives. We think that is true. People who understand climate change and know what it means in their lives are the ones willing to do more. If we can make the 7 billion people in this world understand what we are facing, we can make them act and do something. We need to bridge a wide gap in communicating climate science. That's what we're here to do.”

Lisa Walker, CEO of Ecosphere+, said: “Despite the progress symbolised by the Paris Agreement, global carbon emissions are not yet on track to stay within a safe limit for the world’s climate. However, we have never been better equipped to solve this problem, with regulators, businesses and consumers increasingly in sync and powerful technology creating a rare opportunity for systemic change. Using these tools, we are now empowered to develop a more effective carbon market that reflects the true value of carbon in everything we do. In turn that market will finance the protection and restoration of forests and soils – our most powerful allies in removing carbon emissions from the world’s atmosphere.”

One suggestion to tackle climate change is that we may want to cool the planet if (when) we fail to meet our CO2 emissions targets. There are technologies almost ready to go but some sound quite scary. Convener of the ‘Climate change is now’ debate, Dr Hugh Hunt, from the University of Cambridge Engineering Department, makes another appearance at the Science Festival during his talk, Refreezing the arctic on 22 March. He asks, is it safe to meddle with the climate when we only have one Earth?  

Commenting ahead of the event, Dr Hunt, said: “This talk presents technologies that may be urgently required to slow down the progress of Arctic melting.  One project, SPICE (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering), proposed a small experiment but the experiment was shut down for fear of ‘the slippery slope’.

“Research in geoengineering has ground to a halt.  But we're short on action on all fronts.  If we're too late and the arctic permafrost warms up then we may need to capture billions of tonnes of atmospheric methane. The scale of the problem is huge, and we're not well prepared.”

Other solutions proposed include looking at the best alternative economic structure for responding to climate change. But what would the impact of such a change be on the natural world?’ This is the question posed during the research-in-public event Metis future scenarios: in conversation with the natural world on 15 March.

The idea of the circular economy, a strategy for reducing waste and carbon emissions, is gaining momentum. But what is it? Could it work? And if so, how can you be part of it? Cambridge Carbon Footprint host an interactive workshop, The circular economy: coming to our senses and tackling climate change on 15 March.

On 20 March, oceanographers Dan Jones and Emma Boland from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) host a panel discussion, Sensing the climate: how do we measure our changing planet? for the Cambridge Centre for Climate Science. Central to the discussion is the question, how do you take the temperature of the entire Earth? Cambridge scientists explore the variety of instruments and methods used to measure and understand Earth’s changing climate system.

‘Eat local’ is claimed by many to be the way to have minimal impact on the environment. However, trying to make sensible food choices can be confusing. The total greenhouse gas emissions depend on the product in question – overall, they are lower for tomatoes grown in the warmer climes of Spain using natural sunlight and imported to the UK, than for tomatoes grown locally in heated glasshouses in the middle of winter. In Are food miles worth worrying about? on 22 March, the Cambridge Global Food Security Initiative and Cambridge EIT Food programme looks at how we can make sense of ‘food miles’, and as environmentally and socially conscious consumers what else should we be considering.

In another climate change related event, Professor Dame Jane Francis talks about Going to the ends of the earth as a woman in science during the Annual WiSETI Lecture on 14 March.  Professor Francis is a geologist, specialising in the reconstruction of environments on Earth millions of years ago when the Earth was globally much warmer and warmed naturally by CO2 from volcanoes. Her research interests include ancient climates and fossil plants, particularly in the polar regions, which are most sensitive to climate change. Professor Francis reveals her many extraordinary adventures around the world in the awesome landscapes of the Arctic and Antarctica. Her talk also covers how the Earth gradually cooled to the icy polar world we know today and touches upon BAS research on climate change and ice sheets, and the impact of warming on today's polar regions.

Professor Dame Francis said: “My research as a geologist has taken me, literally, to the ends of the Earth. Amongst the ice and snow, I have found fossils of warmth-loving leaves that reveal a world of tropical forests and dinosaurs in the polar regions, signals of a past warm planet that we might see again in future.”

Other related events:

  • Cambridge junction presents: me and my bee, 18 March. Climate change is massive. Bees aren’t. Our fuzzy little friends need our help and so we’re launching a political party disguised as a show. Multi-award-winning theatre company ThisEgg invites you to save the world – one bee at a time. A new comedy for children and adults alike. Plant the seed for change, join the Bee Party. Before it’s too late...

To pre-book events, visit the Cambridge Science Festival website, or call: 01223 766 766.

Visit the Festival’s twitter site @camscience #csf2018, or Facebook page cambridgesciencefestival

Download the full programme here.

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Cambridge Science Festival brings science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine to an audience of all ages through demonstrations, talks, performances and debates. Run by the University of Cambridge, the Festival draws together independent organisations in addition to many University Departments, Centres and Museums.

This year’s Festival sponsors and partners are Cambridge University Press, AstraZeneca, MedImmune, TTP Group, Illumina, Science AAAS, Anglia Ruskin University, Microsoft Research, Cambridge Science Centre, FameLab, IET, Hills Road 6th Form College, St Mary’s School, Cambridge University Health Partners, Cambridge Academy for Science and Technology, Cambridge Junction, Walters Kundert Charitable Trust, British Science Week 2018, and BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.