Event: Rising to the Climate Challenge: Artists and Scientists Imagine Tomorrow’s World

Tomás Saraceno, Biospheres, 2009 . RETHINK Relations at the National Gallery of Denmark

This event looks like an interesting collaboration between the Royal Society (celebrating it’s 350 year anniversary this year) and the Tate Modern in mid-March. As you would expect from the Royal Society, their line up of speakers is pretty impressive, and I am sure it won’t disappoint. I’ve seen Professors Corinne Le Queré (UEA) and Steve Rayner (Oxford) speak before, and I am sure their contributions will be both interesting and valuable.

Le Queré is an exceptional climate scientist based at UEA and the British Antarctic Survey. She is also involved in a global research network called the Global Carbon Project and recently published a paper in Nature Geoscience about recent trends in carbon emissions. In 2007, she also published a paper (free access if you are registered on the website) in Science which found that the Southern Ocean sink of CO2 had weakened between 1981 and 2004 by 0.08 petagrams of carbon per year per decade relative to the trend expected from the large increase in atmospheric CO2. Models suggested this wouldn’t happen for another 40 years! As carbon sinks weaken, this will cause the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere to accelerate. Currently around half of all anthropogenic CO2 is taken up by carbon sinks. As this proportion decreases, the airborne fraction climbs.

I’ve also heard Le Queré speak about geoengineering – the epitome of a magic bullet. I saw her at a Royal Society event earlier this year and her key arguements were that: a) we don’t understand the climate system well enough to know what the impacts might be, as such, there may be many dangerous unpredictable secondary effects; and b) the efficacy of Carbon Reduction Management (CRM) geoengineering schemes that involve taking CO2out of the atmosphere and sequestering in some way (e.g. ocean fertilisation) would be extremely difficult to assess. This is because the sources and sinks of CO2are riddled with uncertainty.

I would argue that the more research invested into geoengineering, the more likely it is that findings will be snatched out of the hands of brilliant scientists like Le Queré – who have been extremely vocal about the limitations and the risks posed by geoengineering – by those who have a vested interest in not responding to climate change in a systemic way (e.g. state and private sector actors). So while geoengineering may (or may not), have a mitigating effect on the impacts of climate change, it won’t force us to redress the enormous and growing social, economic and political inequalities that exist within and between countries.  Geoengineering will be the focus of many future posts – where I will explore this and other issues in more detail.

In contrast, Rayner, an anthropologist by training, has spent several decades exploring the social dimensions of climate change. And, like this blog, his line has been that climate change is a social problem and without recognising this, we are unlikely to achieve the necessary cuts in a socially just way, or break the paralysing stalemates at international climate negotiations. Rayner co-authored a book published in four volumes in 1998 ‘Human Choice and Climate Change‘ which was designed to complement the IPCC’s ‘Second Assessment Report‘ (SAR). I would recommend getting your hands on the books if you can as they are incredibly thorough and insightful. It is rather disheartening, however, that over a decade on the discussions about how to respond to climate change seems to have evolved very little. Because the books are out of print, they aren’t cheap and are rather tricky to get hold of. But if you can get hold of the fourth book in the series (about £20-30 on Abebooks), it is a summary of the preceding three volumes aimed for the lay audience and policy-makers, so is probably the most valuable of the four for a general audience.

Further details of the event are below.

Rising to the Climate Challenge: Artists and Scientists Imagine Tomorrow’s World

Friday 19 March 2010, 18.30–20.45, Saturday 20 March 2010, 10.30–17.00

Tate and the Royal Society collaborate to bring together scientists and artists to imagine the social and psychological impacts of climate change.

The event begins on Friday 19 March at 18.30 with a screening of drama-documentary The Age of Stupid (2009), which is followed by a discussion.

The symposium programme starts at 10.30 on Saturday 20 March and includes presentations, panel discussions and a public forum following a series of break up sessions where the audience will have the opportunity to formulate propositions and questions to the speakers with the help of a group of facilitators.

Speakers in the symposium include: Professor Brian Hoskins, Lucy Orta, Robert Bloomfield, Natural History Museum, Coordinator of International Year of Diversity-UK, Tomás Saraceno, Professor Steve Rayner, Agnes Denes and Professor Corinne Le Queré.
The event will be held in collaboration with the Royal Society to coincide with its 350 anniversary involving over 150 UK organisations including Tate Modern. One of the Society’s anniversary aims is to reinvigorate the role of science in society and in our broader culture.

Tate Modern  Starr Auditorium

£13 (£10 concessions), booking recommended

Symposium only £10 (£8 concessions). Screening only £5 (£4 concessions).

Click here to book tickets

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