IPCC 1.5C Report: We Need Real Leadership Now More Than Ever

1st November 2018

The release of a new report from the IPCC, brings with it a new sense of urgency to act on climate change and avoid exceeding important global warming thresholds.

Drawing on extensive knowledge, the report cited over 6,000 scientific references and utilised over ninety authors from 40 countries, to warn about the dangers of exceeding a 1.5C rise in temperatures. This target was part of the 2015 Paris Agreement, whereby world leaders agreed to limit temperatures rises to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels, with an aim of 1.5C.

To date, we’ve experienced a temperature rise of around 1C, which has brought with it more weather extremes, a declining Arctic ice pack and a rise in sea levels. In order to meet the 1.5C target, the report states that we’d need emissions to fall by around 45% by 2030, based on 2010 levels. We’d also need to reach ‘net zero’ emissions around 2050. Should global warming continue on its current path, we’d reach the 1.5C threshold between 2030 and 2052, which gives us 12 years to try stave off potentially catastrophic climate change.

According to the report, warming will increase the exposure of low-lying islands and coastal areas to flooding and saltwater intrusion as a result of rising sea levels. Even meeting the 1.5C threshold will increase risks to food and water security, health and livelihoods. Yet exceeding this target and breaching 2C of warming could have widespread impacts.

The report authors note that limiting warming to 1.5C, as opposed to 2C could prevent the thawing of 1.5-2.5 million square kilometres of permafrost. Nearly all coral reefs would be lost with 2C of warming. It could also reduce the proportion of the people exposed to increased water stress, by as much as 50%.

The scientific basis for tackling climate change is therefore well established. We’ve known about the threats posed by climate change for many decades, thanks to the likes of Dr James Hansen’s 1988 Senate testimony. Since then, we’ve had a number of framework agreements, but concrete political action to address climate change has been woefully absent. As Caroline Lucas said, “This report couldn’t be written in stronger terms: we are at a tipping point on the edge of complete climate breakdown, and governments around the world are failing to prevent it.”

Putting aside the likes of America, who are pulling out of the Paris Agreement, and Australia, who are considering it, the rest of the world isn’t doing enough to avoid dangerous levels of climate change. In Jonathan Watt’s recent article, he mentions that nations who are in support of the Paris agreement, are engaged in activities which run counter to their commitments, with fracking going ahead in Britain, Norway pursuing Arctic oil exploration, and the German government’s plans to raise Hambach forest for the coal below.

The IPCC’s report states that on our current pathway, we’re on track for around 3C of warming by 2100. We should be gravely concerned by our political leader’s lack of will to address the greatest threat our species has faced.

While politicians have taken their eye off the ball, there are others who are very focused on preventing dangerous climate change. Greta Thunberg, is a 15 year old who understands the climate crisis better than many politicians. She went on strike from her school prior to the Swedish elections, because Sweden hadn’t prioritised climate change, “What am I going to learn in school? Facts don’t matter any more, politicians aren’t listening to the scientists, so why should I learn?”

It says a lot when a 15 year old girl shows more courage than many of the world’s politicians, and highlights the complete lack of proper leadership during this critical period.

The message to each and every world leader is clear, we need to reduce our emissions urgently and that means taking tough actions now. If you’re not bold enough to do this, then you’re not fit for office in this pivotal moment of human history. Either step up to the challenge or step down so that future generations don’t bear the brunt of your mistakes.

James Hansen: 30 Years on From His Climate Change Warning

06th July 2018

On a sultry June 23rd, 1988, James Hansen warned the US Congress that global warming was here and was being driven by anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.

While we’ve known about the greenhouse effect for many years, this was arguably the point at which climate change garnered international attention, and was our first global warning about the future that lay ahead. “It’s time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here,” Hansen said at the time.

According to a report from Associated Press, Hansen stated that there was only a one percent chance that he was wrong in blaming anthropogenic emissions for the rising temperatures that were being witnessed. He had incredible foresight and given the relatively modest technology available 30 years ago, was able to predict more or less most of the changes we’ve seen to date. In the video above from Yale Climate Connections, many of today’s leading climate scientists agree that Hansen was incredibly prescient and got his forecasts right. This article for the New York Times explains in more detail what he got right and what he got wrong.

To commemorate the anniversary of his speech, Hansen wrote an article for the Boston Globe, where he explained, “Within four years, almost all nations, including the United States, signed a Framework Convention in Rio de Janeiro, agreeing that the world must avoid dangerous human-made interference with climate. Sadly, the principal follow-ups to Rio were the precatory Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement — wishful thinking, hoping that countries will make plans to reduce emissions and carry them out. In reality, most countries follow their self-interest, and global carbon emissions continue to climb.”

Hansen says that as long as fossil fuels remain cheap, they’ll continue to be extracted and burned, leading to higher emissions. He’s been a proponent of a rising carbon fee on fossil fuels and suggests this as a solution to tackle our addiction.

Climate change is the mother of all challenges, not just because of the magnitude of the crisis we face, but also because we’re up against the worst aspects of human nature which got us into this problem, and threaten to prevent us from tackling it. Speaking to the New York Times, Hansen said, “It’s very hard to see us fixing the climate until we fix our democracy.”

In his Boston Globe article, Hansen writes, “My advice to young people is to cast off the old politics and fight for their future on technological, political, and legal fronts. It will not be easy. Washington is a swamp of special interests and, because of the power of the fossil fuel industry, our political parties are little concerned about the mess they are leaving for young people.”

The Guardian covered the 30 year anniversary of Hansen’s testimony and interviewed the co-author of Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes for a comment. In the article, Oreskes says, “Poor Jim Hansen… He’s cursed to understand and diagnose what’s going on but unable to persuade people to do something about it. We are all raised to believe knowledge is power but Hansen proves the untruth of that slogan. Power is power.”

Success in tackling climate change is dependent on a group of unconscionable individuals in positions of power doing the right thing. While all hope isn’t yet lost, it’s increasingly difficult to see that happening. Last year, Elizabeth Kolbert, from the New Yorker asked James Hansen if he had a message to share with young people. Hansen replied, “The simple thing is, I’m sorry we’re leaving such a fucking mess.”

After 30 years of censorship, arrests and testimonies to governments and court cases about climate change, perhaps it’s the rest of the world who should be apologising to James Hansen for failing to listen and act on his warnings.

About James Hansen

Dr James Hansen. Image Source: http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/photo.html

Dr James Hansen is the retired director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). He was the first person to begin compiling temperature records from around the world, helping to detect the greenhouse warming signal, as it grew above the background noise of natural variability. He currently directs the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions program at Columbia University.

After leaving NASA in 2013, he was able to take on more of an ‘anti-government’ approach to highlight its many failings, including that of Barrack Obama, who had the opportunity to do so much in line with his promises and failed abysmally. According to the Associated Press, Hansen has been arrested five times for his environmental protests including one outside the White House, where he protested against the Keystone (KXL) pipeline, hoping that his cases would go to trial so that he could draw attention to these issues.

Hansen faced censorship under George HW Bush’s administration, a book about which was published called Censoring Science by Mark Bowen. His first book Storms of My Grandchildren was published in 2009. His next book dedicated to his granddaughter Sophie, entitled Sophie’s Planet is due out next year.

When asked by the Associated Press about his advocacy given his scientific background, he responded, “If scientists are not allowed to talk about the policy implications of the science, who is going to do that? People with financial interests?”

A Review of 2047: Short Stories from our Common Future

23rd February 2018

2047 is a collection of short stories and poetry from 10 authors, who consider what our future may look like in 30 years’ time, as a result of climate change and environmental degradation. It uses the power of fiction to immerse us into new dystopian futures, as a means of warning us of what may come to pass if we don’t change our ways.

The anthology was published in 2017 and marked 30 years, since the Brundtland Commission published their vision for a sustainable future. One of the authors and Editor of the compilation, Tanja Rohini Bisgaard, explains that she wanted to explore what the world would look like in the next 30 years. By bringing together authors with different ideas and specialisms, she has managed to bring this vision to life through stories both sad and uplifting.

The stories span degraded environmental conditions, the rise of AI technology (and the good and bad that brings with it), as well as solutions for tackling climate change in Tanja’s The Outcast Gem. One of the real takeaway points for me was how different writing styles can be used in the cli-fi genre. For example, the use of letters from one generation to another in David Zetland’s Dear Henry, really helps to contextualise the changes we’ve brought about as a species from the perspective of a single farming family. In addition, we also see journalist entries and poetry in some of the other inclusions. Isaac Yuen’s submission, was a clever take on time travel and presented us with the idea that in the future, the only way to experience an earth free of widespread environmental degradation, would be to travel back in time to before we messed things up.

Innovative anthologies like this are a great way to get the message out about climate change, as the range of writing styles may increase the likelihood of readers finding at least one style they really enjoy.

In his book The Great Derangement, Amitav Ghosh, argues that we need art and literature to help frame and contextualise climate change and bemoans the lack of both thus far. This anthology seeks to address that gap, and I look forward to reading more of the work produced by these authors.

California Wildfires – Climate Change Sets the World Alight

7th December 2017

California is currently battling five wildfires across 83,000 acres, and efforts to contain the fires have been hampered by winds gusting up to 80mph, which makes firefighting nearly impossible.

Following the end of a summer with record-breaking heat waves and rainfall levels that are 90% below normal, perfect conditions have arisen to feed these monster conflagrations. Calfire Deputy Chief Scott McLean, explains why this crisis is so severe: “Our fire seasons have been elongated by upwards of 40-50 days over the last 50 years. We had the 5 years of drought. A lot of trees died, over 102 million trees died.”

These conditions are becoming the new normal as anthropogenic-induced climate change bites. In an article by Pacific Standard, Kate Wheeling explains that climate change has doubled the amount of area burned by forest fires between 1984 and 2015. She goes on to describe what is happening at the top of the world and how that may affect California; “New research shows that, as Arctic sea ice dwindles, precipitation in California could drop by as much as 15 percent over the coming decades. As such conditions become the new normal, California could become a perpetual tinderbox.”

Thanks to climate change, we no longer need to go to the cinema to see a disaster movie, we just need to turn on the news or look outside our windows. To get an idea of just how horrific this wildfire is, watch the videos below.

In a case of “what goes around comes around,” one of the world’s climate change villains received some comeuppance in the wildfires. Rupert Murdoch was labelled as the person most responsible for blocking action on climate change, by Rolling Stone Magazine in 2011. They wrote that, “No one does more to spread dangerous disinformation about global warming than Murdoch.”

In the fires that continue to rage around California, Rupert Murdoch’s home and winery were victims of the climate change induced wildfires. Climate change is literally on his doorstep (or rather it’s probably burnt his doorstep), will that be enough to convince a man with little morals to change his view, so that it’s in line with science and…reality?

2017 – The Year the World Burned

It’s been an unbelievable year for wildfires across the globe. The most startling wildfire of all occurred in Greenland – the land of ice was burning for two weeks over the summer. Check out the Guardian’s article here.

As of August, the US had already seen wildfires destroy over 5.6 million acres. That figure will be a lot higher with all the wildfires that have taken place since, including the current California wildfire. Meanwhile Canada has had a devastating season; Naomi Klein wrote a very sobering piece about the Canadian fires here, which I’d encourage everyone to read.

In Europe, Italy and Romania experienced wildfires that burned through an area three times larger than usual according to the Popular Science website. The German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) reports that France, Croatia and Greece experienced the same conditions. Ireland also battled wildfires, as a result of rainfall that was 75% less than usual.

Horrific wildfires killed over 60 people in their cars in Portugal as they tried to flee. It’s been the deadliest year on record for wildfires in Portugal.

A combination of forest fires in Spain and Portugal, along with Saharan dust also turned the skies above the UK red in October – no doubt a warning of the self-induced apocalypse we are hurtling towards.

Other countries which have seen large wildfires this year include: Armenia, Australia, Brazil, Chile, New Zealand, Russia (Siberia), South Africa.

Climate Change Is Here and Wildfires Will Get Worse

Climate change is causing more droughts and intense heat, which is giving rise to the perfect conditions for deadly wildfires. DW reports that; “With global temperatures rising [as a result of climate change], scientists say wildfires are likely to become increasingly frequent and widespread… All this can have a feedback effect — more fires mean more carbon released into the atmosphere, which in turn drives climate change.” Welcome to our hot new world.

So while our leaders play politics and deal with the fallout from Trump’s latest Twitter tirade and Brexit rubbish, we continue at a pace towards the edge of a runaway climate change cliff, from which there will be no option for return. Priorities matter, and right now world leaders have got them all wrong.


About the Author

I’m a Freelance Writer, Blogger and Journalist with a Bachelors degree in Climate Change. I’m available for writing commentary and analysis pieces on climate change. For more information about me, please visit my website: ryanmizzen.com

Geostorm and Geoengineering: One Planet, One People, One Future

6th November 2017

The new Geostorm disaster movie stars Gerard Butler as a scientist trying to save the planet from a rogue weather-altering satellite.

The plot is based around climate change becoming so bad, that the resulting extreme weather events need to be managed by us to prevent further runaway climate change. Humanity therefore builds a satellite system called ‘Dutch Boy’, to manage, stop and prevent weather events. The satellite project is led by the Americans, and is just about to transfer into the hands of the international community, when a senior government official interferes with the functioning of the system.

One thing this film shows us is the danger of not acting on climate change and relying on last resort geoengineering measures. Geoengineering is where humans cause a deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change (source: Oxford Engineering Programme).

I believe geoengineering is something that needs to be avoided at all costs – this is NOT a solution to the climate crisis. While the Dutch Boy satellite in the movie is a very extreme version of geoengineering, and arguably an unfeasible solution, the point still needs to be made that interfering with our climate as a means of trying to ‘hack’ our way out of the dire situation we find ourselves in, is not the way forward!

I think one suitable analogy, would be comparing geoengineering to dialysis. Imagine you’re a heavy drinker and a heavy smoker. After decades, your kidney stops functioning properly and doctors warn that if you don’t change your lifestyle, then you’ll be put on dialysis. Those bad habits, are the same as our reliance on fossil fuels, which are causing climate change. So actively choosing geoengineering, is the equivalent of choosing to keep our dirty habits (and avoid making difficult changes), and opting for a life-support system. If we go down the geo-engineering route, we’re choosing life-support over life. There is no guarantee that geoengineering will work; it could make things much worse.

Would I recommend watching the film? Well parts of the dialogue were a bit cringe-worthy, but overall it’s worth watching to understand that we’re almost in a position now where we’ll be considering something of this scale to try and maintain a liveable planet.

I’d like to leave you with one modified quote from the film, which shows how important unity is in times like these, where the challenges we face are global and will affect every single one of us:

One planet. One people. One future.”

I hope our leaders are listening, because we don’t get a redo if we mess this up.

My Six Months as a Postgrad Digital Nomad in the UK

8th October 2017

I remember sitting in a lecture a few years ago and thinking to myself; ‘I really don’t need to be here, I could have watched this lecture online and read the textbook.’ I began to wonder where my tuition fees were being spent, and whether we actually get our money’s worth for our degrees.

So when it came to choosing a Masters programme, I spent a lot of time investigating different options. I was shocked to discover that online programmes were sometimes £3,000 cheaper than their campus based equivalents. Indeed, my full time MA in Creative Writing (via Distance Learning) from Teesside University, was nearly half the price of similar campus based courses at other universities. Up until that point, I had never imagined myself doing an online degree. However, I’d been an admirer of the digital nomad lifestyle and realised I had the opportunity to combine studying with this unique experience.

For those who haven’t come across the phrase before, a digital nomad (DN) is someone that is location independent and can work or study from anywhere in the world. As the ‘nomad’ term implies, travel is a big part of the experience. The main requirement is that their chosen destination has decent internet access. People can work or study remotely from just about anywhere nowadays.

Norwich – the first UNESCO City of Literature in the UK.

I had notions of travelling to a different European country each month (via train of course, to reduce my carbon footprint). However, with a quick comparison between my savings and the potential costs of that plan, it became apparent that this wouldn’t be feasible. In addition, I was told by the Student Loans Company (SLC), that I wouldn’t be eligible for funding if I studied outside the country, so that put an end to that idea.

Instead I looked more locally in the UK. I decided I would try spend 6 months in Norwich, because it is a city which has produced some fantastic authors (including Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro, the winner of the 2017 Nobel prize in literature. Both of these authors studied at UEA). Norwich was also the first UNESCO City of Literature in the UK. There is a good literary vibe in the city, and prominent authors often visit UEA or Writers’ Centre Norwich to give talks.

I intended to take advantage of SCONUL, which gives students access to university libraries across the country, and apply to use UEA’s library (to see if you’re eligible for SCONUL, visit their website). I set this up within around two weeks, and found accommodation close to UEA. I was also able to pay an Associate Membership fee to join their student union, which then enabled me to join a few clubs and societies. Another great thing about universities like UEA, is that you don’t need to be a student to join their gym. I was fortunate enough to meet a group of Masters students who invited me to their social events. The time I spent with them, gave me some of the fondest memories of my past year.

A view of the UEA campus from the lake.

After that, I intended to spend the final 6 months somewhere like Cornwall. However, due to budgeting and a large number of pre-existing commitments outside of Cornwall, it became less workable. I also had issues finding accommodation for the right length of time, with good internet access. So in the end, I only completed the first half of my DN plan – 6 months in Norwich, after which I returned home to complete the rest of my degree.

Based on my brief experience of being a student DN, I have put together a list of advice, along with some benefits and disadvantages of choosing this lifestyle for studying.


  • Choose your course carefully. Does your course incorporate any practical modules, where you may need to attend the uni to complete them (i.e. for lab work, or workshops)? Can you fit those requirements around your plans? Also look at the cost of tuition fees and see whether you can afford them. If not, would you need to apply for a government loan, and if so, will the government actually fund your course? Also bear in mind that the SLC won’t fund your course, if you plan to travel outside the UK.
  • Create a budget! Then re-check it multiple times. Some of the things to think about:
    • Tuition fees and resources (including course books)
    • Rent & bills
    • Initial rent fees – you might be asked to put down 1 or 2 month’s rent as a deposit, and may also have to pay for referencing and administration fees
    • Grocery shopping
    • Transportation costs. If you drive, don’t forget things like insurance, road tax, MOTs, servicing, fuel and general repairs
    • Phone contract or pay as you go top-ups
    • Socialising (i.e. society socials, pub crawls etc.)
    • Gym membership
    • Cost of joining clubs and societies
    • Netflix and other memberships
    • Other costs like clothes shopping and birthday and Christmas presents
    • The unforeseeable. There are bound to be costs you haven’t anticipated. Do you have spare money that you could use if/when they arise?
  • Sign up to SCONUL. If you’re in the UK and if you’re eligible, you can sign up to SCONUL, which will give you access to a large number of university libraries across the UK. I highly recommend this. I used SCONUL to study at three different university libraries during the year. It’s free and straightforward to do.
  • Work schedule. Try create a basic work schedule and try stick to it. With online courses, you have to be very disciplined to get work done!
  • Apply for a University Student Card. If you enrol for your course and you aren’t sent a student card automatically, it’s worth contacting the administration team and asking if they can send you one. You might be able to get discounts at certain places by using your university student card.
  • Discounts. A student railcard and an NUS card may come in useful.
  • Research and visit your accommodation. If you’re planning on spending a fair amount of time somewhere, try arrange a viewing before deciding on accommodation as you’ll get a better feel for a place.
  • What resources will you need for your course? Will a laptop suffice, or would a tablet also be of use? Check in advance with your course leader if you need to. Also, remember to budget for these resources and any course books you might need.
  • See if you can join uni clubs and societies. If you’re planning on moving to be closer to a particular university and if you plan on staying there for a fair length of time, see if you can join their clubs and societies. You might be asked to pay an ‘Associate Membership’ fee, after which time you may be able to join the clubs and societies. I felt a bit rude just signing up to clubs and societies, as I wasn’t a student at UEA, so I e-mailed each club individually and explained who I was and that I’d paid the associate membership fee, and asked if they’d be ok with me joining their society. This also gives you a point of contact when you attend the first club/society event.
  • Research other non-uni groups you can join. Moving to a new town or city, where you don’t know anyone can be challenging. Initially, you’ll probably be too excited to notice, but after a while of working on your own you begin to miss social contact. There are apps like ‘Meet-up’, which can help. There are also a range of DN apps, as well as dedicated DN groups on social media.
  • Remember you’re a DN! This might sound silly, but I got so drawn into my work that weeks and months went past, before I actually explored the places I wanted to see in Norwich and Norfolk.
  • Pre-existing commitments. Think about whether you have any pre-existing commitments, such as holidays or concerts etc. Factor this in to your schedule, and plan your workload around them accordingly. Also make sure you’ve included enough money in your budget for any pre-existing commitments.
  • Pack practically. If you’re planning on moving around frequently, it’s worth thinking about exactly what you’ll need to take with you. You don’t want to have to buy stuff that you already own, but you also don’t want to lug around stuff that you probably could do without. Also think about how you’re going to move things from A to B.
The Norfolk Broads.

Benefits of being a Student DN

  • Study from anywhere in the world, as long as you have an internet connection (although if you’re applying for a student loan, check the terms and conditions, as you may be limited to studying in that country).
  • Living and exploring somewhere that appeals to you.
  • Fit your studying around your lifestyle.
  • If you’re in the UK, you have access to loads of university libraries through SCONUL.
  • Meeting new people in the place you move to, as well as through your course.
  • Online learning environments are usually pretty straightforward to use.
  • Freedom and independence.
  • Developing a whole host of important skills, including self-discipline and self-motivation.

Disadvantages of being a Student DN

  • Budgeting and money. Depending on where you move to, it could be quite an expensive adventure.
  • Not being able to see your actual course mates and just going for a drink together.
  • Can be difficult to meet new people if there’s not many societies/clubs around that you like, or can afford. This could lead to…
  • Loneliness.
  • You need to be self-motivated.
  • Time management. Try and stick to your planned work schedule.
  • Other people may have a negative opinion of your degree, because it’s an online course and therefore it may not hold the same weight as a traditional degree in their eyes.
  • If you plan on travelling around, think about whether you’re the type of person who feels happy making acquaintances and losing them (in a sense), when you move on to the next destination. And then repeating the process all over again.

If you’d like another view on the lifestyle, here’s a blog from another student DN. If you’re interested in finding out more about digital nomads in general, this article might be of interest.

Climate Visuals Masterclass

Tuesday 5th September 2017

Yesterday I attended the inaugural climate visuals masterclass, run by Climate Outreach and hosted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Over the past few months, I have looked at various methods of climate change communication for my dissertation and had an interest in finding out more about the photographs and images that are used to portray climate change to the wider public.

I learnt that if you google ‘climate change’, many of the pictures that come up are variations of a small set of images. Also images containing people aren’t used as often as you’d expect, the bulk are made up of extreme weather events and the ‘posterchild of global warming’ – the polar bear. The problem communicators have, is that the polar bear is the most recognised and well understood image in regards to climate change.

Whilst there is an appetite for new visual stories about climate change, familiar images such as the polar bear have a clear advantage for a consumer’s rapid understanding. Interestingly, we are also better able to empathise when we see an individual, as opposed to a crowd in an image.

As with all forms of climate change communication, people respond better to things they can resonate with. In this sense, local images are good to use for your target audience. Would an image of a drought in China make someone in an urban area of the UK want to take action on climate change? Maybe, but probably not. Instead images of cities in the UK being flooded are likely to be more relevant.

One thing that really surprised me is that people can be turned off by seeing images of protestors and marches. One reason for this is because they sometimes doubt the credibility of the people in the pictures. However, when the person appears credible, this cynicism disappears.

On a seperate note – I’ve been shocked by how the media sometimes has rolling coverage of a climate related disaster (such as Hurricane Harvey in Texas), and yet only makes very brief reference to climate change. I think certain media outlets such as CNN, BBC News and Sky News (as well as most UK tabloids), need to rectify this issue.

The seven main principles for visual climate change communication are summed up as follows:

1) Show real people, and avoid staged photo opportunities.

2) Tell new stories.

3) Show climate causes at scale.

4) To engage people’s emotions, show the impacts of climate change (i.e. extreme weather events).

5) Show local impacts.

6) Be very selective with images of protestors/marchers.

7) Make sure you understand the audience who you are using the images for.

At the start of the day, it was noted how little reference in the masterclass there was to the role that artists play in communicating climate change. As someone who has spent the past year completing an MA in Creative Writing, in order to gain the skills I need to write novels about climate change (cli-fi novels), this was something that I had also picked up on! So you can imagine my excitement when Laurie Goering, who is the Head of Climate Programme at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, gave a talk and mentioned the role cli-fi could play as a form of communication!

This was by far and away the highlight of the day for me, and gave me a sense of validation. I believe cli-fi has a crucial role to play in educating people about the impacts of climate change and the solutions that are available to us right now.

If you visit the World Press Photo awards, then look out for a category on climate change images next year, which has been set-up in conjunction with Climate Outreach.

Lewis Pugh’s Second Arctic Swim

Tuesday 1st August 2017

Where I first heard about Lewis

Like a lot of people, I heard about Lewis Pugh on the news because of his first Arctic swim and his Thames swim. Back then I was only a teenager, and it wasn’t until around six years ago at university that I stumbled across a video of Lewis speaking about fracking in the Karoo (see below). The issue was very topical, and one that was relevant to me as I was completing my undergraduate degree in ‘Climate Change’ at the time. The fact that I spent the first twelve years of my childhood growing up in Zimbabwe, also instilled in me a deep love of the natural world and the thought of a big oil company destroying another region in Africa filled me with anger.

I was captivated by the passion with which Lewis spoke, and delighted to have discovered a new environmental champion. I bought Lewis’s book Achieving the Impossible and realised that this was a man who was the living epitome of the phrase ‘nothing is impossible’. A former Cambridge University graduate, SAS reservist and endurance swimmer, Lewis has shown what is possible when you persevere and get your mind-set right. I was awed by what I read and proceeded to buy copies for friends and family – it’s one of those books which I believe can change lives. I’ve followed Lewis’s numerous campaigns since (including the Seven Swims, the Mumbai beach clean-up and the Ross Sea campaign), and have nothing but admiration for his dedication to protecting the oceans. When 21 Yaks and a Speedo came out, I devoured it in less a day. In the book, Lewis divulges his 21 tips for achieving your own dreams – a must read for everyone who wants to fulfil their potential in life. I could go on writing about Lewis, but the main purpose of this post is to talk about his latest expedition in the Arctic.

The Second Arctic Swim

On the 29th July 2017, Lewis swam one kilometre along the edge of the Arctic sea ice in -0.5°C waters. The swim took 22 minutes, and Lewis labels it as one of the hardest swims he’s ever had to do.

Lewis wrote an article prior to the swim, where he talked about the importance of protecting the Arctic: “I am deeply shocked by what I am witnessing. I’ve been swimming amongst ice for 15 years. It’s a substance I know well. I am not a climate scientist, but what I am seeing looks like runaway climate change in the Arctic.”

The Importance of the Arctic Region

The Arctic plays a crucial role in regulating the earth’s climate, and it is melting faster than models have predicted as a result of increasing anthropogenic greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, which are driving climate change. We have seen the Arctic sea ice reach lower and lower summer sea ice extents each year. Some have termed this rapid decline of sea ice as the ‘Arctic death spiral’, where the sea ice recedes further and further until eventually there will be none left in the summer months.

Peter Wadhams is a polar scientist with over 47 years of experience in the field and has carried out over 50 expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctic. In his book A Farewell to Ice, Wadhams says: “By the end of 2015 a total of 238 ships had sailed through it [the Arctic]. In September 2012 sea ice covered only 3.4 million square kilometres (km2) of the Arctic Ocean’s surface, down from 8 million km2 in the 1970s.” Wadhams predicts that the remaining Arctic sea ice could disappear as soon as 2020 – a mere three years from now. When it does disappear, Wadhams says: “The albedo change from the loss of the last 4 million km2 of ice will have the same warming effect on the Earth as the last twenty-five years of carbon dioxide emissions.

This a profound statement to try and get our heads around. Worse still, there are frozen methane particles which could be released by the warming Arctic waters, which could trigger global runaway climate change, depending on the quantities released. Methane is a more potent form of greenhouse gas, which traps more heat in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide. I wrote a blog post here, if you’d like to read more about runaway climate change.

Climate Change

Given how late we’ve left it, we need urgent global emissions reductions, combined with carbon dioxide extraction if we’re to stand any chance of saving what’s left of the sea ice. In his blog, Lewis calls for us to go beyond the Paris climate change agreement. Lewis is absolutely right to call for this – Paris is not strong enough on its own. For those who are unaware, world leaders met in Paris in 2015, and agreed to try and limit global temperature increases to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, with an aim of keeping it below 1.5°C.

However, a few days ago a new piece of research estimated there was only a 5% chance of meeting the 2°C target, based on our current pathway and only a 1% chance of meeting the 1.5°C target.

This news is profoundly saddening. That’s why we need bold action from our leaders, and Lewis’s incredibly brave and courageous symbolic swim goes a long way in drawing their attention to this imperilled polar region. We have the renewable energy solutions – what we lack is the political will and the action from major companies (not words or ‘greenwashing’, but real-life action) to effectively tackle the greatest challenge facing us today. Scientists say we still have a small and shrinking window of opportunity to act to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – together we need to make full use of every single hour available to turn the tide. When we work together collectively, there’s nothing we can’t do.

Thank You!

I would like to thank Lewis for undertaking this swim and all the others he has done to highlight the issues and challenges facing our oceans. This one in particular, for the sheer hell Lewis must have gone through, and at one point nearly giving up. I don’t think anyone can truly appreciate the suffering Lewis made here, but he has done this for each and every single one of us. For that we owe him a great deal of gratitude.

I’d like to thank Lewis for all his other environmental work, including the fracking talk he gave, which really helped lift me out of a depression I felt for the natural world. I’m personally working on different methods of trying to communicate climate change to a wider audience and engage more people with what’s happening to our planet. But actions speaks louder than words, and what you’ve done is beyond remarkable!

Over and above everything else, I’d like to personally thank Lewis for showing me what’s possible when we never give up, and put in the hard work so that we can achieve our dreams. I’ll end with two incredible TED talks from Lewis about his first Arctic swim, and his swim on Mount Everest.



Lewis’s talk about fracking in the Karoo – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5PejoRGmBo

My review of Peter Wadhams book, A Farewell to Icehttp://www.ourfutureisgreen.co.uk/a-farewell-to-ice-review-watching-our-future-disappear-in-front-of-our-eyes/

Lewis’s blog post on runaway climate change in the Arctic – http://lewispugh.com/runaway-cc-in-the-arctic/

Lewis’s blog on swimming along the Arctic sea ice – http://lewispugh.com/swimming-along-the-arctic-sea-ice/

Our chances of achieving the targets set in the Paris climate agreement – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/31/paris-climate-deal-2c-warming-study

TED talk: Lewis swimming at the North Pole – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HALd9FY5-VQ

TED talk: Lewis swims on Mount Everest – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QISHX5UKky0

The Coming Storm Is Here

Friday 28th July 2017

One of the most worrying impacts of climate change is the increase in extreme storms and violent precipitation events taking place across the world. In his book, A Farewell to Ice, Peter Wadhams states that for every degree of air temperature warming, “We add something like 7 percent of extra water vapour content to the atmosphere” (Pg. 109).

This additional water vapour is what is causing these wild rainfall/hailstorms we are seeing. As the water vapour content continues to rise, we are creating super-charged storms. Below is a tweet from the ‘severe-weather.EU’ account. It is one example of the many global extreme weather events taking place.

Many food crops can be destroyed by these extreme hailstorm events. If they were localised to one region, we could cope. But when these types of events are taking place across the world and are increasing in number and frequency, how do we protect the food crops? This is just one of the many ways our food supply is being jeopardised by inaction on climate change. Every day our leaders fail to limit emissions, the situation worsens and your children’s future becomes more uncertain.

See this article for climate change actions that will make a difference.

Cli-Fi Novel Review – State of Fear by Michael Crichton

29th June 2017

I have debated whether or not to write a review for this book for some time. Prior to reading it, I had no idea that Michael Crichton was a climate change sceptic! So it came as much of a surprise to me to see the supposedly good climate change scientists portrayed as the bad guys as the book progressed.

Whilst it’s cleverly written to convey Crichton’s climate change scepticism, I can’t recommend this book to others, purely because it flies in the face of what I (personally) believe this genre should be trying to achieve. Yet because Crichton’s name is so well know, you’ll find this book in cli-fi displays in bookstores, and on cli-fi reading lists. So this short review is more of a warning to alert other unsuspecting readers – if you don’t want to read a cli-fi novel that’s grounded in climate change scepticism, then avoid this book!