Climate Change News

Focus on Climate Solutions, Panelists Say

Time remains to prevent dangerous climate change if people take action now and don’t lose hope, climate experts said.


Despite their own predictions of dire potential impacts from climate change, a panel of climate specialists at a major meeting of geoscientists and space scientists this week rejected a gloom and doom attitude. Instead, they called for a sharp focus on ways to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris climate accord despite steep obstacles.

“We’re really at a point where I think most people would say 1.5 degrees is already pretty much impossible. But, of course, we have to continue on fighting,” said panelist Stefan Rahmstorf on Tuesday at the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) 2017 Fall Meeting in New Orleans, La. The theme of the panel discussion and a follow-up session at the meeting was climate solutions.

There’s no time to further debate the issue before taking action, said Rahmstorf, head of Earth system analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. That’s because “the window of opportunity for actually limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees is actually falling shut on us as we speak,” said Rahmstorf. He added that even if the 2°C target is missed, people need to keep taking action and not give up because “I’d imagine that humanity then would be in a much more desperate struggle to prevent 3 degrees of warming.”

The Paris agreement aims to hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C.

Rejecting Doom and Despair

Michael Mann, another panelist and a professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, urged pushing back against growing and potentially paralyzing “doomism and despair.”

“If you truly believe that there is nothing we can do to prevent dangerous climate change, it can lead us down the same path as outright climate change denial,” he said. “Maybe we miss the 1.5°C exit, maybe we miss the 2°C exit. That doesn’t mean you continue down that highway. You still get off at the next possible exit.”

Panelist Sarah Myhre, a postdoctoral scholar from the University of Washington in Seattle, talked about the need to “humanize” science and to be concerned not only about the impacts of climate change on future generations but also about climate-related problems affecting people today.

Looking at Solutions

There is “still time to act to prevent dangerous climate change,” Mann told the panel audience. Solutions include “the clean energy revolution,” which could also provide substantial economic benefits.

Richard Alley, a professor of geosciences also at Penn State and on the panel, agreed that efficient policies and responses to address the climate issue could improve the environment and economy. There are a lot of people in this world who like both the environment and the economy, Alley noted. “If you fall into either of these categories, there’s still hope,” he said.

However, climate solutions “aren’t just windmills and solar panels,” said another speaker, professor of geology James Byrne at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. Many solutions will be complex and varied and possibly differ in time and across different political, economic, and social boundaries, he suggested.

To promote more talking about solutions among scientific researchers, Byrne told Eos that he is helping to coordinate a new initiative by some scientists who are AGU members to explore the topic. Byrne said at the panel discussion that the initiative could lead to a climate solutions conference next summer.

Some Good News in a Challenging Environment

At the panel discussion, David Titley, a Penn State meteorology professor and director of its Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk, said that scientists can make some headway against climate change in the United States even as the Trump administration plans to pull out of the Paris accord and takes other measures to slow action to limit the climate threat.

He noted that the National Defense Authorization Act signed into law on Tuesday requires the secretary of defense to prepare a report about the impact of climate change on military installations. The law states that it is the sense of Congress “that climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States.”

“There was almost nobody a year ago, especially postelection, who could have guessed this outcome,” said Titley, former oceanographer of the U.S. Navy and a retired rear admiral. “That’s one example of some good news that really gets lost in most of the silliness that’s going on right now.”

Fielding an Effective Offense

Pointing to the upcoming midterm elections and using a football analogy, Mann said that there could be more progress if those concerned about climate change could play offense instead of defense.

“We’re playing defense, and the defense is wearing down, inevitably. What we’re seeing is a rolling back of all of the environmental protections of the past half century,” he said. “We need to get our offense back on the field.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2017), Focus on climate solutions, panelists say, Eos, 98, Published on 15 December 2017.
© 2017. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
  • OFBG

    As I have commented before, the real issue is that “climate scientists” adhere to the notion that everyone must be a “true believer” in global warming/climate change in order to do something about it.

  • Steven Sherwood

    I agree with Cliff Mass’s post. Although we don’t need any more phony debates about whether global warming is “real,” we do need a real debate about adaptation and adaptability. Without that debate, those who assume (foolishly IMHO) that we can just adapt, and those who assume the world will end, will keep talking past one another even if they agree on the basic science. Does anyone know of a good mechanism for this?

    • byrnejm

      With respect, my friend this is a rather contradictory post. First you state we need to have a focus on adaptation and adaptability. Then you state we are foolish to think we can adapt to climate change. Yet you begin by agreeing with Cliff Mass who says we shouldn’t be talking about the emissions – which is mitigation. Now since we can’t adapt (in your humble opinion), then what the heck should we be talking about if not mitigation as Dr. Rahmstorf so brilliantly shared?

      For the record, we can meet the emission reduction scenarios that Dr. Rahmstorf presented. Those will be difficult but I believe we truly can move that quickly with leadership from the research community. Alternatively, some members of the research community can stay on the sidelines and snipe away at those working hard to find/define multidisciplinary solutions. I look forward to collaborating with my colleagues on the panel.

      • Steven Sherwood

        Sorry I probably oversimplified in saying I agree with Mass–I didn’t take his main point to be that we shouldn’t try to reduce emissions (though he may think that, and if so I would vigorously disagree). Instead I interpreted his main points, which I do agree with, to be (1) it will never happen in reality unless we somehow move to a much stronger societal (and even professional) consensus that it is essential; (2) for this consensus to happen, we need to have real debates about adaptation (including both ways it might happen and reasons why it might not be possible); and (3) the AGU or similar organisations could have a role. Unlike the physics of the greenhouse effect, this is a genuine area of scientific (including social science) uncertainty. Maybe this particular AGU venue had other goals, which is fine, I don’t mean to criticise the event the way Mass seemed to (so I was oversimplifying in saying I agree!)

  • Kent Peacock

    I helped to organize this panel, though I was not able to attend the meeting itself.

    First, it is the attackers of Dr. Mann who “politicized” climate change; he was just doing his job as a climate scientist. Second, why isn’t a frank discussion of diversity and human rights relevant, and who, by the way, is the “required audience”? Third, by telling the very inconvenient truth about climate, these scientists do not mean to hide other inconvenient truths, such as the questionable sustainability of current population trends. That is part of the problem, too, and certainly nobody on our panel is glossing it over. (We may have problems A, B, and C, and just because I talk mainly about A on one occasion that does not mean I deny B and C.) Fourth, what diversity of opinion should be represented on a panel like this?

    I am not personally aware of any scientifically competent disagreement with the following propositions: that the planet is warming, that this warming is entirely or almost entirely due to human agency (especially fossil fuel emissions with a contribution from deforestation), that the planet is warming at a rate that threatens the survivability of human institutions and possibly the survival of our very species, that this threat is near-term (next few decades), and that for a number of reasons it is going to be very difficult to reverse the threatening trend. There is still scientific uncertainty about how quickly some components of the climate threat will come into play: for instance, precisely how quickly could the major grounded ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica collapse, leading to multi-metre SLR, under various emissions scenarios? Precisely how much warming can be expected from methane emissions in the warming Arctic? (These two large questions, in particular, are at the cutting edge of current research.) However, these uncertainties only highlight the need for action sooner rather than later. All of the uncertainties are only about how bad it could get, and how quickly it could get that bad, not about whether the threat exists as I have broadly described it.

    So, yes, this is a very good time to bring solutions to center stage. Dr. Jim Byrne and others will be working hard to organize an on-going series of scientific conferences on climate solutions (broadly understood), and contributions from all quarters will be welcomed.

  • John Gilkison

    There is no such thing as sustainability as long as we continue growing the economy and the population. When are all these so called brilliant climate scientists going to start telling the truth.

  • Cliff Mass

    This panel shows why we are not making much progress in dealing with increasing greenhouse gases. They discuss plots indicate the huge cuts that we must make to keep GW under 1.5C. But it is absolutely clear that mankind will not make such cuts…if anything emissions are accelerating. So this is some kind of fantasy land…a strange place for scientists to be. Not one mention of resilience and adaptation….an area in which our discipline could provide some useful guidance. And the final speaker, describes diversity/victimhood issues, an approach that has not and will not appeal to the required audience. Finally, I note the uniform thinking of this panel…everyone is on exactly the same page. Too bad AGU doesn’t consider some though diversity on their panels….perhaps bringing on someone like Roger Pielke, Jr. Science should be built on competing ideas striving to find the truth. Not some fantasy goals, spiced with a great deal of political correctness

    • byrnejm

      The panel is three of the worlds leading scientists and a young woman who is leading the way beyond her years in addressing the interactions of the science and human rights issues.Of course adaptation and resilience are part of the solutions. So are GHG emission reductions discussed by Dr. Rahmstorf. This was a 15–20 minute panel announcing an initiative from the American geophysical union. Serms bizarre to expect us to cover every detail in this modest announcement forum. I was honoured to be chairing such a Distinguished panel.

    • greatnortherness

      Wow, well said. Obviously you are not one of the ass kissers. I think we should start with a genocide with anyone that profits with war. That would cover a large area and Monsanto’s of the world, the bankers of the federal reserve and all past and present political figures that don’t dance.

  • George Soli

    By politicizing climate change Mann takes a giant step backwards and becomes part of the problem, not the solution.

    • Tracy Kugler

      But climate change is obviously a political issue. You cannot pretend that we are going to make progress of any kind by remaining in some apolitical science-only bubble. We have the scientific knowledge we need to address climate change, what is lacking is the political will to do so. If science actively pulls out of political discussions, we have no one to blame but ourselves when solutions are not implemented.