But what’s at the top of the list of concerns for those who study how climate change is unfolding – on ice sheets and urban street corners, in oceans and farm fields – the climate scientists themselves? DW asked a dozen experts spanning climatology, entomology, oceanography and yes, permafrost research, what keeps them up at night when it comes to the climate. Nana Ama Browne Klutse studies changing weather with climate models at the University of Ghana. While she says tipping points like permafrost thaw worry her, she also worries how individuals will handle changing climates.
“What can you do as an individual to avoid the impact of climate change?” she asked. “We need government policies for resilience, building of community, city resilience. Then we need that global action.” Climate scientist Ruth Mottram studies the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and sea level rise for the Danish Meteorological Institute, but it’s not the science that worries her. “I’m less concerned that there are unknown processes going on that we don’t understand, and there could potentially be some unforeseen catastrophe on the way,” she said.
“We know what a lot of the impacts are going to be. I think what keeps me awake at night in a metaphorical sense is really the interaction between the physical system and how human societies are going to handle it.” Giving the example of sea level, she says we will see a meter rise this century — in our lifetimes or that of our children — and will have to make tough decisions about our coastal cities. But she says it won’t end there. “I think that human societies have not really grasped what that means and that adaptation to sea level rise is going to be a long process and we are going to be doing it for hundreds of years,” said Mottram, suggesting that we start thinking in terms of the lifetimes of cities (hundreds of years) rather than just human lifetimes. Vladimir Romanovsky, a professor of geophysics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Permafrost Laboratory, said that while he thinks about how what happens in the Arctic will affect the rest of the world, his concerns are much more local. “We should remember that there are still some people living in the Arctic,” he said. Around 4 million people in fact who would have to deal with the real-life consequences of solid ground thawing beneath their feet and houses. “Changes in these local or regional kind of climates and environments, they impact these people and some of these impacts could be very severe.”
Closer to the planet’s other pole, Carolina Vera fears that existing inequalities will only be exacerbated by climate change. “Climate change is already impacting the most vulnerable sectors of our planet,” said Vera, who studies climate variability as a principal researcher for the National Council of Science of Argentina, a professor at the University of Buenos Aires and chief of staff for Argentina’s Ministry of Science and Technology. Her work has led her to incorporate local knowledge and data collection into studies, involving communities that are balancing the problems of deforestation with their need to farm.
Perhaps not surprisingly, global heating is a key concern for many researchers, like Dim Coumou, who studies extreme weather at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Of most concern to him are heat and humidity extremes in the tropics – especially highly populated parts like West Africa, Pakistan and India – which will make it unbearable to be outside. When cooling down by sweating is no longer possible, people can’t work outside and therefore can’t grow food. The likely result being mass migration.
This article was provided by Deutsche Welle