This is an off-topic post which is nevertheless close to my heart and should concern us all: Climate Change.
With explicit permission I will re-publicize the keynote speech given by Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber (director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change) at the state dinner in Doha, Quatar as part of the World Climate Summit COP 18, in presence of UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, UNFCCC-chief Christiana Figueres, and Qatar's head of state the Emir H. H. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, accompanied by his wife H. H. Sheikha Moza bint Nasser.
This event marked the beginning of the high-level segment of the negotiations. He talked about "the three convenient untruths" of the public debate on climate change - and about "the laws of nature" which was much applauded.
The Laws of Nature – and the Laws of Civilization
Ladies and Gentlemen!
If decision makers wish to adopt evidence-based strategies, they must not ignore the
That is why I am most grateful to the hosts of this event for giving me the opportunity
to provide you with several crucial scientific insights regarding the climate-change
challenge. As you all know, the former US Vice President Al Gore disseminated in
2006 the famous narrative about an “Inconvenient Climate Truth”. Only two years
later, a dubious counter-narrative started to spread, propelled by an alliance of actors
interested in the vindication of inaction with respect to climate stabilization. This story
revolves around three “Convenient Untruths”.
The first one of these reads: “There is no global warming caused by mankind.”
What is the concrete evidence? Well, among the 13,950 peer-reviewed papers on the
subject which were published between 1991 and 2012, only 24 do not confirm that
there is a major anthropogenic greenhouse effect. In other numbers, the expert
information identifying mankind as the primary cause of contemporary climate
change outweighs the contradicting one by a ratio of
99.87 % : 0.17 %.
This is as far as objective research can get: only a lie could boast a 100 %
Conclusion: Climate physics offers no excuse for inaction.
The second convenient untruth maintains: “Breaching the 2°C line will cause no
What is the evidence? Well, a recent flagship report of the World Bank portrays the
dire consequences of our planet warming by 4°C or more. The Potsdam Institute was
heavily involved in this integrated state-of-the-art assessment, and even we, the
researchers, were shocked by our findings. One crucial insight is that there will be no
sound economic and social development in the tropics and subtropics in a world
without climate protection.
Expressed in simple numbers again, the thermal difference between
4°C and 2°C
might translate into the cultural difference between a failing and a stable global
society, between a fair and peaceful planet and a world torn apart by climate injustice
and the thence-triggered aggressions.
Conclusion: Moral philosophy offers no excuse for inaction.
The third convenient untruth is the most vicious one and goes like this: “It’s too late
for climate stabilization at an appropriate level.”
Various arguments – often rather bizarre ones – are put forward to underpin that
declaration of environmental defeat. One prominent line of reasoning refers to the
1 : 193.
These numbers reflect the fact that 194 sovereign nations are negotiating here in
Doha an international agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate
Change, and the cynics ask, why should one single nation make a constructive step
forward if the other 193 drag their feet? Because of this ongoing global “prisoner’s
dilemma”, we have already passed the climatic point of no return, they say.
What is the evidence? Well, as the latest scrupulous analysis shows, the 2°C line can
still be held if every country makes an ambitious, yet realistic contribution. It goes
without saying that disengagement will not save the world. This simple insight can be
expressed in a sentence that rephrases the legendary admonishment by John F.
“Don’t ask what global climate protection can do for your country; rather ask what
your country can do for global climate protection!”
And there are indeed many nations that pioneer the transition to sustainability or try
to break the mould of business-as-usual. Let me mention just two of them:
Germany, my home country, has embarked on a bold journey that will make
renewable energy and resource efficiency the basis of its entire economy. And Qatar,
the host of COP18, has started now to massively invest into climate-smart agriculture
relying on solar desalination of sea water. These thriving nations move forward not in
order to reduce, but to enhance their prosperity.
Conclusion: Political economy offers no excuse for inaction.
Let me approach my bottom line now. As a physicist my work is guided by the laws of
nature. Extending these laws into the realm of civilization for the sake of climate
protection I can state the following principles.
The 1st Law of Capitalism: Don’t kill your customers!
The 1st Law of Socialism: Don’t kill your comrades!
And, overriding everything else:
The 1st Law of Humanity: Don’t kill your children!
Our generations will be judged by these laws in history. Please keep that in mind in
whatever you do – here in Doha and at home.
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