Stop telling the public we’re not doomed, says climate change scientist

A climate change protest in New York City in September 2014. Image: Getty.

We all know that the global climate is changing, raising the terrifying prospect of floods, famines and migration crises galore. The latest installment of depressing news is the delightful prediction that dozens of American cities are at risk of drowning before the century is out, turning places like New Orleans and Miami into the lost kingdom of Atlantis.

This is pretty extreme stuff – so everyone is probably just exaggerating, right? Isn’t it time for the scientific community to change the bloody record?

Ha, ha, no. In fact, a paper published this week in Nature Geoscience actually says we’re not being hysterical enough. In fact, it warns climate scientists to avoid sugar-coating the scale of the catastrophe that climate change poses.

The author, Professor Kevin Anderson of Manchester University, says scientists shouldn't shape their findings optimistically, "however politically uncomfortable the conclusions". If anything, he argues, researchers are censoring themselves, worrying too much about the opinions of others or whether they'll be liked or not after publishing their studies.

So far, the report notes, research based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios has shown that level of greenhouse gas emissions are actually above previous predictions. As a result

“If the IPCC’s up-beat headlines are to be believed, reducing emissions in line with a reasonable-to-good chance of meeting the 2 °C target requires an accelerated, but still evolutionary, move away from fossil fuels.”

Anderson blames the media as well as the IPCC for phrasing news and press releases too optimistically: in order to change the public's behaviour, scientists need to be much blunter about the consequences.

The good news is that even the drastic and immediate action necessary to avoid a  2°C  increase in global temperature – widely seen as the threshold between us and devestating climate change – would cost less than 0.1 per cent of global economic growth. That’s nothing. Anderson concludes:

“If we are to meet the 2°C target, us wealthier high emitting individuals, whether in industrial or industrialising nations, will have to accept radical changes to how we live our lives – that or we’ll fail on 2°C.”

The report coincides with the installation of a new IPCC chairman, weeks before the major UN climate change conference in Paris. Let's be optimistic once more and delude ourselves that the world's nations will finally get serious about taking major action to prevent the death of our planet.

Emad Ahmed is a science report for our sister site, the New Statesman.

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“You don’t look like a train buff”: on sexism in the trainspotting community

A female guard on London’s former Metropolitan Railway. Image: Getty.

I am a railway enthusiast. I like looking at trains, I like travelling by train and I like the quirks of the vast number of different train units, transit maps and train operating companies.

I get goosebumps standing on a platform watching my train approach, eyeballing the names of the destinations on the dot matrix display over and over again, straining to hear the tinny departure announcements on the tannoy.  I’m fortunate enough to work on the site of a former railway station that not only houses beautiful old goods sheds, but still has an active railway line running alongside it. You can imagine my colleagues’ elation as I exclaim: “Wow! Look at that one!” for the sixth time that day, as another brilliantly gaudy freight train trundles past.

I am also a woman in my twenties. A few weeks my request to join a railway-related Facebook group was declined because I – and I quote here – “don’t look like a train buff”.

After posting about this exchange on Twitter, my outrage was widely shared. “They should be thrilled to have you!” said one. “What does a train buff look like?!” many others asked.

The answer, of course, is a middle-aged white man with an anorak and notebook. Supposedly, anyway. That’s the ancient stereotype of a “trainspotter”, which sadly shows no sign of waning.

I’m not alone in feeling marginalised in the railway community. Sarah, a railway enthusiast from Bournemouth, says she is used to funny looks when she tells people that she is not only into trains, but an engineer.

She speaks of her annoyance at seeing a poster bearing the phrase: “Beware Rail Enthusiasts Disease: Highly Infectious To Males Of All Ages”. “That did bug me,” she says, “because women can enjoy trains just as much as men.”

Vicki Pipe is best known as being one half of the YouTube sensation All The Stations, which saw her and her partner Geoff Marshall spend 2017 visiting every railway station in Great Britain.

“During our 2017 adventure I was often asked ‘How did your boyfriend persuade you to come along?’” she says. “I think some found it unusual that a woman might be independently interested or excited enough about the railways to spend sixteen weeks travelling to every station on the network.”

Pipe, who earlier this year travelled to all the stations in Ireland and Northern Ireland, is passionate about changing the way in which people think of the railways, including the perception of women in the industry.

“For me it’s the people that make the railways such an exciting place to explore – and many of these are women,” she explains. “Women have historically and continue to play an important part in the railway industry – throughout our journey we met female train drivers, conductors, station staff, signallers and engineers. I feel it is important that more female voices are heard so that women of the future recognise the railways as a place they too can be part of.”

Despite the progress being made, it’s clear there is still a long way to go in challenging stereotypes and proving that girls can like trains, too.

I’m appalled that in 2019 our life choices are still subjected to critique. This is why I want to encourage women to embrace their interests and aspirations – however “nerdy”, or unusual, or untraditionally “female” they may be – and to speak up for things that I was worried to speak about for so long.

We might not change the world by doing so but, one by one, we’ll let others know that we’ll do what we want – because we can.