Espace Presse – How to limit climate change?

​This article is an excerpt from an exchange that took place within the framework of “Science yourself! », organized by CEA and CENTQUATRE-PARIS.

The human face to the forces of nature

Laurent Gaude : In my imaginary universe, nature sometimes speaks violently and suddenly, like in the novel Hurricane, when Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. I tell about two dimensions that are juxtaposed, that of a climatic tragedy that stops men’s lives and the small world of people who fight against it. This is perhaps the common point in many of my books, this extreme event which reveals human nature.

Valerie Masson-Delmotte : Hurricane really touched me. It tells how we try to survive in a city where nothing works, where poor people live in flood zones. We can clearly see that we are not ready for a changing climate, even in rich countries like the United States. This is still the case in 2022.

climate justice

WC-D. : Issues of social, climate and intergenerational justice are very present when we talk about climate change. More than three billion people are highly vulnerable to it. You show it very well in your novels Hurricane and Eldorado.

LG : This dimension was also the basis for the writing ofHurricanewhich quite quickly introduces political anger into the story because the poorest have been neglected.

WC-D. : On these climate issues, there is also a kind of break, of injustice, between the generations. Western countries have a historical responsibility. We have unknowingly contributed to a very significant accumulation of CO emissions2. The younger generations carry this on their shoulders. Very often, those who have responsibility and have the power to act lose their ability to act by placing the mental burden of climate action on the youngest. I was horrified to hear MPs to whom I had just presented the findings of one of the latest IPCC reports tell me: “but everything is fine, things are moving forward since we are teaching children about climate change”. If we do not act today to the height of our efforts, the youngest will have to adapt to a climate that will become more heated with losses, injuries, but also increasing costs..

A Copernican revolution

LG : The amplitude of this reaction that we are being asked for will, in my opinion, involve a profound one the Copernican revolution in all areas: personal and daily life, choices, but also beliefs. Who will be the gods in this post-revolutionary world? Will the concept of progress still have meaning? Will nature again become the object of strong faith? It also raises questions of sovereignty and territory. For example, is the Amazon forest only Brazilian?

WC-D. : Yes, if we want to stop global warming, we must move towards global CO emissions as quickly as possible2 to net zero, and also reduce the emission of methane drastically. The sooner we get there, the weaker the warming will be. It is difficult, but there are many options whose feasibility has been established. In the field of energy, it will be necessary decarbonise electricity production and electrify everything else. Land use and agricultural practices are another lever. A more plant-based diet, for example, reduces pressure on the earth, provides more space to store carbon and preserve ecosystems. City systems can supportcircular economy, energy efficiency, low-carbon mobility, etc. Managing the demand for energy, animal protein or even non-renewable materials makes it possible to transform production systems more quickly to sustainability. And so, yes, these changes raise the question very deeply lifestyle types which we will jointly make possible. I also remain convinced that profound changes in society come from the base, and then create political forces that will then impose themselves at the government level.

Removing the obstacles to sustainable combating climate change

LG : The solutions will, I think, be above all political. And I continue to rank politics very highly despite my huge disappointments… Structuring, courageous actions must be taken. But telling oneself that they will serve to improve not my world, but the one that will exist after me, requires denial and a strong inner morality. Works a bit antinomian with the political world, which lives by short deadlines for re-election.

WC-D. : The brakes are still numerous: reluctance to change, particularly strong in Europe; distrust of governments; very deep economic and political blockages; insufficient integration of information about current and future climate change into public decisions. For example, it is necessary to take into account the increase in the intensity of extreme precipitation by 7% per degree of heating for the infrastructures established today to function properly in a changing climate. To this I would add the absence of clearly defined responsibilities, especially of political decision-makers, both in terms of meeting commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the ability to introduce adaptation strategies that mobilize all actors and knowledge.

Show achievements

WC-D. : It is also important to show the successes and not just the risks. We have managed to avoid major destruction of the ozone layer by acting on scientific warning in the 1980s. Scenarios with very large increases in greenhouse gas emissions are now less plausible due to the public policies already in place: some countries have already reached a peak, then a slow decline in emissions of these gases; technological breakthroughs now make it possible to produce electricity with a low carbon content at an affordable price, etc. It is also important to see things moving forward, even if it is not moving fast enough or far enough.

LG : You say that the worst courses have been avoided. But that, we never hear it, it’s a shame…

Sharing climate knowledge

WC-D. : Convincing decision makers and public opinion of the urgency to act to change the climate requires knowledge sharing. There is a real challenge in understanding the causes, what a changing climate is, its implications, in each region, levers for action, adaptation strategies. It’s all the work with, among other things, media, science smugglers, school curriculum, which also needs to be updated, etc., and from time to time novels.

LG : I deeply believe in the power of the novel. I have always had the certainty that writing could have an impact on the world. About the climate, about the new pact that must come between man and nature, it is necessary for stories to grasp it. Because they produce other effects in the reader, leaving them and lasting deep reflections. The word courage, for example that of populations that have to flee from an extreme climatic event, does not exist in the lexical field of journalists, and that is normal. On the other hand, it has its place in the novels.

WC-D. : I hope that there is not only Netflix which explores denial and unwanted futures, as in don’t look up cosmic denial. Could you use the IPCC reports to turn them into a literary work? We already have a trilogy with those of our three working groups!

LG : Absolutely. If I succeeded in the European construction by writing We Europe, the people’s banquetpI think I can try it on the climate, but give me at least two years…

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