»Giving up is not an option for me«

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes


Professor Stefan Rahmstorf is one of the most prominent campaigners seeking to educate people about the fight against climate change.

“The Doomsday Glacier has reached tipping point” was the headline of a news story in February of this year. It is one of mightiest glaciers in the Antarctic. A research project now aims to establish whether it has already passed this tipping point, meaning that all its ice will melt. Since the glacier holds back the entire mass of ice that makes up the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the consequences would be dramatic. If it were to drift into the ocean, writes the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, “it would even put Hamburg underwater.” Stefan Rahmstorf retweeted that article, sharing it with his 50,000-plus followers.

This is only one of many almost inconceivable scenarios for the impact of climate change. The departmental head at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research uses direct language to reach as many people as possible. His creed is to make clear statements instead of using long-winded jargon: “Believing in soothing fairy tales is not a solution. You need to calmly face up to inconvenient facts as well.”

For example: the acts already perpetrated by mankind will have consequences for all time. “Our CO₂ emissions are a cumulative phenomenon, which means that CO₂ collects in the atmosphere and remains there,” says Rahmstorf. The effect of this: “50,000 years from now the level of emissions we have already generated will still be so high that the next natural ice age will fail to occur.”

STEFAN RAHMSTORF


is a climatologist and departmental head at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Professor of Ocean Physics at the University of Potsdam. His main areas of research are climate changes in the history of the earth and the role of the oceans in climatic activity.

STEFAN RAHMSTORF


»Believing in soothing fairy tales is not a solution. You need to calmly face up to inconvenient facts as well«

But you don’t have to look that far into the future. What we can already say is that anyone not yet old enough to collect their pension will experience the painful consequences of climate change if humanity does not take rapid action. Global CO₂ emissions need to be halved in just the next ten years (in order to then reduce them continuously towards zero) if global warming is to be halted at well below two degrees. If this warming exceeds two degrees – compared to pre-industrial levels – the consequences of climate change can no longer be kept in check. If instead the Paris Agreement is observed, then sea levels will rise more slowly, coastal towns will be rescued, famine crises and catastrophic droughts, and probably even wars, will be averted. People often don’t realise that: “The main objective is not to protect the environment but, first and foremost, to prevent an existential crisis for mankind,” says Rahmstorf.

The professor, who is also interested in ocean physics, is truly tireless in his campaign to raise awareness about this topic. Whether on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, in his “Klimalounge” blog, or as a speaker and regular contributor to the German news magazine Der Spiegel, he shares information supported by scientific facts and reports and is not above confronting those who deny reality with pseudo-arguments. The subject of his undergraduate thesis was the theory of relativity. He always wanted to be a naturalist but it turned out not to be astrophysics after all: “I wanted to work on something that is not only academically interesting but that is useful to mankind.”

His voice and those of many other scientists are being heard, slowly but surely. “Very many young people have understood how dire our situation is,” Rahmstorf says. And the impression he gained at the last World Economic Forum in Davos was that “attitudes have also changed in the financial world.” After all, every individual can do something. Rahmstorf doesn’t own a car and doesn’t use fossil fuels like gas heating at home. Instead, he has solar panels on his roof and consumes just half of the power they generate for his own household. “The most important thing is to get involved in climate-related policymaking processes. And of course to choose green investments that apply the strictest criteria, letting your money work for a sustainable future.” Ultimately though, says Rahmstorf, the fight against climate change has to be a concerted effort between consumers, politicians and the business community.

Achieving this end requires the general public to be educated – that is his staunchly held belief. Rahmstorf will therefore continue to conduct lectures, give interviews, tweet and write blog posts. “Giving up is not an option that I could justify to the world or my children.”

FACTS ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE


→ The volume of CO₂ in the atmosphere is currently higher than it has ever been in the last three million years.

→ Never during the last 120,000 years has the global temperature been higher than it is today.

→ At the end of the last ice age global sea levels rose by 120 metres after warming of between 4 and 5 degrees. Today there is still enough ice on earth to raise sea levels by another 65 metres.

→ Around 100 percent of modern-era global warming has been man-made. The figure is probably even slightly higher than that because natural processes have helped counteract the warming a little.