Ask A Glaciologist: This Is What To Do About Climate Change

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Ingmikortilaq is the name of a 3,750-foot seacliff jutting out from a fjord in eastern Greenland’s, hard by the edge of the Arctic Circle. The formerly un-climbed fortress of rock could hold significant clues about the future of the Earth in the age of climate change, if only someone could get up there. Well, they did, in an expedition led by world renowned free soloist Alex Honnold, of the documentary Free Solo.

One of those making the trip with Honnold was the glaciologist Dr. Heïdi Sevestre. Together with the rest of the team, they made the first ever ascent of Ingmikortilaq last summer to extract some of those climate change clues. Their adventure is recounted in the new National Geographic documentary series Arctic Ascent with Alex Honnold, on Disney+ and Hulu.

Earlier this week Dr. Sevestre shared her insights about the expedition with CleanTechnica in an exclusive email interview, and here it is word for word.

New Clues About Climate Change

CleanTechnica: As someone who has closely studied the Arctic, are there any unique or surprising new insights you learned from this project?

Sevestre: I am so grateful to all the research institutions that collaborated with us on this project. We gathered data for 12 different research labs, and it is anticipated to take a few more years for their teams to analyze and interpret the information.

However, we have obtained some preliminary findings that we can share. Firstly, the fjord we investigated, extending far inland in Eastern Greenland, is indeed experiencing an increase in temperature, aligning with the initial results from NASA’s OMG project.

Secondly, we were surprised by the apparent stability of the Daugaard Jensen glacier, a prominent outlet glacier in this region of Greenland. This discovery [suggests] that certain areas have yet to undergo significant changes at the same pace.

Starting The Climate Conversation With Adventure

CleanTechnia: Has this project influenced the way you communicate about climate change?

Sevestre: I believe it hasn’t altered how I talk about climate change, but it has indeed demonstrated that we can undertake ambitious research initiatives involving both athletes and scientists.

While these adventures may not replace traditional research expeditions, they offer the opportunity to gather additional valuable data.

Such projects not only contribute to scientific progress but also have the potential to engage a broader audience, fostering understanding of the significance of science and the critical nature of the challenges posed by climate change.

How We Talk About Climate Change: The End Of Skepticism

CleanTechnica: Have you noticed any progress in the way climate change is discussed among the general public over the past 10 years or so, in terms of accepting the science and focusing on solutions?

Sevestre: Absolutely. Despite the popularity of fake news and conspiracy theories surrounding climate change, it has become widely accepted that the world is undergoing transformations due to the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, primarily caused by human activities. The consensus is that if immediate action is not taken, the situation will deteriorate significantly.

I find inspiration in scientists like Jason Box and Katharine Hayhoe, who not only excel in their scientific careers but also effectively communicate their findings.

It’s crucial to recognize that scientific knowledge alone has limited impact unless it is communicated. Therefore, it is our responsibility to ensure that everyone understands the collective potential we have to make a positive difference.

What To Do About Climate Change

CleanTechnica: Considering the urgency of rapid action on climate change, what kinds of new energy technologies appear to show the most potential for high impact?

Sevestre: The best ton of CO2 is the one that is not emitted in the first place. According to the IPCC report, successfully transitioning requires a significant reduction in daily energy consumption. In developed countries, the primary focus should be on sufficiency, meaning a substantial decrease in overall energy consumption.

Additionally, it is imperative to cease investments in fossil fuels, and progressively halt their extraction and combustion. Instead of providing tax incentives and subsidies to fossil fuels, there should be a concerted effort to invest extensively in renewable energy sources. This approach aligns with the initiatives supported by our expedition leader, Alex Honnold, through his foundation.

What Can You Do About Climate Change?

CleanTechnica: What kinds of high-impact steps can people take to support climate action, not just in their own lives but in terms of advocating for public policies?

Sevestre: Here are four things anyone can do to make a difference:

  • Educate yourself on climate issues so that you can make informed decisions.
  • Utilize your circle of influence, including friends, family, and colleagues at work, to bring about positive change.
  • Exercise your voting power in favor of individuals who respect the scientific method and comprehend the current urgency of addressing climate issues.
  • Consider changing your bank if it employs your funds for investments in fossil fuels.

Some Additional Thoughts

One thing we’ll add to Dr. Sevestre’s to-do list is to be aware of  tiny rips in the big picture. Though the climate change conversation by and large has moved beyond hoaxes and conspiracy theories, pockets of misinformation and outright lies can still fuel local opposition to clean energy development, including offshore wind farms as well as onshore wind farms and solar arrays. So, it’s important for local residents to speak up — and speak the truth — in support of clean energy projects in their area.

Staying out of the climate change doomerism rut is also important. Focusing attention on positive, high-impact solutions is not the same thing as sugar-coating or outright ignoring bad news. It is possible to talk about effective climate action without sinking into a morass of doom.

For some expert insights on that topic, check out the new book, Not the End of the World: How We Can Be the First Generation to Build a Sustainable Planet by Dr. Hannah Ritchie, who is a Senior Researcher in the Programme for Global Development at the University of Oxford.

Dr. Ritchie also holds the title of Deputy Editor and Lead Researcher at the highly influential online news organization Our World in Data.

“We are constantly bombarded by doomsday headlines that tell us the soil won’t be able to support crops, fish will vanish from our oceans, and that we should reconsider having children,” notes the MIT Press Book Store, “But in this bold, radically hopeful book, data scientist Hannah Ritchie argues that if we zoom out, a very different picture emerges.”

Among some of the data points, Ritchie, notes that per capita carbon emissions are in decline, that deforestation peaked in the 198o’s, and the air is cleaner now than centuries ago.

“Hannah cuts through the noise by outlining what works, what doesn’t, and what we urgently need to focus on so we can leave a sustainable planet for future generations,” MIT adds.

If you’ve read the book — or if you’ve caught an episode of Arctic Ascent — drop us a note in the comment thread and tell us what you think.

Follow me @tinamcasey on Bluesky, Threads, Post, and LinkedIn.

Image (screenshot): Alex Honnold leads an expedition into Greenland with the glaciologist Dr. Heïdi Sevestre, in search of clues about climate change (courtesy of National Geographic, via YouTube).

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