Should we leave, fall asleep or do something?

Talking about climate change is a challenge for both the audience and the messenger.

 “When there’s a flood in Jakarta and half a million people are evacuated, is it climate change or bad urban planning?” asks Markku Kanninen, professor of forest science and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from Helsinki.

The funding goal of the international climate fund established at the climate change conference in Lima is $100 billion every year. Half of it will be used to mitigate climate change, and half on adjusting to it. At the moment, most of the funds are spent on mitigation.

Kanninen believes the new division is a good one. Climate disasters which cause human suffering around the world can already accrue costs of a hundred billion per year.

So what should climate change adjustment look like? There is no single right answer.

“When we told farmers on Canada’s prairies how climate change would impact their future, half of them left and the other half fell asleep,” says Professor Emeritus Barry Smit, and IPCC researcher from the University of Guelph in Canada.

They decided to turn their approach on its head, and ask people what their daily problems were.

There’s the government, the neighbour’s dogs, taxes, foreign companies – oh and the drought.

“We have to help people cope in our changing world.”

Kanninen and Smit give the same recommendation: if we are to spend $50 billion on adjustment every year, it must be spent in ways that respond to people’s needs. On Vanuatu, people are troubled by storms, not rising temperatures. In the Arctic region, temperature is the problem and in Peru, drought.

“The Arctic sea ice is behaving in new ways. Young Inuit no longer take their elder’s advice when they go seal hunting, because the world is different.”

Climate change is changing common knowledge.

“Climate science must work together, not just with adjacent sciences, but also with the arts and social sciences.”

Barry Smit concluded his presentation at the Helsinki University Centre for Environment HENVI with a folk song he had written about the environmental crisis.

This article was published in Finnish in the 5/2016 issue of Yliopisto magazine.