To grow or not to grow? About a crucial debate for the future of the climate

by Christopher Pavenstädt

The climate question is all about the limits. Carbon budgets, tipping points, ticking clocks and planetary boundaries are just some buzzwords flying around in talks about a menacingly waltzing climate change. This has always been a problem, as the main goal of most countries is economic growth: unlimitedness of a social system meets planetary limits.

From limits to growth to the birth of Green Growth

This dilemma was noticed as early as 1972. The Club of Rome report “Limits to Growth” marked the beginning of thinking that there could be inherent limits to the ways carbon-dependent societies are functioning. But already with the political neo-liberal climate of the 1980s and 1990s, the notion of “limits to growth” vanished from public discourse. The idea of a Green Growth was born, arguing there could be both: economic growth AND environmental protection.

Graffiti of Margaret Thatcher "There is no alternative"
Margaret Thatcher – image by

Continue reading To grow or not to grow? About a crucial debate for the future of the climate

Greenwashing’s new distant cousin

by Clara Nack

“Act Responsibly Even when You Don’t.” Next to this ambiguous slogan, two young models in jeans are lolling about, promoting Diesel’s Green Label, the brands’ sustainable line. And this is what follows: “Go crazy and at the same time treat the planet with our responsible pieces from the Fall Winter 2020 collection”. Sustainability and shopping the new arrivals of each and every season – how “consciously” and “responsibly” sourced they may be – does that match? On another rather urgent note: I still needed Christmas presents when I read this.

Screenshot Diesel Jeans

Googling “sustainable gifts” will return all sorts of attractive results that labels have not only given the Christmas coat of paint, but also a supposedly green one. And in 2020, sustainability as an incentive to buy has had other suits made to measure. There is the #supportyourlocals hashtag, with which online retailers such as Amazon and Zalando are luring me to buy, buy, buy and feel good about it. It’s Christmas after all and everyone should share a piece of the cake. Continue reading Greenwashing’s new distant cousin

Negative emissions – a key assumption in limiting temperature rise

by Ella Karnik Hinks

The application of “negative emissions” technology has been widely used by the IPCC and incorporated into models which predict the most modest estimates of limiting the global temperature rise to 2 degrees [2]. Bioenergy and Carbon Capture and Storage, commonly known under the acronym BECCS, is one such technology. In principle, it works by using biomass as an energy source, and then capturing and storing the carbon dioxide release associated with this process.

Bioenergy and Carbon Capture and Storage infographic
Bioenergy and Carbon Capture and Storage – infographic by Ella Karnik Hinks

Using bioenergy as a fuel is not a new concept – for example burning wood or waste agricultural products, such as sugar cane. So far so good.

However, “negative” emissions are only achieved if the amount of carbon dioxide subsequently stored is greater than is emitted during the biomass production, transportation and utilisation [1]. Theoretically, CO2 can be stored by pumping it underground into geological formations. Yet there remains, in practice, a big “if”, when looking at the current existing facilities of carbon capture and storage – the two processes (of BE and CCS) currently only operate in one commercial plant in the United States [3].

Fundamentally, the issue with the inclusion of such technologies into IPCC models is two-fold: Continue reading Negative emissions – a key assumption in limiting temperature rise

Planting trees to save the climate?

by Susan Jörges

„We plant one tree per product”, an organic chocolate bite company claims that cooperates with Eden Reforestation Projects. “With your help we have already planted 15.000 trees in Columbia”, is written on the website of a company that sells organic cosmetic products in recyclable glass bottles. Planting trees for every product sold seems to be fashionable. Product variety is expanding on all markets, and consumers are becoming more critical.  But is planting trees an effective solution for preventing climate change? Is climate change mitigation that easy?

sapling on the palm of a hand, picture by pexels

Continue reading Planting trees to save the climate?

2019 on Twitter: Climate activism awakening

by Hadas Emma Kedar and Fenja De Silva-Schmidt

Shortly before 2020 is over, we will have a look back at 2019 to map the climate change debate as reflected transnationally on Twitter. Compared with the two years prior, 2019 showed a particular abundance of climate-related tweets: While the total tweets count of 2018 grew by 8% from 2017, the total count of 2019 grew by 70%. Then what triggered the climate discourse so much on Twitter that year? Continue reading 2019 on Twitter: Climate activism awakening

How to talk about climate change – a collection of thoughts and helpful input for non-experts

by Fenja De Silva-Schmidt

When did you talk about climate change the last time? And when did you do so with family and friends? Results from our surveys show that on the one hand, the amount of people talking about climate change in their daily lives is rising steadily (see Guenther et al. 2020, in German), but on the other hand, a significant share of people never touch the topic in their conversations. For many, it is a somewhat awkward topic, leading to conversations about guilt and depressing visions for our future.

Rising share of conversations about climate change in daily life, source: Down to Earth data 2015/2019.

rising share of climate change conversations 2015-2019

In this post, I’ll summarize why it is a good idea to talk about climate change, even if you are not a climate expert, and which strategies mostly lead to a constructive conversation. Continue reading How to talk about climate change – a collection of thoughts and helpful input for non-experts

Warum das Zwei-Grad-Ziel ein (Kommunikations-) Problem ist

von Michael Brüggemann und Fenja De Silva-Schmidt

Thermometer 2 Grad mehrIn seinem Kommentar zur Klimapolitik hat sich der Innenpolitik-Chef der FAZ kürzlich schwer vertippt: Er schreibt, es gäbe „die Verpflichtung, bis 2050 die Erwärmung deutlich unter zwei Grad zu senken“. Dabei ist es natürlich so, dass sich die Zwei-Grad-Grenze, so wie sie die Staatengemeinschaft 2015 in Paris beschlossen hat, auf das Jahr 2100 bezieht. Fehler können passieren und gehören zum journalistischen wie zu jedem anderen Handwerk dazu – genauso wie eine öffentliche Korrektur des Fehlers, mit Publikation möglichst an gleicher Stelle.

Dass ein solcher Fehler bei einer der führenden Qualitätszeitungen vorkommt, hat aber möglicherweise tieferliegende Gründe: Die Zwei-Grad-Grenze bietet keine Anleitung und wenig Anreiz für gute Klimapolitik in der Gegenwart. Continue reading Warum das Zwei-Grad-Ziel ein (Kommunikations-) Problem ist

Public opinion at a tipping point – Germany’s path to engaging with climate protection

As a follow-up on our Nature Climate Change study (Brüggemann et al. 2017) called “The appeasement effect of a United Nations climate summit on the German public”, we have now published a working paper tracing changes in public attitudes and behavioral intentions over a longer period of time.

The paper compares data from our 2015, 2018 and 2019 Down to Earth surveys while also linking changes in public opinion to the media coverage on climate change.

Comparing media attention, climate-friendly behaviour, and behavioural intentions

Continue reading Public opinion at a tipping point – Germany’s path to engaging with climate protection

What would you miss the most?

Interactive visual arts project on climate change consequences

by Fenja De Silva-Schmidt

During my research stay in Stellenbosch, South Africa, I came across an interesting arts project on climate change, which was installed during the cultural festival “Woordfees”.

A note on the wall invites onlookers to participate: to illustrate or write about what or who they would miss the most if our climate completely collapsed. Another note asked to describe fond memories of nature.

interactive art project on climate change

All around, people posted little notes and drawings, all of which gave interesting insights into their perceptions of climate change, especially their fears.

Continue reading What would you miss the most?

Sustainable Lives: stage 2, here we go!

Besides having successfully finished the pilot studies and having initiated the working paper series, the project “Sustainable Lives” has also acquired new funding for the next two years.

Our interdisciplinary work will continue in form of a working group at the Center for Sustainable Society Research (see our project website here). Continue reading Sustainable Lives: stage 2, here we go!