Thursday, 12 November 2020

Climate Solutions are Possible!

This post is about an excellent climate modelling tool called En-ROADS,  developed by MIT and other organisations.  By using a "hands-on" approach, it allows individuals or groups to learn about those factors producing climate change and also how to best to address the climate crisis.  I haven't included any sample graphics - it's better if you explore the link above. You might start with the 3 minute video demo of how it works, then try running your own model.

This is what I like about En-ROADS:  

  • Tackling climate change is tricky. Leaving aside factors such as the influence of vested interests and biased media, climate modelling requires physical, economic and social models, with a high degree of interaction between the parameters. For example, given a price per ton on carbon, how will this affect CO2 emissions and then what is the impact on mean temperature over future decades?   How does this strategy compare to (say) a tax of coal?   En-ROADS actually answers these questions, plus a great deal more.  
  • Are the models accurate?  It's reassuring that En-ROADS has been compared to many other climate models and IPCC standard scenarios (called SSPs) - it seems to give quite consistent results.  There's a lot of good climate science behind the software, and it's being regularly updated. 
  • This tool is freely accessible to the public via a simple http web page.  With so many input and output parameters the user interface it critical.  En-ROADS provides a set of the most important adjustment levers (eg adjust how much of the transport system is electrified, assume a higher or lower population growth, adjust taxes on oil etc) then shows the resultant effect on mean temperature increase, compared to "business as usual".  However there's a wealth of other results that can be displayed, plus detailed settings that can be adjusted.  This degree of transparency and detailed modelling is wonderful - it's necessary to capture the complexity, but also might be daunting for casual users.   En-ROADS therefore suggests a guided approach eg in an interactive workshop format.  

Is En-ROADS perfect?  It's scope is already very broad, so it's not surprising that some aspects can not be included.  For example
  • A global, rather than regional, model is assumed so it represents a global mean of climate policies and their results.  Note some other tools on the Climate Interactive site look into various regional issues. 
  • In general, tipping points are hard to model, plus the interaction between these positive feedback loops.   Thus in some respects En-ROADS may be too optimistic, depending on the values of various assumptions used in the model.  At least En-ROADS provides useful information, plus references,  regarding its assumptions.  
  • En-ROADS predicts outcomes such as CO2 concentrations over time, sea level rise, mean temperature increase etc.  The "business as usual" path shows over 2 degrees temperature rise by mid century and about 4 degrees by 2100.  Of course 4 degrees will probably result in catastrophic outcomes for humanity.  At present it's too hard to model the effect of this on (say) GDP. 

En-ROADS allows users to explore climate mitigation strategies in order to understand drivers and discover the most promising approaches.   It's well designed and implemented, with a lot of detailed information if users want to explore specific areas.  It also includes many examples and includes a focus on equitable carbon-neutral transformations.  

En-ROADS suggests it's possible to avoid a climate disaster via a suitable mix of strategies.  However it's not easy to achieve (say) less than two degrees average temperature rise and there's certainly no single quick fix.  


"Dealing with Climate Change" U3A Workshop:   May 2021   

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