Climate breakdown

Hanno Böck


You may know me from giving talks about IT security (and sometimes about science)

I was a climate activist and later a writer for a climate news webpage up until around 2013

Hitzewelle 2018 Hambi bleibt Greta Thunberg extinctionrebellion.jpg

Marseille77, CC by-sa 4.0  Leonhard Lenz, CC0  Anders Hellberg, CC by-sa 4.0  Martin Hearn, CC by 2.0 

So where are we?

CO2 Emissions (Fossil Fuel and Industry)

Global Carbon Budget 2018

The world is around 1 degree warmer and we're increasingly seeing effects

Heat wave and water shortage in India (May/June)


Heatwave in Europe (June/July)

ESA, CC by-sa 2.0

Wildfires in the arctic circle

Arctic fires in Russia


Greenland is melting much faster than expected

Satellite image Greenland

US Geological Survey and NASA


Paris Agreement (2015)

All nations in the world agreed to 3 degree of global heating

That's probably not the story you heard about the Paris Agreement

Nations agreed to the goal of limiting global temperature rise to "well below 2°C"

"pursuingefforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C"

But there is a problem

They have no plan how to get there

In the Paris Agreement nations commit to so-called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)

Estimates are that if all countries commit to their commitments we would end up with more than 3°C warming

*If* they commit to their NDCs, which many of them don't

Temperature rise

Current (~)1 °C
Paris goal (ambitious)1.5 °C
Paris goal (minimum)2 °C
Paris NDCs3 °C
Current policy3-4 °C (or more)

Donald Trump on Twitter

“I also get a little bit annoyed when we have people in those sorts of countries pointing the finger at Australia and say we should be shutting down all our resources sector so that, you know, they will continue to survive”

Michael McCormack, Deputy Prime Minister of Australia

Guardian, 2019-08-16

On 17th of June 2019 Canada declared a climate emergency

Sounds good, right?

On 18th of June 2019 Canada approved the Trans Mountain Oil pipeline

Howl Arts Collective, Wikimedia Commons, CC by-sa

These are the extremes, but keep in mind that even in countries that commit to climate action, almost nothing meaningful happens

The Science


The IPCC summarizes results from climate science


2018 the IPCC published a special report on 1.5 degree warming

It had two main messages:

  • There's a substantial difference between 1.5 and 2 degree warming
  • 1.5 degree is still doable under optimistic assumptions if the world immediately starts transforming to a low carbon economy

1.5°C or 2°C

Coral Reef

Great Barrier Reef

Fascinating Universe, Wikimedia Commons, CC by-sa 3.0

Coral bleeching

Elapied, Wikimedia Commons, CC by-sa 2.0

How many coral reefs will be destroyed?


Summers with an ice-free Arctic


Sealevel rise by 2100

1.5°C0.40 meters
2.0°C0.46 meters

Population affected by extreme heat

Remember: Currently 3-4°C is much more plausible than 2°C/1.5°C

What's needed for 1.5°C?

Around 50% reduction til 2030, carbon neutral by 2050

Is the IPCC telling the full story?

Please don't take the following as criticism of the scientists in the IPCC, they're doing important work in a difficult situation under constant attack

A lot of scientists are worried that the IPCC is overly conservative

IPCC report (2007) versus measurements

IPCC vs measurements

The Copenhagen Diagnosis

[...] the available evidence suggests that scientists have in fact been conservative in their projections of the impacts of climate change. [...] We suggest, therefore, that scientists are biased not toward alarmism but rather the reverse: toward cautious estimates, where we define caution as erring on the side of less rather than more alarming predictions.

Climate change prediction: Erring on the side of least drama? (Brysse, Oreskes, O'Reilly, Oppenheimer 2013)

What lies beneath?

What lies beneath?

Climate scientists are saying we need to act fast to avoid the worst outcomes of the climate crisis, but we can still do it

They've been saying similar things many years ago

The science didn't get more optimistic, quite the contrary

How's that possible?

Negative emissions

All 1.5°C scenarios and most 2°C scenarios assume negative emissions in the future

Plant trees


Dr. Hans-Peter Ende, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Planting trees is good, but it has limits and competes with other uses of land

We need to talk about Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)

Storing carbon dioxide underground

During the last wave of new coal power plant constructions (2006-2010) in Germany CCS was a common theme in the discussion

"Yeah, coal produces a lot of carbon dioxide, but that's no problem, because we're gonna store it in the future"

That never happened

In Germany carbon dioxide "storage" was very controversial, but similar projects failed in other countries where they were much less controversial

Today there are only a few CCS projects operating, most of them in the context of Enhanced Oil Recovery

When you talk about things like Carbon Capture and Storage there's always a risk that it's gonna be used as an excuse to continue business as usual

But we were talking about negative emissions, not coal plants with fewer emissions

Bio energy and CCS (BECCS)

Use bio energy and capture the emissions

Obviously it comes with all the problems that usually come with bio energy

Land use change can itself be a source of emissions (e.g. turning rainforest into palm oil plantations)

Global heating will threaten food security already, bio energy increases the problem

Direct Air capture

Directly removing carbon dioxide from the air

This is less problematic from a land use perspective

These machines will require energy

For 1.5°C scenarios this could need up to 300 Exajoule per Year

Fasihi, Efimova, Breyer 2019

World electricity consumption is around 75 Exajoule

Optimistic IPCC scenarios rely on technology that largely doesn't exist

Even if the technology works: How do you make that work politically and economically?

Feedback Loops

Probably the most relevant criticism of the IPCC is that they have insufficiently considered the risks of tipping points and feedback loops

When warming causes more warming

Ice is bright, Water is dark

AWeith, Wikimedia Commons, CC by-sa 4.0

Albedo Feedback Loop

Ice reflects part of the sun's energy back.

When the ice melts less energy is reflected, the oceans heat up more.

Plenty of Feedback Loops

  • Melting permafrost releases methane
  • Drying peat bogs
  • Forests burning faster than they regrow
  • Water vapor acts as a greenhouse gas
  • More...

Runaway Climate Change

The "Hothouse Earth" study warns that even with 2°C warming such a scenario can plausibly happen

Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene, many authors, 2018

The Media

It's quite obvious that large parts of the population aren't aware of the real scale and risk of the climate crisis

False Balance

Skeptical Science, CC by-sa 3.0

A recent study analyzed a group of 386 prominent climate scientists and versus a group of 386 prominent "contrarians"

Petersen, Vincent, Westerling 2019

Overall the contrarians had 49% more media visibility, in mainstream sources it was roughly equal

There are a few quesitons about the methodology, but still this is clearly disastrous

Media representation of climate denial is only one problem, another is simply ignoring the topic

A few people in the media get it

Guardian wants to avoid terms like "climate change" and "global warming" and instead use terms like "climate crisis" and "global heating"

Covering Climate Now

Many publications committing to cover the climate story better

(Guardian, CBS, The Nation, ...)

No major publication from Germany supports this yet

What needs to happen?

We need to stop burning fossil fuels, that much is obvious

We need to get rid of this

I don't have a lot of positive messages for you, but here's one:

Building renewable energy is easier than what most people predicted

Roy Bury, Wikimedia Commons, CC0

Auke Hoekstra on Twitter

Changing the electricity sector is very important, but that's the easy part

Some sectors are much harder to decarbonize

Do you know how cement is made?

CaCO3 = CaO + CO2

That is around 5 % of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions

(overall cement emissions are even higher due to energy use)

Cement isn't the only hard problem

  • Airplanes
  • Steel
  • Fertilizer


Can we do something to counteract the warming from the greenhouse effect?

Solar Radiation Management

Ideas go from relatively benign (white roofs) to dangerous (aerosols), some sound a lot like science fiction (mirrors in space)

This isn't widely discussed yet and the IPCC explicitly excludes solar radiation management from its scenarios

Under normal circumstances considering to blast chemicals into the atmosphere sounds really crazy

If we end up in a situation where it's either this or a planet largely uninhabitable we probably need to have that discussion

Is the discussion itself dangerous?

We've seen similar issues with CCS:

Some people may think this is an easy way out and a reason to avoid reducing emissions

Climate Justice

In Brazil and Bolivia the rainforest is burning

This is without a doubt a disaster

Deutsche Welle, 2019-03-25

People from a rich country doing this

complain about poor countries putting economy over ecology

How about this:

Rich countries could pay poor countries to protect the rainforest

Do you know this guy?

Pfedelbacher, Wikimedia Commons, CC by-sa 3.0

In 2007 Ecuador proposed to not exploit the ITT oil field in the Yasuni national park if the world is willing to compensate for half of their income loss

A few countries were willing to support this (France, Spain) and it had some sympathy in Germany even among conservative politicians

Germany pulled out of the project, the responsible minister Dirk Niebel (FDP) preferred "marked-based mechanisms"

The Yasuni-ITT initiative failed in 2013

Rich countries sent a message:

We're not willing to pay for the rainforests

How did this all go so wrong?

We should recognize failure

Nothing that has been done until now had any meaningful impact

This is a failure of climate policy, climate diplomacy and the environmental movement

The actions required to achieve any reasonable goal are not even part of the political discourse

We need to say how bad things are

Takver, Wikimedia Commons, CC by-sa 2.0

I think it's part of them problem that in the past people often tried to give a "hopeful" message, which often is just another form of denial

What can IT/Tech people do?

If you have a good answer I'd like to hear it

For a start I have a few proposals what not to do

Building a libertarian utopia that's based on wasting as much electricity as possible is probably not the best idea

CC0, Jonnymoon96, Wikimedia Commons

If you find a way to kill Bitcoin that would be amazing

What's the tech industry doing?

What do you think this is?

I call this the Google devision for accelerated climate chaos

If you scroll down a bit

Don't be evil

I just picked Google because this web page image was so strange, all large cloud providers have close ties with the oil industry

How Google, Microsoft, and Big Tech Are Automating the Climate Crisis (Gizmodo)

Do you want to join some protest?