Science or politics: what can truly tackle climate change?

On 29 January, acclaimed voice in climate policy, Dr. Lesley Sloss, gave the talk: Science or Politics: what can truly tackle climate change? Organised by the University of Edinburgh International Development Society, the talk brought a full house, with students waiting outside of the theatre, eventually completely filling the room. 

Many people in the audience could be seen with their notepads out as Dr. Sloss, who has also completed work with the United Nations, began speaking. 

Dr. Sloss framed her talk around the ‘energy trilemma’, a concept focusing on the competing interests of energy security, environmental concerns, and energy cost. She addressed a future ideal held of climate change — one with all renewable energy — and cautioned that renewable energy is both expensive and unpredictable. Because solar and wind energy both depend on uncontrollable weather conditions, it isn’t easy to rely solely on these sources for a steady outpour of energy. Aside from the unpredictability, energy storage is also expensive. Luckily, she pointed out, renewable energy is getting cheaper. 

She discussed the dichotomy between hopefulness and reality. Sloss maintained a humorous tone while noting that despite Germany now being 40% renewable, they have seen no reduction in their greenhouse gas output.

Germany has been very ambitious about renewable energy, aiming to be 80% renewable by 2050.  

The next major trouble Dr. Sloss discussed was the affordability of energy, with many people in the UK today still living in energy poverty. There is also an existing ethical debate around the energy usage of developing countries. As the UK and other, more developed, countries have had their own industrial revolution, it is troublesome for them to deny the same to developing countries now that their own success has been secured. Despite this, the WTO refuses to fund any coal plants in developing countries, which Dr. Sloss argues will lead these countries to build cheaper, dirtier plants. 

Another solution Dr. Sloss sees going forward is the potential of clean coal technology. At its worst, she argues, this could be a stepping stone to face out coal. At best, a viable option for future energy. Currently in China, zero emission coal processing is an area of intense research.

Ending on a hopeful note, Dr. Sloss sees potential in behavioural changes on the community level, pushing people to be more conscious of their energy consumption. 

“Environment should not be a political stance,” and “behavioural changes are possible if everybody commits.” By this outlook, the individual holds more power in the future of climate change. 

After finishing her presentation, Dr. Sloss opened the floor to Q&A. Questions, asked via the Slido app, were variable in quality, but Dr. Sloss responded thoughtfully and openly to all that she could in the time she had. On February 7th, the International Development Society will be holding another talk, this time from Nida Alahamad, titled Post-Daesh Iraq: Challenges of State Building.

 

Photo: Eoghan Olionnain via Flickr

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