Tag Archives: Climate

World must adapt to climate change, says IPCC

By Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs

The world is ill prepared for an unknown climate future and must adapt to meet the challenges, according to a report issued today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Yokohama, Japan. You can read the press summary of the UN agency’s report here and the full report here, written by 309 authors and editors drawn from 70 countries.

Today’s report, which focuses on how there will be sweeping consequences to life and livelihood, and how to adapt to them, is the second of three in the IPCC’s fifth assessment of climate change.

The first instalment, released last year, covered the physical science of climate change.  The third, on how to cut emissions that drive climate change, comes out in April.

At the Science Museum, you can keep up to date with the issues surrounding climate change through a series of exhibitions, artworks and educational activities. Our interactive Atmosphere gallery, encourages visitors to learn about the work of early pioneers such as John Tyndall, uncover the secrets of ice cores and stalagmites, and wonder at the latest ideas for a low-carbon life. You can also play a climate themed computer game called Rizk.

To see how fiction has been inspired by climate change, download the Museum’s first novel, Shackleton’s Man Goes South, by Tony White. You can also discover the beauty, value and volume of ‘rubbish’ we produce in an upcoming exhibition, The Rubbish Collection – which will trace the journey of waste generated by staff and visitors to the Museum over a 30 day period.

James Lovelock in his laboratory.

James Lovelock in his laboratory.

Next week we will celebrate the life and 70 year career of James Lovelock – one of Britain’s most important living scientists, with an exhibition, Unlocking Lovelock: Scientist, Inventor, Maverick. The exhibition will feature highlights from a remarkable archive of images, manuscripts and audio-visual material acquired by the Museum in 2012 – providing visitors with a glimpse into life in Lovelock’s laboratory and his creative mind and charismatic personality.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee will publish a report on the public understanding of climate change later this week after holding a hearing in the Museum last year.

Reflections on the latest climate change report

Howard Covington and Prof. Chris Rapley reflect on the latest climate change report.

In 2010, the Science Museum opened atmosphere, a gallery exploring climate science. Three years on and the Museum is a partner in a commercial venture to build the UK’s largest solar farm on a disused airfield it owns near Swindon. The project will eventually generate 40mw of electricity, enough for 12,000 homes.

Atmosphere gallery at the Science Museum.

The Atmosphere gallery at the Science Museum.

Here in microcosm is what is taking place in countries around the world as our understanding of the threat of climate change deepens and slowly prompts action to transform the energy infrastructure on which we rely. Are the many piecemeal actions of this kind enough to leave us feeling confident?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has recently confirmed the likely consequences of continuing to pump greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. As a global community, we are about as well informed on climate science as we might hope to be. But the uncertainties that surround climate change still leave us guessing where things are likely to come out.

There are three big uncertainties. The first is how fast humanity will cut carbon emissions. For the moment, we are on track to double atmospheric carbon dioxide by some point in the second half of the century. The second is how the climate will respond. A widely used indicator is the change in global average surface temperature when carbon dioxide concentration doubles. The best estimate is in the range 1.5 to 4.5 degrees centigrade. The third uncertainty is the impact of such a change on future human wellbeing and the material damages it might cause.

In the absence of stronger action than is currently evident there is a finite risk that we could hit 4 degrees of warming in the second half of the century, with the possibility of amplifying feedbacks locking in further temperature increasing processes over which we would have no control. The resulting climate changes would play out over centuries and millennia, producing permanent climate instabilities and shifts not experienced over human history.

Risk could be reduced by policy changes among the principal emitters. By far the simplest action would be an agreed price for carbon emissions to accelerate the piecemeal transformation of energy infrastructure already underway. We might also get lucky if it turns out that the response of the climate to emissions lies at the lower end of the range. We should know where we stand in the next few decades. Meanwhile we might reasonably spend a moment on the implications of a 4 degree world.

Here we are again beset with uncertainty. We don’t know with precision how fast polar ice sheets will disintegrate and sea level will rise. Nor do we know how climatic zones may shift or how higher average temperatures and rainfall will combine with more frequent weather extremes and changing weather patterns to disrupt water supplies and agriculture.

The pattern of cereal production could be significantly affected. Cereal demand may double by 2050 in response to population increases and changes in food preferences. This demand might be met by improved technology and waste elimination. Weather extremes and instability at 4 degrees may cut crop yields significantly, creating a further gap to be filled, perhaps by genetically improved robustness and the cultivation of newly productive northern lands.

Geo-engineering might provide a temporary window of opportunity for a crash programme to decarbonise economies and sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide, although with a substantial risk of unintended and unwelcome consequences. On the other hand we might have to cope with disruption triggered by populations seeking to move from areas rendered inhospitable by inundations, floods, drought, extreme temperatures, fires and local shortages of food and water.

How all of this will play out is clearly impossible to say. Optimists believe that with luck, free markets and technological ingenuity we could rise to a 4 degree challenge if we can’t avoid it altogether. Pessimists argue that 4 degrees is beyond adaptation and may lead to a period of dislocation. Either way our lives are likely to be transformed in the next few decades as we thoughtfully re-engineer food and energy production and relocate climate migrants or rather more chaotically seek to respond to the multiple pressures of population growth, energy needs and climate disruption.

The UK is relatively small, open and unprotected and may not do well in the face of climate disruption. On the other hand it is highly creative and nurtures much scientific and technological talent. Its leading universities are rich in individuals and teams who understand the technologies of a low carbon future. It has an opportunity to lead an industrial revolution that is poised to happen. The case for maximising long-term value and reducing risk by seizing this opportunity is powerful.

Preventing dangerous climate change is principally a matter for the world’s largest emitters. The UK, however, has set an example by adopting tough emissions targets and by using its international influence and scientific strength for the good. It should continue to advance policies that spur a new industrial revolution from which it could benefit greatly, while heading off a climate transition that it may struggle to cope with.

The Science Museum is one of the world’s finest institutions in which to explore the history of science and technology. It is greatly to its credit that it is not only informing its visitors about the climate challenges ahead but also playing its part in dealing with them.

Howard Covington is a trustee of the Science Museum. Chris Rapley is Professor of Climate Science at University College London and a former director of the Science Museum.

Westminster comes to the Science Museum

Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum Group, writes about bringing Westminster to the Science Museum.

The Science Museum witnessed democracy in action this morning when it hosted a meeting of one of the committees used by the House of Commons to provide a means of impartial, systematic scrutiny of government.

Science and Technology Select Committee taking evidence at the Science Museum

Science and Technology Select Committee taking evidence at the Science Museum

The chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee, Andrew Miller MP, has held evidence sessions outside Westminster, notably in Sheffield for its “bridging the valley of death” inquiry into the commercialisation of research and one in Falmouth to take evidence for its inquiry into marine science, so more people can attend without the need to travel to London.

The Committee now wants to uncover what the public understand about climate, where they look for their information and how their understanding may impact policy.

Today Mr Miller and fellow MPs convened in the Atmosphere gallery of the museum – which has explained climate science to more than 1.7 million visitors since it opened in 2010 – to take evidence as part of its inquiry into Climate: Public understanding and policy implications.

‘This is a first,’ said Miller, referring to how the museum is an appropriate location for the inquiry, given its efforts to communicate climate science to a broad audience. The Science Museum has more than three million visitors each year, 37% which are children aged 15 or under.

Among the witnesses was former Science Museum director, Professor Chris Rapley, now of University College London, and Dr Alex Burch, the museum’s Director of Learning.

‘For our visitors, this subject is complex, with an emotional element, and can be overwhelming,’ said Dr Burch.

Former Science Museum director, Professor Chris Rapley, and Dr Alex Burch, Director of Learning giving evidence to the Select Committee

Former Science Museum director, Professor Chris Rapley (r), and Dr Alex Burch, Director of Learning (centre), giving evidence to the Select Committee

Dr Burch explained that ’Various lines of research, for instance at the museum, suggest that for many people climate change was something that happened elsewhere, to other people and in the future.’ 

The Atmosphere gallery, which has a carefully designed narrative, has been visited by leading figures, including Al Gore, the Chinese Ambassador, and a delegation of MPs from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Prof Rapley called the gallery ‘atmospheric’ and ‘unique’ and said it is aimed at everyone, not just the converted, so they can make up their own minds. ‘It is not the job of the museum to tell people what to think.’

In evaluation surveys, visitors described the gallery as ‘interesting’ (88% of surveyed visitors), ‘enjoyable’ (79%) and ‘educational’ (76%).

To accompany Atmosphere, the museum launched a three-year programme of schools outreach around climate science in 2010 with the National Railway Museum in York, Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, At-Bristol science centre and the Catalyst Science Discovery Centre in Runcorn, which has engaged 3,193 secondary-school students with issues of climate science and its communication, notably through a magazine called Atmos.

The museum has also undertaken more unusual initiatives: an online education game about risk management, RIZK, which has been played 3.3m times since launch; A Cockroach Tour of the Science Museum, a participative art piece by Danish collective Superflex, where visitors explore the Museum and human history and society from the perspective of cockroaches; and Tony White’s e-novel Shackleton’s Man Goes South. White was present at today’s hearing in the gallery, which features his book.

The museum’s qualitative research with adult visitors suggests that understanding of climate science is patchy and disconnected, findings backed by other research, such as a nationwide survey conducted a decade ago by the Economic and Social Research Council which showed, for example, that 44 per cent of the public believe (wrongly) that nuclear power directly contributes to climate change.

Research suggests that while the public generally trust scientists as a source of information about climate change, there is evidence that negative stereotypes of scientists (such as poor communication skills and remoteness) hamper direct public engagement with researchers.

Research indicates an important role for trusted institutions such as the Science Museum that occupy the interface between the scientific community and the public. ‘We are trusted by the public, and by scientists,’ said Dr Burch.

In recognition of hypocrisy as another potential barrier to trust among the public, the Museum undertook various measures during the development of Atmosphere, which include employing a Sustainability Consultant, and setting up a Working Group that reduced the organisation’s carbon footprint by 17% between 2009 and 2010.

The Science Museum Group’s new Hemcrete storage facility at its Wroughton site recently won a Museum and Heritage’s Sustainability award and the Best Workplace New Build category at the Greenbuild Awards.

The Group also aims to generate energy both for our own use, and to send it to the grid. An example of this is the proposed 40MW solar array at the Wroughton site which will provide electricity for around 12,000 homes.

The Pavegen dance floor, used to generate electricity from movement

Climate Change Lates

The unpredictable British weather has had a big impact on our lives already this year. So, as we emerge from the April showers, what better theme for a Lates evening is there than the science of climate change?

Join us for a fun and thought-provoking evening where we take a closer look at the new technologies being pioneered to help solve some of the most pressing climate related issues that affect our daily lives.

How do we meet the demand of a growing population and the expansion of our cities? Ian Bowman, Head of Sustainability UK and NW Europe, Siemens looks at how new technology is the key to meeting these challenges and offers up solutions which have minimum ecological impact such as the use of wind power technology, electric vehicles and hybrid transport and more eco-friendly healthcare systems. For more examples of eco-engineering you can check out the hydrogen fuel cell car which is on display in our Atmosphere gallery.

Original equipment used by Charles Keeling to sample carbon dioxide levels in the air on display in the Atmosphere gallery.

Original equipment used by Charles Keeling to sample carbon dioxide levels in the air on display in the Atmosphere gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Great London Flood. Some experts think that the increased risk of flooding from climate change may render the Thames Barrier redundant by the middle of the century. So how will London be protected? Meet Tim Reeder, Regional Climate Change Programme Manager at the Environment Agency who will talk about the challenge of planning for sea level rise in London and how the Thames Estuary 2100 plan is going to tackle it.

Imagine if your night in a club or walk to work could power the lights for your journey home. Test out your moves in the Energy Dance-off, which features an incredible energy harvesting dance floor from Pavegen that converts the kinetic energy of your dance steps into electricity, powering a reactive light installation.

The Pavegen dance floor.

The Pavegen dance floor. Image credit: Pavegen

Already used by runners at this year’s Paris Marathon, every impact on a Pavegen tile generates between 4 and 8 joules of electrical energy, power that would otherwise have gone to waste. You can also follow the dance floor on twitter to see just how much energy Lates visitors generate.

Throughout the evening you can have fun with the Climate Playground and try your hand at some old-school kids’ games and indulge in all the usual Lates activities such as the Silent Disco, Pub Quiz and Launchpad gallery.

Entry to Lates is FREE and open to anyone over the age of 18. Can’t get to London on Wednesday? You can also follow Lates via @sciencemuseum & #smLates