Climate Chat Podcast - Episode 1

2021-03-13

FULL TRANSCRIPT

 

Neil: With me today, are the two co-founders of 2°C, Dr. Karsten Shein and Jenny Dissen both experts in their fields with relation to Earth's climate systems. So welcome to both of you. Hi, Karsten. Hi, Jenny. Maybe both of you could introduce yourselves to the listeners and just so that they can understand what your backgrounds are. Karsten maybe we should start with you.

 

Karsten: Sure thing. So I am a applied climatologist really just means that I study not only the variability in the changes in climate, but how they affect ecosystems and communities and other things. And I've been doing this for about 25 years. I got my PhD from Michigan State University in geography and I've worked for NASA and NOAA on many of these problems.

 

Neil: Great. Thank you. How about you, Jenny?

 

Jenny: Yeah, hi. So I'm an environmental systems engineer by academic training, but most recently I've been working in the context of engagement, bringing environmental information to those who can benefit or should be using the data information for improved decision making. I've kind of had an interdisciplinary career, I worked in management consulting in the energy industry, and now I work at a research institute located at NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information.

 

Neil: so, Karsten, you're a climatologist. Maybe you can explain to the listeners what the difference is between weather and climate, because I do hear that question come up quite a lot when I talk to people.

 

Karsten: Sure. And that's an important distinction to make. I mean, we get weather from day to day and some of it is extreme. Some of it is relatively calm, nice days, bad days and such. And that obviously continues weather, no matter what the climate might be doing. And the climate is really sort of like a person's closet filled with clothes. And the weather is the clothes that are being pulled out each day and so on. More scientific sense. Climate is the summary of weather throughout a period of time or space.

 

Neil: Got you. And in your professional opinion, what do you believe the state of the climate is at this time?

 

Karsten: Well, certainly I am in agreement with the consensus of science that the climate is warming on a global scale and weather patterns as a result are shifting. Things are becoming a bit more extreme and variable, and that the climate and the oceans are getting warmer.

 

Neil: OK, and maybe you can elaborate just a bit. I mean, to be sure, how, why do you think that is occurring?

 

Karsten: Well, currently, the change can really be almost singularly attributed to greenhouse gas emissions and are manmade. Things being put into the atmosphere.

 

Neil: Got you, So greenhouse emissions. And in you, I mean, if you keep that in context, how do we transition to a state where that would not be a factor anymore?

 

Karsten: A lot of it has to do with some of the emerging technology and the will of people and innovators everywhere and reducing our dependence on sources of energy that create these greenhouse gases as they are removed from the atmosphere, a lot of what, what has happened very well may reverse itself.

 

Neil: Got you. So, Jenny, in your day job, do you believe that there are some opportunities that line in developing these systems?

 

Jenny: Absolutely, I can say that trained as an engineer academically, you can see the role of temperature, pressure, humidity, all of these climate indicators and variables being used and generally all aspects of engineering calculations, if you think about that and what and how we live our lives across all different sectors of the economy. That basically is my way of saying environmental information is already being used in all aspects of our lives and the economy, and that means that we can also think of ways to improve the use of the data and the information to develop new ways and new sectors. So there is, all sectors of our economy use environmental information, and if we can reshape and rethink the value and the role of the environmental information, the opportunities are in every sector.

 

Neil: Yeah, and you actually touching on the next point there I was to ask you, which is to do with what kind of next steps do you see industry taking?

 

Jenny: You know, there's so much going on at the moment and it varies by industry, so the first thing to mention is the apolitically, the landscape is changing. What that means is the financial sector, the banking, the lending institutions have now this concept called TCFD, which is enabling institutions to think about how environmental data and information factors into ESG goals. And so what that means is, you know, the lending and borrowing and the financing aspects are changing, which means more innovators will be able to come into this equation coming up with new solutions and get the financial backing they need to launch and create startups.

 

Neil:  Got you, and just to clarify the ESG, if you just want to explain that for listeners.

 

Jenny: Yeah, ESG stands for Environmental Sustainable Governance. Some industries and some companies and organization use these ESG goals and targets and metrics to kind of see how are they managing their emissions and what's their decarbonization set of activities, what's their footprint. It evolved in the context of sustainability initiatives in the private sector and industry. So, you know, what I see happening is, one, we have a new industry called climate tech. We have climate and I say climate, but it's really environment because in ocean solutions and the oceans are also starting to become more available. I think the recognition of the issues and the opportunities is starting to be more in the forefront.

 

Neil: OK, great. So, I'd like to change directions a little bit and maybe introduce the listeners to 2°C and you know why we founded this organization. And Jenny, maybe you can help the listeners understand the mission and vision of 2°C.

 

Jenny: Yeah, you know, it's quite simple, it is engaging with outdoor enthusiasts or your everyday individual in collecting data on our planet.

 

Neil: Karsten, this all started with the realization of yours where you realized there were opportunities within scientific datasets. Maybe you can relate that story for listeners.

 

Karsten: Sure, I'd be happy to. You know, this all started a few years ago. I was doing some research on trying to understand the effects of climate change on coral reefs, which is a really hot topic of research activity. But I was trying to look at it from a slightly different perspective and seeing variations in the reefs as a diver, as a scuba diver from one reef stack to the next. And, you know, at that high local scale, it was hard to use these big, broad global climate data sets to understand what was going on there. So I really I just started putting sensors, temperature sensors on the reefs around Little Cayman Island and trying to understand what was going on at a very small scale because we just didn't have the data while I was doing that. All a lot of recreational divers came swimming by and, you know, sort of looking at what I was doing. And I had to go in the evenings after their dinners to explain what I was doing, every last one of them, and said, how can we help? And that's really sort of where this idea was born. If we could develop some sensors that they could wear while they were diving, we can collect data all over the ocean.

 

Neil: Got you. So, taking that in context, how do we effectively use that as an opportunity to advance a positive climate agenda?

 

Karsten: Well, sure. As I said, you know, there are global data sets and they're made up of observations that may be thousands of kilometers apart. So you really can't understand what's going on between those data points. We have massive data gaps in these in these data sets. And so we can really only say paint with a broad brush. This really gives an opportunity to collect data at a hyper-local scale that will really help scientists and resource managers understand what's going on with climate change impacts on their resources, you know, down to, you know, a very small level.

 

Neil: And so why do we have those data gaps?

 

Karsten: Frankly, because it's been horribly expensive to deploy these fixed weather stations around the world. Most of them are located at airports simply because they need to get airplanes on and off the ground, safely. And so we take advantage of that. But establishing additional ones is rather difficult and expensive to do, especially in very remote places.

 

Neil: So, you know, how would we bring it down to a finer scale?

 

Karsten: Certainly, we simply just need data in these places where we don't currently have data, and that's where people come in, people go everywhere, and if they could carry a sensor while they're out enjoying nature, that data then feeds back into these global climate data sets and enhances the resolution.

 

Neil: Got you. And that's how you came up with the concept of the 2°C leaf.

 

Karsten: Absolutely. Small passive sensor that simply can be clipped to a backpack strap or a scuba tank. And while you're out there recreating or walking around your city, you are helping collect the data that is absolutely necessary to address the climate challenges that we face today.

 

Neil: Yeah. And so, Jenny, how do you envision partnerships developing and to what mutual benefit can you see them unfolding?

 

Jenny: Yeah, take, for example, associations, societies, organizations, companies. They all, If they see the role they play in this journey, being the individual or the organization, helping collect the data, then we have scale. We have big scale with lots of diversified locations where individuals or their companies can create programs and support the employees within the organization to just collect the information going about what they like to do for outdoor enthusiasts and outdoor recreation, specifically as they climb a mountain, as they go on a snowshoeing hike or as they bike, they can involve the members of that organization and they can involve the children. Teachers obviously can involve students. So this is, you know we think in our mind this is a simple way to not only engage people, but address the data holes. And if there's one thing we can leave for the future, it is information and knowledge for dislocation at this time, because that is the only opportunity. And if we miss that observation, it is gone, forever. So we think that in order to achieve the scale, it's going to take a lot of partnerships.

 

Neil: Now, the other thing it takes is money. And I know that Karsten spends a tremendous amount of time writing grants. Maybe you can help understand what that process looks like.

 

Karsten: Sure, you know, in my in my career, that's pretty much you do for any hour you spend doing science, you're spending three- or four-hours writing grants. And that's just the nature of, of the of the discipline. And it's no different here with the not for profit is that it takes money to do this, to develop the technology and get it out into the hands of people. So I spend a lot of time writing grants. We've got a couple of grants in right now with partnerships with NASA and with NOAA, the National Science Foundation, all the all the usual grant sources, but also with, you know, looking into private philanthropies that that might be interested in helping us out.

 

Neil: And donations. I know for a fact that we you know, we spend a lot of time pushing out requests for donations on our social media or on our website and you know for those listening, those donations are used 100 percent in the development of this project. And if people would like to donate them and there are opportunities, like I said on the website or via a kindest.com or the experiment.com, and if anybody would actually like to participate in a meaningful a more meaningful level, they could contact us directly. Jenny, looking further down the road, perhaps as far as the next five years, where do you expect to see changes and how do you think that they're going to translate to the to the average guy on the street?

 

Jenny: Well, so a vision we have is, you know, everyone kind of like they have a cell phone or smartphone would have a smart device like ours in addition to their phone, and they take it with them everywhere. So I envision, you know, lots and lots of folks being very interested in being citizen scientists and take ownership of the role they can play in addressing our environmental challenges and opportunities. I see big corporate companies and outdoor recreation enthusiasts and, you know, private companies taking a big stance and role in those because they need the data. They need the science of what's happening in their location for the regions they care about. So in order to get to that outcome, we need the data to be an. Analyzed by experts and research institutions that can understand how climate change is affecting that region, so we could see, you know, public, private and academic and non-profit organizations kind of having a big role. And really what I see is a huge amount of data that it becomes a big data problem or a big data opportunity. So with that, naturally, I see the cloud service providers potentially being interested in taking a big role.

 

Neil: Got you, And Karsten, The 2°C leaf climate sensor and the data that's collected. Where does that data go? And you know, who's going to use that data?

 

Karsten: Sure. So the data, it flows to the cloud servers that we we've stand with where we're standing up and we quality control them, make them anonymous so that users privacy is respected. The people who are collecting the data are not being identified or shared out. And those data that are freely available to the scientific community, to resource managers, to anybody who really needs those data to make science-based sound climate decisions.

 

Neil: Right. And theoretically, then you're taking observations from areas that most likely science has never been. And I am I correct in saying that?

 

Karsten: That is correct. And that certainly do not have climate observations.

 

Jenny: Yeah, but it's not exclusive. So we want to get those areas that have never been measured or never been collected, particularly for those mountainous regions or remote locations or, you know, as we get into the dive side of things, a certain distance off the shore where even the satellite observations can't reach, but it's also to validate the existing data gaps. So let's understand what's happening with the weather and climate a certain distance off the station. That is the official record.

 

Karsten: And also in cities, you know, Urban Heat Island, that those are very important considerations for our health and well-being. Yeah, more data we can have the better.

 

Neil: Yes. Is just as meaningful for the listener in the city. It can have a meaningful effect as well.

 

Neil: So for podcast listeners, we have a newsletter called the 2°C Climate Check, and that goes out once a week and we try to keep it as simple as possible, taking two or three news items from the climate crisis around the world, including a the latest report and sending it out. So just the facts once a week. So if you haven't picked it up yet, stop by a 2°C.org and sign up for newsletter. But in this segment, I'd like to focus maybe just on one or two of the subjects that are in the news this week. The first one tragedy coming out of and out of India, out of northern India with a glacial collapse. And I had a question for Karsten because, you know, maybe, Karsten, you can elaborate a bit on the district stabilization of the planets’, glaciated regions.

 

Karsten: Certainly, you know, just really quickly in that it’s a matter of these glaciers receding and they're really unloading the pressure that's been placed on the underlying rock. And as that pressure is lifted, the rock can start to split apart and collapse in catastrophic ways. In addition to the additional warmth, this is causing more water to be underneath these glaciers. So, you know, anything that does break away can move much more easily.

 

Neil: Got you. And that's because the snowpack is melting and then refreezing and melting and refreezing.

 

Karsten: That's yeah. That's some of the extent of it.

 

Neil: Jenny, I know you've traveled to India quite a lot. Have you seen any particular threats that that that region was facing that is a little different to anywhere else?

 

Jenny: Well, India experiences climate change in so many different ways, you know, they have extreme heat, extreme precipitation, flooding, glacial melt, and when you look into the mountainous regions in the northeastern part of India, there had been a lot of issues and big catastrophic events that have just wreaked havoc and killed millions of people. You know, I think India recognizes that climate change is very real for them. And there are a number of initiatives and research and activities occurring as we speak. The government of India is taking big strides and big investments, not only in climate modeling, but working with what they call their state action plans and working on how to build adaptation and resilience plans. But you would argue that one thing that they could benefit from is more higher resolution data and information. So that can enable high resolution planning, understanding. And so if you get into the mountainous regions, there's certainly a need for hyper local specific information. And so, in a sense, we aspire that perhaps there's interest in citizen science taking room from those observations.

 

Neil: There was something else I picked up in the news this week. It had to do with the rising sea levels impacting airports and making airport runways unusable and actually saw two different articles related to that. Karsten maybe you can explain the mechanics behind sea level rise.

 

Karsten: Sure. Yeah. And as a pilot, that's a that's a big concern of mine. And for a lot of a lot of the aviation community, many of the world's airports are built on the flat land that's right along the coast, lies at very low levels. But sea level rise is predominantly an effect of the warming of the ocean water. And when something warms up, it tends to expand. And since it can't expand downward into the ocean, basin expands upward. So, the sea level overall rises. And when you combine that with a high tide and the storm surge that that rolls in, it can easily inundate the low-lying areas of an airport, as many of these airports have seen in the recent years.

 

Neil: And if we maybe expand that thought out just a little bit, what are the main factors that are driving that sea level rise?

 

Karsten: So, melt off of continental glaciers such as the Greenland ice cap and the Antarctic ice cap, that's adding water to the to the oceans, but again, the primary mechanism is simply that the water, as it warms, it expands.

 

Neil: Well, guys, thanks very much for coming in today. I always learn so much when I speak to both of you. For you guys listening, this is Season one and episode one. And we have a great season lined up of guests that will be interviewing. So please join us again. We're going to be talking to some scientists straight out of the field and who are documenting climate change as it happens, as well as adventurers who are seeing climate change firsthand, as well as stakeholders from industry who are addressing innovation. So please join us again for the 2°C Climate Chat.