Humanity has always been exposed to potentially catastrophic risks that might endanger the continued existence of humanity. Asteroid impacts or supervolcano eruptions come to mind. But since about the invention of the atomic bomb, humanity has been able to wipe itself out, adding self-made existential risks to the natural ones. Oxford philosopher Toby Ord argues in his book The Precipice that those risks are much more likely than the natural ones. In this episode we explore this idea with him, and also discuss what we should do about this realization.
An important consequence of the warming of the planet due to climate change is that the frequency and/or severity of extreme weather events will increase. But how can we tell whether a particular event can be attributed to the changing climate? Would it have happened in “normal” climate as well, and if so, how would the event have been different? This aspect of climate science is called attribution science, and the guest of this episode, Friederike Otto is a pioneer in the field.
Earlier this year I visited the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, a European organization that produces global weather forecasts and performs research on how to improve those. The episode has three parts. First, Hilda Carr gives us an overview of the organization, its purpose and its history. Then I talk with Peter Bauer about weather and climate modeling and about encoding these models efficiently in software programs that run on supercomputers. Part three is a conversation with Tony McNally about where the ECMWF gets its data and how it is continuously fed into the “running” model.
I am interested in societal change: how can a complex society with lots of emergent (perhaps unintended) behaviors make a conscious change, such as transitioning to a more sustainable economy? We discussed this from an engineering perspective in the episode on Modeling Socio-Technical Systems, and we’ve looked at it historically in the episode on Societal Complexity and Collapse. In this episode we look at the topic more from the perspective of civil society and politics. Our guest ist Maja Göpel; she heads the German government’s Advisory Council on Global Change and has also written a book called The Great Mindshift on the topic.
During my visit to DLR’s Earth Observation Center earlier this year I also talked to Dana Floricioiu about her work in glaciology. We discuss a couple of her recent publications, and then focus on her trip to the Darwin Glacier in Antarctica. Together with a team of fellow scientists, she camped on the glacier for three weeks to conduct various in-situ experiments. We discussed the work, but also life on the glacier.