Climate Threats and Change

Patrik Engellau (P.E.) from Det Goda Samhället interviews Lennart Bengtsson (L.B.) about climate threats and climate change.
The full length video interview (40 minutes) can be watched here.
A shortened version (9 minutes) can be watched at DGS-TV Abstracts

Lennart Bengtsson has been manager for the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecast during 16 years in England. After that director of MAX Planck Institute for Meteorology. He has worked with climate models as researcher at a university in England and set up an institute for space science in Bern

An English transcription of the short version follows below.

P.E. Welcome to GDS TV. My name is Patrik Engellau (P.E.) and here we shall learn to understand a little better about climate threats, how it really is regarding carbon dioxide and all that. To our help we have today Lennart Bengtsson (L.B.)
You, Lennart, have been working with meteorology and climate research in all your life. You have been manager for the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecast during 16 years in England. Then you became director of MAX Planck Institute for Meteorology, which is an outstanding merit. You have worked with climate models as researcher at a university in England. You have set up an institute for space science in Bern.
L.B. I became interested in because it was nice when the autumn ended and the winter came. It was thrilling when there were winter storms. I began to think about why the weather was so badly predicted. The weather could be predicted at most a day or so in advance.
P.E. The greenhouse effect, this is what we are talking about. Does it exist?
L.B. Yes, it is a reality. This has been known since the middle of 19th century. The reason is simply that certain gases in the atmosphere like carbon dioxide, methane has the possibility to absorb and influence the heat radiation the earth releases. I can show this illustration showing how this balance works. The radiation that comes from the sun and not reflected by the clouds must be returned. But when it radiates from the earth surface it is absorbed by these gases.
P.E. And what is the result?
L.B. It has meant that the earth´s temperature has risen with one centigrade since the beginning of the 19th century. It is above all the carbon dioxide that accounts for two thirds of this effect. And then there are methane and nitrogen oxide (NOx) etc. This effect is not only dependent on the amount of greenhouse gases but also on the fact that these molecules cannot absorb equally effective at high concentrations.
The problem is the large needs for energy we have here on earth. In total the population in earth has increased 7 times the last 200 years but the energy need per person has increased a factor 4.
There are large possibilities to solve a part of the energy problem.
Nuclear energy is a source which is very beneficial. The Swedish situation is very beneficial from two reasons. We have favourable opportunities through hydropower and at the same time and for a long time we have had politicians and a civil society that has made sensible decisions.
P.E. Has the environmental politicians and the environmental movement contributed to wise decisions?
L.B. It has certainly contributed but the important decisions were taken before we had any active environmental movement.
P.E. What decisions do you think about?
L.B. The expansion of hydro power has been very exemplary and the expansion of nuclear power has also been exemplary and it has worked very well and still is. At the same time a electricity power system that can distribute the energy efficiently.
A particular factor is the expansion of heat pumps, which has happened in the silence. The energy savings as a consequence of that is of the same order as or even bigger that the contribution from wind power.
P.E. The contribution that comes from wind power is as large or comparable as the contribution from the heats pumps?
L.B. Yes.
P.E. In the debate it is rarely heard that the heat pumps should be anything remarkable.
L.B. No. This is something that has happened in the silence. It is nothing that has been subsidized. It is something that has developed naturally and here is Sweden exceptional in many ways.
If I had the possibility to advice then we should invest more in the development of nuclear power. Not the nuclear power we have today but the one that is under development where one investigates to use the nuclear waste.
L.B. When an opinion is established in a large group it is very difficult to change it. Consensus is something that has been pushed hard. I think it is important to abandon this (consensus) in one way or the other because the occurrence of divergent opinions is also a signal.
P.E. The science is settled. Everything is definite. We know precisely what is happening. A group of researchers is in agreement that the climate problem is acute and must be solved here and now. The ones that believes differently are agent of the oil industry. Is it so?
L.B. Yes. This is the picture that has been put forward.
P.E. But what is the reality?
L.B. The reality is actually completely different. The problem is if you have created a situation with people that express a deviating or changing opinions and critical view on a particular question feel strongly opposed by the majority then the natural consequence is that they keep a low profile. This affects research. Many politicians want to have a feeling that they control and set with reality and do everything so the citizens shall have is as good as possible and they believe they shall tell the creative researchers to do this and this and this. But is does not work and much of what is happening in science is often not planned. Suddenly someone thinks of something. The scientific freedom, the creative aspects of science is inevitable. There are many scientific questions where there are open issues but that does not mean one shall refrain from doing something about it.
One must make it clear that from the Swedish side that Sweden can make it relatively simple and the contribution is of course very small depending on the situation. The problem is with the larger countries and countries that have no simple possibilities to manage this.
P.E. Then we should make an effort.
This will be all for today. It have been very interesting and very exciting. Thank you!