"We need to start thinking differently about the climate problem"

Published on
October 8, 2018

For Wouter Peters, professor of Meteorology and Air Quality and speaker at the Symposium “Earth Futures” on 19 October, the physical story is clear: human beings have a drastic impact on the climate. However, technical adaptation calls for social adaptation: "If we do not change our point of view, we have a long way to go."

What is your perspective on the theme “Earth Futures”?
I work with numbers and the numbers do not lie: the human impact on the climate is so enormous that we are changing the whole system. I am noticing that this view is becoming more and more accepted in our society. Before, I would be asked at parties whether human-influenced climate change existed, now I’m asked what the consequences will be and, above all, what action we can take. I am seeing that the physical uncertainties are decreasing, but the social ones are increasing at the same time.

The symposium will highlight both the physical and the social side: what are your thoughts about them? I will be on the edge of my seat during the social sciences sessions. They are very different from my daily work, but I think they are becoming increasingly important to the climate discussion. The differences between rich and poor are only made worse by climate change. The technical adaptations are not the problem in Netherlands, but we do not have a good idea of what the necessary social adaptations are. We know how to build dikes to stop the water, but they do not stop climate refugees. Unless there is a joint effort by all countries simultaneously, we will have to deal with the social consequences.

How should we tackle climate change in the future?
I think it is essential to change our view as a society; if we don’t, we have a long way to go. It is no longer about money or about whether we do something or not. The choice is whether we do it well now or deal with consequences later. An extensive long-term view is essential here: longer than is used in climate tables and by the government at the moment.

What is the main reason for people to come to the symposium? The combination of variety and the specialisations of the speakers is not something you can see in many other places in Netherlands. I look forward to the bridges that can be built between the disciplines and the questions that arise as a result in order to be a small step closer to solving the climate problem.

The "Earth Futures" symposium will take place on 19 October. Researchers from inside and outside of WUR will come together to discuss changes in the global systems, from both a natural sciences and social sciences perspective. Click here for more information and registration.