Auke has also ‘dutifully sat down and read’ the new IPCC report on climate change. Admittedly, he did not have time for all four thousand pages – which summarize and analyze no less than fourteen thousand new scientific studies on the climate. He did, however, read the summary for policymakers and follows all sorts of Twitter threads. “People who know a whole lot more about it than I do,” he says.

The tone of the report is an alarmist one, and several news media outlets also headlined screaming blue murder. Only drastic measures can still prevent us from suffering extreme weather conditions due to climate change. “What about code red for humanity?” Auke says referring to the various news reports. This ‘armageddon porn’ as he calls it, doesn’t make any sense. With a flair for exaggeration: “Oh panic! All kinds of terrible things could happen!”

But in a lot of reports, according to Auke, you cannot find out at all how likely it is that all these ‘terrible things’ will actually happen and how long they will take. “That is left out. Bad news simply scores points. It’s a perverse incentive. But because of this, there are a lot of people who have a gloomy view of the future. They no longer want to have children or have the idea that nothing can be done anymore about global warming.”

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People are responsible for global warming

Auke visibly winds himself up and waves his arms around. “Hello?! – Do you know how bad it is that people are getting depressed about this? They really think that civilization is coming to an end. When that’s not true at all! This report leaves no room for doubt. We are responsible for global warming. There is no doubt about that. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing more we can do.”

Despite all the ominous news reports surrounding the IPCC report, Auke sees plenty of positive aspects to take on board. But at the same time, he also refrains from being overly optimistic. “It’s really not that I’m shouting ‘we’ve got this!’ We’re not there yet by a long shot. But since the last report some six to seven years ago, a lot has changed. Moreover, we know a great deal more.”

Using his fingers, Auke sums up. “That we, as humanity, managed to get such a large group of scientists to work on the same subject at all, I think is pretty cool. This commission is endorsed by a lot of countries around the world. The realization that something has to be done has finally sunk in. It’s also remarkable that you are seeing fewer and fewer reports from denialists.”

Slim chance of apocalyptic doomsday scenario becoming reality

And there is more. Because the report considers the chances of the business-as-usual scenario becoming a reality to be slim. The what scenario?!? Here, scientists assume that the earth will warm up by almost 6 degrees – partly due to an increase in the use of coal. Auke explained earlier why this is nonsense. “That the IPCC now says it is very unlikely that this will really happen is good news. There was a lot of criticism about this from the beginning. How is it possible that we are going to use more coal in the coming years? That discussion distracts from what this is really about.”

We now know that in England and the United States, the use of coal has been dropping significantly over recent years. “Here in the Netherlands, we are also closing coal plants and in Germany they are allocating more than 4 billion euros to that purpose. Furthermore, the use of coal in China and India is rising much less quickly than predicted. This is partly due to the fact that solar panels and other sustainable alternatives are becoming more affordable,” explains Auke.

“I like the fact that they now are indicating that we will probably be spared this apocalyptic doomsday scenario. It shows that we do have some influence. The climate is still heading in the wrong direction. But the things that we are doing are having an effect. We drive electrically more often and use more green electricity. This reduces emissions. What’s more, sustainable technology is becoming cheaper, which in turn lowers the threshold for using it somewhere else.”

Not the end of humanity

Auke suddenly looks pensive. He does not want to trivialize the problems. “In the future we will experience more frequent heat waves and heavier rain storms. A lot of people will suffer from this. That is really bad. It will also be some time before we stop using coal altogether. That’s just going to continue to be stoked for the time being.”

But it is far from a lost battle, emphasizes Auke. “It’s not a sprint, but a marathon. Average scenarios assume a half meter rise in sea levels in 2100. It’s not like we will suddenly have wet feet tomorrow. We can prepare for it now. Are we too late to prevent 1.5 degrees of global warming? Absolutely, that is a foregone conclusion. But humanity is not lost. Yes, we are definitely going to feel the effects of climate change. But we are not all going to suddenly die. So, above all, let’s work to limit or mitigate the damage as much as we possibly can.”

Generation of smart young people who want to do things differently

Auke himself predicts that it is possible to reach a temperature increase of 3 degrees by 2100. Also one of the scenarios in the IPCC report. “But if we tackle the climate like corona – look how quickly the vaccines were developed – it is also possible to go under 2 degrees. Let’s go for it.”

What also helps with this, he says, is the young generation of smart people who want to do things differently. They want to work towards making the world a better place. “30 years ago, they could have cashed in big time, like the bright minds of the time did,” he says. Cynically, “We can thank them for the financial crisis.” This generation is doing things differently, and that makes Auke hopeful. “Look how many people are working on cultured meat or the energy transition. I know people in quantum mechanics – then you are officially brainy – who are now working on the energy transition. They think the climate is more important and want to contribute something.”

Auke smiles: “Look at me – not that I’m incredibly smart – but I wanted to do something useful for the world. That’s how I got into electric vehicles. And there are plenty of others too. People who, like me, have changed course to make the world a better place. All these people together make a pretty big difference.”

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About the author

Author profile picture Milan Lenters is a writer and editor. Through IO, he got to know his native city Eindhoven in a different way and sometimes looks with amazement at the many stories that lie ahead.