Note that this does not mean he thinks irrevocable change isn't already happening, or that we shouldn't do anything.
SPIEGEL: What's wrong with reducing CO2 emissions?
Storch: It is in fact necessary to reduce CO2 emissions. There is no reason why we shouldn't spend our vacations on (the North Sea island of) Sylt instead of in the Seychelles, or drive more economical cars -- for the sake of preserving increasingly scarce resources if nothing else. But that won't enable us to stop climate change. As long as China, India and the United States continue the way they have been, what we Germans do is more or less irrelevant.
SPIEGEL: Is it even possible to prevent global warming at this point?
Storch: No. Because of the inherent time lag in the climate system, the greenhouse gases that have already been pumped into the atmosphere will undoubtedly lead to a certain increase in temperature in the coming decades. We can no longer completely avoid anthropogenic climate change. At best, limiting the temperature rise to two degrees is just about possible, according to optimistic estimates. That's why we should spend more time talking about adjusting to the inevitable and not about reducing CO2 emissions. We have to take away people's fear of climate change.
SPIEGEL: But many believe that the end of the world is upon us. Is the climate debate gradually becoming too hysterical?
Storch: Indeed. The fear of climatic catastrophes is an ancient one and not unlike our fear of strangers. In the past, people believed that the climate almost always changes for the worse, and only rarely for the better -- God's punishment for sinful behavior. And nowadays it's those hedonistic wastrels who pollute the air so that they can look at some pretty fish in the South Seas. It would be better if we only ever rode bikes. Oh, there's always someone wagging a finger in disapproval.
SPIEGEL: Are there only negative consequences when the temperature increases by two or three degrees on the planet?
Storch: Detailed forecasts are not possible, because we don't know how emissions will in fact develop. We climate researchers can only offer possible scenarios. In other words, things could end up being completely different. But there are undoubtedly parts of the world that will benefit on balance from climate change. Those areas tend to be in the north, where it has been cold and uncomfortable in the past. But it's considered practically heretical to even raise such issues.
...SPIEGEL: Why is it such a taboo to ask about the positive effects of climate change?
Storch: The reasons are likely rooted in religion. Playing around with God's creation is simply not allowed. Incidentally, in the past it was precisely the deeply religious people who said: Of course we're playing with God's creation, in fact we're perfecting it. This sort of thinking is frowned upon today.
SPIEGEL: Aren't climate researchers helping fuel a state of panic with their generally bleak warnings?
Storch: Unfortunately many scientists see themselves too much as priests whose job it is to preach moralistic sermons to people. This is another legacy of the 1968 generation, which I happen to belong to myself. In fact, it would be better if we just presented the facts and scenarios dispassionately -- and then society can decide for itself what it wants to do to influence climate change.
Hans von Storch, 57, is the director of the GKSS Institute for Coastal Research in Geesthacht, Germany. A mathematician and meteorologist, Storch is one of the world's leading climate experts and has been involved in evaluating computer models of global warming.
Also from the Spiegel, the bottom line, which is also what Storch is saying: the U.S. needs to get with the European program. "Trans-Atlantic Thinkers: The Decarbonization Challenge"
A serious breach between Europe and America is the deep-seated difference over facing up to global warming. But after years of dragging their feet, 2007 is likely to be seen as the year when Americans finally made up their mind that global warming required action. That is a huge opportunity for the transatlantic relationship.
Climate change is a critical issue for this partnership because action to avoid its most catastrophic consequences requires that the Western industrial pattern, now imitated or imposed in virtually every part of the globe, undergo a carefully managed transition to a low-carbon economy.
The transatlantic relationship is not over, as has sometimes been suggested in recent years -- but it has changed. There is still consensus in Europe and the US that the urgent global challenges confronting us today can only be met in a joint effort. The goal is to identify specific fields for strategic cooperation and formulate effective and coherent policy options toward them. Germany's Bertelsmann Stiftung aims to help in this process. The new series "Transatlantic Thinkers" provides a fresh perspective on these opportunities, touching upon topics such as energy security, climate change, civil liberties in an age of terror, trade and many others. The series is planned as part of the run- up to the annual "Brussels Forum" in April.
Europe has been the de facto global leader on this issue for the past decade. The European Trading System (ETS) inaugurated in 2005 has revealed some design weaknesses during its announced "learning period," but remains the world's first and only carbon trading system. Europeans now have a chance to strengthen its second phase beginning in 2008.
But removing the biggest obstacle on the road to a global system of carbon limits requires that the United States pass a national carbon cap-and-trade system, without "escape hatches" or other vitiating gimmicks. It must then join Europe's dialogue with China and the other giant economies of the South to build a bridge over which the US, China, Brazil, India and others can walk to join the young international regime of carbon limits. This new and truly global system should succeed the Kyoto Protocol in the year 2012.
We present here a list of policies that Europe should consider while it is waiting to see if the US will enact a carbon cap....
Meanwhile, this very weekend, environment ministers from the G8 as well as from China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa met to talk seriously about minimizing climate change and its impact (story here):
All together, some two-thirds of all carbon dioxide emissions were represented at the dinner table.
Host Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's environment minister, is hoping to use Germany's G8 presidency -- combined with the recent European Union pledge to reduce CO2 emissions by 20 percent in 13 years -- to convince many of the world's largest polluters to do likewise. It was the first time that developing countries had been invited to such a G8 meeting, and the message was clear.
"International climate negotiations badly need political momentum," Gabriel said prior to the beginning of the meeting on Thursday evening. "That's the only way we can meet this century's greatest challenge."