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About the editors

  • Ruth Spencer (EJC)
    Ruth Spencer is a journalist, Editor, producer and hails from Montreal, Canada. She has worked for the European Journalism Centre since September 2008 and has edited all three rounds of TH!NK ABOUT IT. She has production experience in print media, theatre and broadcast television. She tweets via @thinkteam and is currently based in Toronto.
  • Guy Degen
    Guy Degen is an Australian freelance journalist and is based in Germany. He travels widely contributing stories to international broadcasters and is regularly commissioned by UN agencies as a multimedia producer. Guy writes for the Frontline Club blog and tweets via @fieldreports. Guy also trains journalists in multimedia skills and mobile journalism.


Climate Change – the ultimate in unsustainable, one-sided and unjust development?

Published 12th April 2010 - 7 comments - 4855 views -

Appropriate Motto? – pictured outside one of the many rounds of climate negotiations in Bonn

An extra 2,000 people converged on Bonn again last week. This “small town in Germany”, as the novelist John le Carré once immortalized it, is the home of the UNFCCC – the unwieldy acronym for the United Nations Climate Secretariat.

It’s time for the next round of haggling over climate change –talks to prepare the talks, to prepare the talks…. and it’s hard to work up a lot of enthusiasm after the Copenhagen debacle and all the negative press the climate scientists are getting (deservedly an undeservedly). No wonder UN climate chief Yvo de Boer is “chucking in the towel” and moving jobs this summer.

Sometimes I think it would take a miracle to achieve a real breakthrough by the big conference” in Mexico at the end of this year. But in general, I’m not given to pessimism, so let’s wish the negotiators plenty of patience and a dose of inspiration.

I read something in “Der Spiegel” recently, one of Germany’s top political magazines, that got me worried. They published a long dossier headlined “Die Wolkenschieber”, or the “Cloudpushers” – a headline I found a little misleading, but that’s another story. The online English-language version has “A Superstorm for Global Warming Research” – much more apt.

There were quite a few things that bothered me in the article, an attempt at a wide-ranging summary of the state of climate science and possible effects – not least the fact that the authors chose to give the last word to German climatologist Hans von Storch, expressing the view that we still have enough time to react because climate change doesn’t happen overnight.

Hm. Really?

The relevant point for this blog, though, is that the authors describe it as a “widespread legend” that only the developing countries, the “poorest of the poor” would have to suffer on account of climate change. Well I could go along with the “only”. But is there anything in the way of radical and possibly rapid changes in temperature or rainfall patterns, not to mention flooding, storms, droughts, landslides, that don’t affect those without the resources to adapt or respond instantly worse than the rest of us? Come on folks, let’s not distract attention from the fact that the industrialized world has used up more than its share of a lot of our natural capital and changed the planet in the process, and let’s not try to opt out of our responsibility to help the rest cope. Sure, there have been a lot of problems with the science, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

Greenland’s massive ice sheet is melting faster than expected, influencing sea level.

One of the climate experts I’ve interviewed a few times is Professor Mojib Latif from the IFM Geomar, or Marine Sciences Department of the University of Kiel in Germany.

When I asked him why he thought people in European countries like Germany or the UK seemed to be becoming less concerned with climate change according to various surveys (Der Spiegel quotes a survey indicating only 42% of Germans questioned were personally afraid of climate change compared to 62 % in 2006), he suggested people were all too keen to find excuses not to do things they don’t really want to do – like reducing their car and plane travel, electricity consumption or generally living a more modest lifestyle. The man is clearly a good observer of human nature as well as one of the country’s top climate experts. If we didn’t feel obliged to mitigate climate change or help the developing world adapt – we might have an easier life.

Amongst the government delegates, business and industry people, ngo reps and researchers who make these regular climate pilgrimages to Bonn are representatives of some of the small island states in danger of disappearing under rising seas. Sitting here in our well-to-do town at the “heart of Europe”,I think we need to offer them something more than a “don’t panic” message and the suggestion that we’ve plenty of time to act.

No delayed action: The Arctic ice is melting - fast.

Irene Quaile is a Scottish-born journalist based in Bonn in Germany.

She works as correspondent on environment, climate change and development issues at Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster. Her work has taken her around the world including Laos, Mongolia, Tanzania, Australia, North America and numerous European countries. Over the past 3 years she’s also been involved in an international media project looking at polar research, and in particular climate research and the effects of climate change on indigenous peoples in the Arctic regions of Europe and North America.

She blogs at


  • Bart Knols on 12th April 2010:

    Thanks Irene. I guess climate change isn’t that much different from malaria: it’s a chronic issue, something that eats away at our planet without massive events that wake us all up. Chronic issues get shoved on the plates of politicians and easily loose interest from the public. Politicians need votes to become re-elected. Now, not in 2030, 2050, or 2100, for which the doom scenarios have been portrayed. I guess much of this has been discussed in TH!NK2, but with TH!NK3 on, who is going back to TH!NK2?

  • Ivan Ralchev on 13th April 2010:

    Hey, Irene. Good article. Truth is that people prefer being ignorant and thus live an easier life. Will it be climate change, polution, human rights or hunger, human behaviour follow the same concept.

  • irene quaile on 13th April 2010:

    The question is – what can we do about it?
    In between times I’m preparing a workshop about the role of the media in communicating the need to take action on climate change. How far can we/ should we go to attract people’s attention? It’s a hard question to answer. In case it interests you or anyone else reading this, climate change and the media – including all kinds of development aspects from water and food security to migration – will be the subject of a conference in Bonn this June. This is the website:

  • Ross Quaile on 13th April 2010:

    I think you’re completely spot on. Unless people can see the damaging effects first hand, or even right in their faces everyday, then they are less likely to change their habits. Everyone has a part to play, and little changes to a lot of people’s lifestyles will make a world of difference.

  • Irene Quaile on 13th April 2010:

    I agree. Climate change, malaria, gender inequality, poor sanitation, water shortages, hunger, are all chronic issues. But we have to keep drawing attention to them, and journalists have the hard task of keeping it interesting. I also feel often that people will only be provoked into action when there’s a huge catastrophe that affects them personally. I certainly take your point about the politicians. I’m currently watching 2 campaigns closely, the UK general election and the one in our German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Ask people what influences their vote and it’s what affects their own future – and their own pocket – directly. The politicians promise them what they want. Improving the lives of people in developing countries doesn’t get a look in. Hardly anybody even mentions climate change or the environment in these parts of the world. As for TH!NK2 and TH!NK3 – I think they’re inextricably linked. Enabling the developing world to adapt to a changing climate is ultimately about combating poverty and inequality. Water and food security relate to both. Last night I heard a tough commentary on German WDR radio. The author went as far as to claim democracy will be at stake around the world if we (and he meant specifically governments at the highest level) do not get to grips with emissions and take action on climate change. Interesting food for thought?

    The question is – what can we do about it?
    In between times I’m preparing a workshop about the role of the media in communicating the need to take action on climate change. How far can we/ should we go to attract people’s attention? It’s a hard question to answer. In case it interests you or anyone else reading this, climate change and the media – including all kinds of development aspects from water and food security to migration – will be the subject of a conference in Bonn this June. This is the website:

  • irene quaile on 14th April 2010:

    Thanks for your comment. I just listened through an interview with Robin Harper, a Green member of the British parliament. When asked why any country should press ahead to make sacrifices to protect the environment or the climate, he says quite simply somebody has to take the first step, and that’s been the case with all the things that change the world. Some people might think that’s stating the obvious, but I find it quite inspiring, and encouraging that there are politicians who think like that.

  • Nina on 14th April 2010:

    Like you I was shocked when I read the SPIEGEL article. It’s a well-known fact that there are lobbyists working on BOTH sides influencing the public discussion about the topic´and I’m surprised to find some people seem to be surprised to find that… Of course we all agree that the scientists should probably have dealt with things slightly more professionally than they did. But: That still doesn’t mean that the IPCC and the rest of them got ALL of it wrong. The threat is still there. I seriously can’t believe we’ve started talking the talk again instead of walking the walk.

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