oikos Vienna

students for sustainable economics and management

Talking about the weather…

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Sometime during the last covid-19 lockdown in Austria I noticed that all people were talking about was the weather. Austrians generally love to complain about the weather, but the intensity of the daily weather analysis seemed to be accelerating at high speed. Whenever someone called me or I called someone, one of the first phrases was weather related. It made sense, since “What have you been up to?” or “Any news?” weren’t promising small talk questions anymore.

I remember the first wave of summer heat kicking in early that spring. After months of sitting in our apartments in the winter darkness, sunshine and warmth were a great relief. Since there weren’t many hobby options available, I noticed how much joy eating my breakfast on a park bench in the sun brought me. And I wasn’t the only one. When there was nothing else to do, the park some blocks from my apartment was flooded with people. Not long until it got hard to find a free park bench to eat my breakfast at. For the first time I felt how much influence the weather has on my happiness. Weather isn’t some abstract, theoretical concept.

When talking about climate change it often seems like a vast amount of people have a hard time connecting the facts and numbers to their lives. “1.5°C warmer” doesn’t sound like a dramatic thing at first sight. If for a second, or in the case of lockdowns for some months, the things we usually keep ourselves busy with like going out, events, work, travelling aren’t possible anymore, our happiness suddenly starts depending on the most basic things in life: Nature, the weather and our surrounding.

And weather can influence your life just as much in a good as in a negative way. For the first time in my life, I’ve experienced what bad weather can mean. In August 2021, floods and high water in Austria damaged buildings and seriously injured people. My parent’s garden was flooded. Still, lots of people in the village I grew up in didn’t connect this unusual weather to what they read in newspapers about climate change. Climate change isn’t just something that might affect tropical islands, it’s right here and we’re starting to feel the impacts of it. People close to me were financially and emotionally impacted by the summer wildfires in Greece and other parts of Europe. And recently what only seemed to be happening in southern Europe during summertime devastated hundreds of hectares of forest in the Austrian Rax area. We must start making the connection between “weather” and climate change.

Source: moment_magazin (https://www.instagram.com/p/CRjg866iGlk/?utm_medium=copy_link)

Those incidents illustrate why a few degrees really do matter. According to the UN, in the case of global earth warming of + 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels, the areas burned by wildfires in the Mediterranean summer would increase by 41 %. That’s already devastating. However, with a 2°C increase that number would go up to 62% and in the case of + 3°C to 97%.[1]

Source: unclimatechange (https://www.instagram.com/p/CQ-uAYitFd1/?utm_medium=copy_link)

With the COP26 happening right now in Glasgow, it is more important than ever to keep in mind that we can still make the change. Projections by the New Climate Institute show that it’s still realistic to reach the 2°C target until 2100 and it would theoretically even be possible to reach the 1.5°C target. Whether we reach the climate targets and to what extent will be defined by political action within the 2020’s. There has been a visible increase in political actions toward the climate targets set by the Paris agreement, yet not enough to reach the 1.5°C goal.[2] The so called “High ambition coalition”, which so far more than 50 countries have committed to, could make 1.5°C possible[3]. We still have the chance to adhere to the Paris Agreement. We find ourselves at a turning point at which we must set our priorities right and perhaps it helps to keep in mind how much a day of pure perfect weather can be worth.

By Marlena Niedl

[1] UN climate change (2021). The difference between 1.5C, 2C or 3-4C average global warming can sound marginal, https://www.instagram.com/p/CQ-uAYitFd1/?utm_medium=copy_link

[2] Ou, Y. et al. (2021). Can updated climate pledges limit warming well below 2°C?, Science, 374(6578), 693-695. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abl8976

[3] The Guardian (2021). More than 50 countries commit to protection of 30% of Earth’s land and oceans, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jan/11/50-countries-commit-to-protection-of-30-of-earths-land-and-oceans

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