Meteorologist and climate researcher Prof. Dr. Mojib Latif talks in our interview about why climate skeptics are barking up the wrong tree, how far the responsibility of the automotive industry goes, and which role social justice plays in terms of climate protection.
Professor Latif, heat wave 2018, record temperatures 2019: What has to change?
A lot, but let’s start with the influence the automotive industry has. Of course, that can be just an adjustment lever. However, when cars are at a standstill most of the time or are only occupied by one person, the situation is anything but sustainable. Carsharing is a possibility to keep thinking in this vein. It is clear that traditional personal transport is not the future. Rather, the goal must be an integrated system with mobility as a service.
What does this mean for our daily lives?
Anyone wanting to get from point A to point B orders an automated vehicle by app to take that person to the train station, for example. At the destination, another automated vehicle will be waiting, driving them to the hotel. That is the future. This is why new transport concepts also drive innovations in the German automotive industry.
Professor Dr. Mojib Latif is head of the maritime meteorology research department at the Geomar-Helmholtz - Center for Oceanology in Kiel. The Hamburg native is a climate researcher, author of numerous books and scientific publications. Mojib Latif is a member of renowned expert forums and has been president of the German Association for the Club of Rome since 2017. He has received several awards for his scientific work and research in the past 30 years, most recently the Naturelife environmental award as well as the Alfred Wegener Medal of the German Meteorological Society.
You say that there is no way to tell with one hundred percent certainty whether a heat wave is the result of climate change. Is that an argument against climate protection?
No! That is like a dice loaded to come up sixes: The six is rolled more often. If a six comes up, it is either because the dice is loaded or as luck would have it. It is similar with heat waves: It is certain that they happen more often and are more severe due to global warming.
How is this scenario calculated?
The evidence is overwhelming that we are influencing the climate and consequently facilitating heat waves. We see that when we compare computer simulations under today's conditions and those of 50 years ago. To this end, we compute how much the probability of heat waves occurring has changed. This allows us to say with over 90 percent certainty already today that there would not be heat waves with today's frequency and intensity if we humans had not emitted any greenhouse gases.
Your work often attracts climate deniers. How do you react?
An objective discussion is usually impossible. We live in post-factual times; everything is called into doubt. Even that earth is a sphere! The deniers try to create the impression that there is a dispute among experts about climate change. But that's not true. The arguments of the skeptics are not scientific, even though they want to sound respectable.
This year's Earth Overshoot Day was July 29. Has the call for help consequently been given a date?
Yes, starting on this day, we humans have already consumed as many resources as can be produced naturally in the relevant year. In Germany, the Overshoot Day was already on the third of May. This means that our consumption of resources is much higher than the global average. This lifestyle leads to the loss of biodiversity, degrades the soils, destroys the rain forests and is the cause of global warming.
What exactly would decision-makers have to initiate to stop this trend?
Environmental pollution and resource consumption must not come free. One signal in this regard would be CO2 charges. However, environmental pollution should have a cost not only to protect the climate, but also to foster social justice. Because, in most cases there are only a few that are making the money, as Pope Francis so aptly put it.
What influence does the climate problem have on justice in the world?
Some countries consume too many resources at the expense of the majority of the world's population and the environment. This increases elements including migration movements. If we want to improve global living conditions, we need new resource-saving technologies. Germany can help initiate this transformation. Because there are not only sufficient financial means here, but smart minds as well. Many of the world's best engineers come from Germany. Who, if not them, is supposed to push the development ahead?
The carbon-neutral passenger car fleet is part of our climate protection goals 'Ambition2039.' How do you assess our ambitions?
We have to turn around if the planet is to keep its life-sustaining environment. This means: we need to move away from consuming ever more resources and become a society that makes do with few "permitted" raw materials. Which ones these are and how many "few" is, that is something that society, business and policymakers have to find a consensus on. (In this sense) It would be best if we operated fully automated vehicles in an integrated transport system.
The carbon-neutral production is an important goal for Daimler. What other responsibility do you see for the automotive industry?
In Germany, we have to set a good example and develop a carbon-neutral mobility model so that other countries will emulate it. The situation is similar with raw materials, which we need for batteries or electronic components, for example. In return, no environmental pollution or violations of human rights must occur elsewhere.
A current allegation is, there is a lack of clean electricity in Germany for making electric mobility suitable for large-scale, environmentally friendly use. What do you think?
We can rebut this allegation technologically. For example, Power-to-X technologies make it possible to store and use temporary electricity surpluses from solar energy, wind energy, and hydropower. Or we could continue to work on the question of how synthetic fuels can be produced from renewable energies, for example, with CO2 from the air or from production processes. There are many possibilities!
In your book 'The Oceans. The Human Being.' you call for the protection of the oceans. Why are the oceans so important in particular?
Half of our oxygen comes from the world's oceans. They are pillars of our global food supply and indispensable for regulating our climate. However, we pollute them heavily with our lifestyle. The oceans are warming up as the result of the increase in greenhouse gases, which stresses the ecosystems. Furthermore, the oceans absorb about one fourth of the CO2 that we release into the atmosphere. CO2 reacts with the seawater, resulting in large amounts of carbonic acid being formed and the oceans consequently being acidified. This development has gigantic effects for many creatures and their habitat. In addition, there are other major problems such as toxin introductions, over fertilization and plastic waste. We have to protect our oceans if we want to keep the world livable.
Why should climate change not be a debate about sacrifice, but rather about benefit?
If we succeed in consistently lowering the consumption of resources, every single one of us will benefit. We benefit from an improved quality of life, the ability to change and access to new technologies. Sustainability means future viability. That is why I want to encourage everyone. We have the future in our own hands!