‘We’re just two degrees away from a climate catastrophe’: Andrew Cohen on Climate Change, The Facts
As the hosts of the show Climate Change: The Facts put it, ‘We’re just two degrees away from a climate catastrophe.’ They continue, ‘If the rate of global warming continues, we’ll reach the threshold for permanent environmental damage within 40 years. But we have the power to prevent it,’ they add.
That’s still a mild warning, given some of the heart-breaking first-hand testimonials you’ll see on the show. Andrew Cohen, Head of BBC Studios’ award-winning Science Unit, tells us more...
Give us a sense of the kind of environmental damage we’re looking at, in just 40 years from now?
I think scientists are in a better place, in terms of monitoring where we are going to be in 40 years’ time. The film that we have made is really looking at some of the impacts of climate change today.
And that’s really what the film is about. So you know, whether that’s looking at the proliferation of massive forest fires in California, Australia and elsewhere, whether it’s the flooding, whether it’s looking at store regularity, or whether it’s looking at the impact on potential agricultural outputs...
This was a film that really took the importance of looking at the impact of climate change today as its primary purpose.
How important is to raise awareness, as the foremost thing to do? Is it possible for us to avoid a catastrophe?
It’s immensely important to raise awareness around climate change. We know from science that this is an already massive threat to our planet and the way that we live our lives.
We have been making films on climate change for decades now, and we will continue to do so.
And this was a really important one for us to make at this point, to really bring together the very best science journalism into one place, in terms of how we can prevent a climate catastrophe.
In some ways, it’s really simple. We need to reduce our carbon output dramatically. But how that is actually enacted, is the greatest challenge. And that’s something that we touch upon in the film.
We look at some of the potential solutions that are coming down the tracks. Ultimately, that’s going to need to be led by governments and politicians to really deliver on that.
Which parts of the world did you travel to, for the making of this show? Where on the globe did you find the conditions to be the most extreme?
I think you will see, when you see the film, there are a number of examples of how climate change is affecting environments today.
We travelled to the United States to Australia to India, among other places, to demonstrate this.
I think one of the stories that really struck me when I saw it was the story of the first climate change refugees, which is a group of people in Louisiana having to move out of their town because the sea level rises have caused it to be uninhabitable.
When you start to see that direct level of human impact, you really realise that is just the beginning of a trend that we may see a lot more of, in the years to come.
And, which parts of the world are best equipped to deal with climate change?
In truth, it’s a global problem. I think it’s only by dealing with it globally that we are going to solve it.
So, some countries can help in terms of being incredibly technologically advanced and finding that the technological and scientific solutions that may help us move out of the kind of the threat that we are in now.
So, I would say, it’s global rather than national in terms of how we best deal with this.
How important is the aspect of language when it comes to raising awareness? How much more impactful are videos and pictures today?
When you watch a documentary like this, and you see the journalism and the story condensed into a single hour, the impact can be huge.
We tend to often only focus on what’s going on in our own country, in terms of the kind of effects that might be playing out.
But on every continent now, there are effects of climate change. And so, this film wants to give the global picture and to use the most powerful stories to convey our latest understanding of the science.
Do you have a timeline at the back of your mind, for the extinction of mankind, possibly within the next millennium?
I am not sure! You’d have to wait for me to lay out the timeline for the extinction of humankind. From my perspective, it’s all about looking at the problem that we face today, and understanding it.
We wanted to bring the best journalism to a global audience to help understand that. I believe that is still within our gifts, to actually change the direction that we are going in.
We often talk about the extinction of humankind. I guess, I’d rather talk about the best of the potential solutions that can stop that from happening.
What are some of the more hard-hitting facts that we all need to know, over and above everything else?
To condense it down into a single fact, is not easy. The biggest fact, the biggest thought that I think we now have to have in our heads is that, we have known about the science of climate change, and about the impact on our planet — for many decades now.
It has been something that has sat in our national and international conscience for a very, very long time.
All the science now points to the fact unequivocally that if we don’t change quickly now, then we are going to be pushing ourselves towards a tipping point that no human on this planet wants to see.
And so, we have had a long time to think about it. Now is the time to turn all that thinking and understanding into action. That way, I can help prevent a climate catastrophe playing out over the next
What are the little things we can do around ourselves, in our everyday lives, to help?
The balance is between what you can do as an individual, and what we should be asking our governments, and the kind of businesses and organisations to be doing.
It’s a very difficult one to get right. And in this film, we certainly are not telling people to do anything. In particular, we are just providing the scientific evidence for what the best way of reducing your carbon footprint is.
It’s like, we collectively look to change the way that we live, and collectively look to protect the future. If you are off the planet (paradigm), then you know it feels right to be looking at the things that individuals do.
There are lots of examples in the film of things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint — with yourself, your family, your communities. These are the things to be looking at.
How does Sir David Attenborough help to bring a sense of gravity, calmness and understanding to the show?
We were very honoured to present and embrace the show, and he obviously has a huge experience of the natural world of journalism.
We were very pleased that he could bring that gravity and that understanding to the film.
When you are making the definitive film on climate change, he really is that perfect person to be presenting it.
Is there any particular message that you’d like to share for the show’s viewers in India?
The message that I’d like to share most is a simple one, which is really to understand the latest scientific journalism around climate change.
And I think if people want to be involved, if they want to understand, then you have to learn what’s going on.
I really encourage people to not just watch this film, but to read and listen and watch lots of the great journalism that’s around at the moment, to really get across what is happening to our planet, what the threats are, and what can be done to solve the problem.
Climate Change: The Facts premieres on 7 March at 9 pm on Sony BBC Earth.
— Jaideep Sen