Conflict Exploration: Science in a changing climate
The role of individual researchers
For this exploration, we are experimenting with a different format: a personal contribution about a relevant and (somewhat) controversial topic in conservation. This exploration is a personal account of the role that climate change plays in the daily life of researcher Dr Yann Gager. Yann explains to us what individual researchers can (and should?) do to help the fight against climate change.
Wildlife Research: Yann Gager
As individuals, we have an important part to play by pressuring governments and companies as well as setting an example for those around us.
Yann Gager finished his PhD research on the evolution of social foraging in bats in 2016, within the International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) for Organismal Biology, the University of Konstanz, the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (Radolfzell) and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (research station of Gamboa, Panama) and is since January 2018 a research assistant for a company of molecular diagnostic (Leipzig, Germany). His research interests focus on evolutionary ecology, covering the fields of molecular genetics to behavioural and population ecology.
The role of nature in my life
I had the chance to grow up by the Atlantic ocean in Brittany (France) where my father has opened my eyes to nature. As a nature literate, I developed a special interest for bats, conservation and studied biology. My first internship with the Muséum of Paris was focused on surveying bats using ultrasound recordings. Later on, I contributed to several peer-reviewed publications about taxonomy, ecology and conservation of bats. After my PhD, I joined a consultancy office where I contributed to bat surveys for wind farm projects. In summary, nature knowledge and protection has been a key value during most of my life.
Climate change — not a sudden realisation
But recently, I realised that I had somehow left aside a key issue in conservation: the human-induced climate change. It was not a sudden realisation but I think the birth of my two daughters within a couple of years made me think more about the future. Climate change was not a distant threat anymore and I developed a strong interest in the topic during the last months. Our toxic use of fossil fuels since the beginning of the industrial revolution is responsible for the release of billion tonnes of heat-trapping gases like CO2 in the air and the ocean. This is the first time in human history our planet’s atmosphere has had more than 415ppm CO2. And we have less than 8 years until warming of 1.5°C on average in comparison to the pre-industrial levels. Many effects from climate change are already perceptible including melting ice, rising seas and more frequent extreme weather like fires and storms are increasing. Entire ecosystems are already disturbed, for example, coral reefs due to bleaching. Many species have already shifted their distribution ranges and some species are and will be at increased risk of extinction. To limit the risks of climate change, we need to implement solutions to become carbon-neutral as soon as possible (Figure 1).
Is there still a role for individuals in fighting climate change?
Governments and companies have the biggest responsibility for fighting climate change. For the record, just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions since 1988. Furthermore, a real structural change like tackling unemployment as well as the climate crisis can be achieved only by governments, for example through climate action plans. It is clear that individual sacrifice alone cannot be the solution to effectively fighting climate change. However, every one of us has an important part to play by pressuring governments and companies as well as setting an example for those around us.
Finding your own way through the climate crisis
With this motivation in mind, I started to engage actively in the fight against climate change. One important thing — if not the most important — is to talk about it. Since 2019, I have joined a local group of Scientists for Future which supports the current movement of climate activism. Actions about climate change have been delayed for too long, every voice — including from people understanding science — is welcome to shape the debate. Because flying is often an important part of the carbon footprint of individuals, I am trying to fly less and try to travel by train when it is possible. Lately, I have been also promoting video streaming for conferences to give all nature literates the chance to attend, also those without travelling budgets or that choose not to fly. I am also doing my part on social networks, informing about climate change and rebut misinformation. Every day, I am realising concrete actions like cycling to work every day and eating less meat.
Scientists should set an example
As individuals, we can all do our bit to inform and act at our scale to stabilize the climate. Because this is one of the greatest challenges humans have ever faced, it is really time for everybody to join the movement and tackle climate change, including and, maybe especially, scientists. Scientists have a crucial role in setting an example. Therefore I propose that:
- Universities have a role in tackling climate by divesting from fossil fuels and reducing their carbon footprints.
- Every research institute should have a task-force for developing measures to reduce the institute’s contribution to climate change.
- All research institutes should offer the option for employees to do home-office part of the week
- Scientists should generally reduce flying. Furthermore, scientists should refrain from short-haul business flights and travel by train instead.
- All scientific conferences should offer an option for online-participation only, also for presenters.
- Scientific conferences should be more sustainable for example by serving vegetarian and local food and banning single-use plastics.
- Scientists from diverse disciplines are welcome to communicate and join the fight against climate change.