Choosing to fail: Prof Kevin Anderson interviewed

Prof Kevin Anderson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester and deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, is one of the world’s best known and most influential – and outspoken – climate specialists.

He was in Dublin for several days in early March at the invitation of An Taisce’s climate change committee (of which I’m a member), and he completed a whirlwind schedule with talks in DCU, NUIM, the RIA and the IIEA among other appointments, as well as a visit to Áras an Uachtaráin to brief President Higgins on the state of climate science.

I met him* in Dublin city centre just ahead of his final formal engagement: a lecture in the RIA on the chasm between where the physics tells us we need to be heading to avert disaster and where the timid steps proposed by our political classes are actually taking us.

As an aid to navigation, the first 10 minutes or so deal with Kevin’s observations on Ireland’s response to climate change. The next five minutes deal with the aftermath of the Paris Agreement, then he moves to address the growth paradox; then, he deals with his own decision not to fly. From there, he deals with climate sensitivity and extreme events. Next, he deals with the relative merits of carbon taxes versus rationing. From here, he examines the fitness for purpose of the neoliberal economic and political model. He also discusses the ‘new normal’ of life in a climate-changed world, where human impacts have already wrought disastrous changes to much of the natural world upon which we depend. The interview concludes by placing a moral framework on humanity’s relationship with the world. He remains deeply concerned that society, despite the overwhelming evidence of the need to act, that “we will choose to fail”.

*A full version of this interview will appear in the April edition of Village magazine


ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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13 Responses to Choosing to fail: Prof Kevin Anderson interviewed

  1. Paul Holden says:

    Thanks, John. Exceptional interview.

  2. John Gibbons says:

    Cheers Paul, that’s decent of you to say. Kevin is a brilliant interviewee, open and generous with his time, and never a hint of self-importance or grandstanding. I only wish a lot more people got to listen to the incredibly important message he is trying to deliver

  3. dave kiernan says:

    absolutely marvelous interview with Prof. Kevin Anderson. He is very aware of human population levels now and future projections and John introduced the `extermination of every other Animal & Plant species & Habitat destruction’ in a very short period of time caused by us, humans, nothing else. Word of warning from Prof. Kevin Anderson, it is very likely that we, humans, will be too stupid to avert the disastrous path that we are on.

  4. John Gibbons says:

    Thanks Dave. Yes, I was keen to draw the interview beyond the relatively narrow focus on just one species to ask the question: what about the rest of the natural world? Somewhere along the way, humans set themselves apart from and ‘master’ of nature – just how profound an error this has been is really only now fully coming to light.

  5. Leonard B. says:

    Excellent, inspiring interview with Prof Anderson, really extraordinary how little attention he gets in the mainstream press, at least here in Ireland. Can they possibly all be that wilfully ignorant, or am I missing something?!

  6. John Jopling says:

    Thanks John, it’s a great interview. I heard him myself at Maynooth recently, very impressive on all the science. Here you have got him to talk more in terms of the conclusions from the science. This is the best summary of the whole situation in plain language that I have heard.
    Best wishes John Jopling

  7. John Gibbons says:

    @Leonard: feedback appreciated. I share, as I suspect, does Kevin, your sense of bewilderment at the abject failure of our media to even make the pretence of wanting to engage with climate change. One day, in the sadly not too distant future, said media folks will be falling over themselves and badgering the politicians to ‘do something’ about a story they’ve been negligently sitting on for years.

  8. John Gibbons says:

    @John Glad you found it useful. Although merely the messenger, am nonetheless chuffed that you found it to be a good ‘plain English’ summary of the parlous state of the global climate, not to mention the ever-diminishing prospects for humanity, among many other species.

  9. Brendan Elliott says:

    Superb interview, thanks. Really enjoyed your exchange with Anderson on the wider issue of human impacts on the rest of the natural world. Sometimes I think our obsession with climate change is just because we see it as a threat to us, but what about all the other creatures, great and small, we’ve pushed into extinction, and the thousands, millions more species we’re pulling over the cliff with us? For us humans to have wrought this wreckage on the planet and then, in the final analysis, to only suddenly give a damn when we’re in trouble ourselves is, to my mind anyhow, another symptom of our pathological relationship with the world around us.

  10. John Gibbons says:

    @Brendan. Agree with most of what you say, but would probably temper it somewhat in suggesting that, for all our veniality, myopia and atavism, humans are also a product of the miracle of evolution on this planet. Were it not for all of the above, we might instead be marvelling at how we as an utterly uniquely intelligent species which in the blink of a geological eye evolved language, consciousness, music, poetry, drama, books, cinema, painting, sculpture, photography, the internet, x-rays, space travel, vaccines, and so much more. But despite all the foregoing, let’s be honest, if the rest of life on Earth had a vote, we’d be for the evolutionary gallows.

  11. Eric Conroy says:

    Just finished listening to the interview – very articulate and thought-provoking, both by Kevin and yourself. Like Brendan I liked your exchange on the other inhabitants of our planet and what we are doing to them. I found your interspersing of images throughout the interview very illuminating. You obviously put a lot of thought into the interview and the final video product. It should get a wide circulation.

    PS I was wondering where the interview took place but couldn’t figure it out! I was also wondering about the Northern Lights type lighting playing against the wall in the earlier part of the interview. Was it a call from the Arctic to do something serious about climate change?

  12. John Gibbons says:

    Hi Eric, glad you enjoyed. Yes, I did put quite a bit more time into the post-interview video editing than I’d planned for, but if it helped with the overall clip, that’s all to the good. Kevin’s professional expertise spans climate science, engineering and economics, among other disciplines, which makes him something of a Renaissance Man, but he wears his expertise disarmingly lightly. Oh, as for the light show, I was in a hotel on Pearse Street; the strange effects were reflections from vehicles stuck in traffic on the street outside. These seemed to dance across the wall behind Kevin…

  13. Mark kernan says:

    Hi, There seems to be a problem with audio? Really would like to hear this.

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