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Researcher was given helping hand by Greta Thunberg

Emissions from building. Photo.

Wolfgang Knorr, a researcher at the Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science, is one of three authors of a high-profile climate article recently published in The Conversation. The article, about our future carbon footprint, has received widespread coverage after being shared on Twitter by Greta Thunberg.

What prompted you to write the article in The Conversation?

– There is a false optimism about the potential of technology to reduce future carbon emissions. It rests on the assumption that we will find a neat technology that will somehow magically give us a bigger carbon budget. But the amount of carbon we can emit to stay within the Paris Agreement and its 1.5 degree target is very small. And nobody is talking about this. It is as if no one dares to reveal that the emperor is naked.

What is your main discovery?

– There is a strong belief today in what is often called negative emissions of carbon dioxide, a belief shared by the United Nations' climate panel IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Calculations show that in the future we will need to suck 20 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the air instead of emitting 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide annually as we do today. If this were to work, it would cause enormous damage to ecosystems, biodiversity, food security and water resources. It would probably lead to disaster. But if it does not work, it would also be a disaster.

The article in The Conversation has been widely shared on social media and has over 600,000 reads at the time of writing. Why do you think it engages so widely with readers?

– It struck a chord with many climate scientists and individuals who are concerned about the future of this planet. We have tried to be as honest as possible and admit that we have waited far too long to talk about the absurdity of many of the climate scenarios we have developed.

Your article was shared by climate activist Greta Thunberg, who urged her Twitter followers to read your text. How did that feel?

– She actually said it was one of the best texts on the climate and ecological emergency she’s ever read. That is amazing and somehow shows that our research and ideas are speaking to the concerns of the younger generation.

The article, written by Wolfgang Knorr with James Dyke and Robert Watson, can be read in The Conversation.

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