Updated: Jul 27, 2020
And now for something completely different: An interview!
We hooked up with climate researcher, communication officer and public media advisor, Dr. Célia Sapart and asked her on her views on climate change, solutions to it, and her ways of communicating science to different audiences.
Célia, the floor is yours, please tell us all about yourself.
CS: My academic career started with my interest in oceans. I was a fan of Jacques Cousteau and his expeditions. I wanted to discover the world and nature and to understand nature.
With my understanding of how nature works I started to realise how fragile nature is, especially in the polar regions, where I worked a lot. Observing and studying the effects of climate change years after years became really frustrating, especially because our messages were not listened to by decision makers.
For me, the image that signifies climate change is not the starving polar bear on an ice raft, it is all the climate change refugees in places like India or Bangladesh and the dreadful circumstances they live in.
I went to schools and talked to the kids, I went into companies where I talked to the C-suit.
I finally joined CO2 Value Europe, an association dedicated to Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU), where I work as climate Expert and Communication Officer.
CO2 Value Europe sits at the interface between the industrial, the research, and the political world, so it is an excellent place for me to understand the interactions between these three fields.
Science-by-Trianon: So, if I understood you correctly, you first studied the impact of human activities on the environment and growing from that you became a voice of sustainability because you realised that nothing was happening…
CS: I’m not sure I would say that. At least at the European level we cannot say that nothing is happening.
Over the last, say, 15 years public awareness has increased enormously and, at least in most of Europe, we don’t have to convince people any more that climate change is happening.
Nowadays, climate change is taught at schools so a lot of things are changing at all levels, including at political level.
Science-by-Trianon: Though actions are not taken fast enough.
CS: Indeed, now we need a drastic acceleration of the measures to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by all means.
Science-by-Trianon: So would you say that one of the problems is that people know that we need to do something but don’t know what to do at every level?
CS: The problem is that climate change is a slow and long-term process.
The results of our actions today, will only be observed in the coming decades.
It’s a bit like eating junk food all the time. No, you don’t drop dead the next day after having had a burger with fries. But if you continue to have burgers and fries on a daily basis you will experience adverse effects on your health.
Another problem is the way in which climate change is communicated, often focussing on the dire consequences, but not on the possible solutions.
People are being presented with doomsday scenarios, which makes them feel guilty, it instils a fatalistic outlook in them.
This is wrong scientifically and counterproductive.
The climate data are very clear, we can still change the future of our climate if we act fast and efficiently.
We have 10 years to build a new world, so everyone should become actor of this transition.
We should focus on the solutions and we should explain that in order to fight against climate change you don’t need to sit in a hut in some forest.
You can be happy and certainly even happier in a carbon neutral world.
Such a world will focus on more healthy air and food, more social interactions and exchanges and new and more efficient ways to travel.
It is mainly our consumption that should drastically change.
Good quality, local and seasonal products (especially or food) will become the base of our economy.
Let’s focus on what really counts!
Science-by-trianon: A very good point.
So would you say that your way of communication has changed from the times when you were an active researcher to today and, if so, what has changed?
CS: During my first years of research, I was focussing my communication on scientific facts to explain people what was happening and the consequences of climate change.
I was trying to convince them of the harmfulness of the problem.
I changed to a more solution-driven approach.
The bleak outlook is, of course, still there but now I can tell people:
Look, these are the possible solutions, we can do something to avert the horror scenario
and this makes a big change in the reactions of the people.
When I present at conferences I often receive feedback from members of the audience that they feel empowered and have a smile on their face when they leave and that is very rewarding for me personally as well.
OK, let’s talk about Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU).
Science-by-Trianon: I have been working the field of supercritical CO2 (scCO2) so I am aware that CO2 can be captured.
However, the amounts of CO2 needed to run all the scCO2 applications in the world is very slim compared to the amount that is (still) produced.
What do we do with the rest?
CS: The first point is to decrease CO2 emission urgently wherever possible. However, there are industrial sectors in which this is extremely difficult and these are the energy intensive sectors such as the steel and cement works.
These processes include emissions that cannot be avoided even when using renewable energy.
One key solution for these sectors is the recycling of the CO2 emitted.
There are now ways to capture CO2 directly at the sources or right from the ambient air and these technologies are mature enough to be used on a larger scale.
This CO2 can then be converted into synthetic fuels using renewable energy and water or directly be used to make concrete.
It is then permanently sequestered in building material. This concept makes a big step towards circularity.
Technologies are there, so what we need to make CO2 recycling a large-scale solution are political incentives.
What we (CO2 Value Europe) are aiming for is to foster a large-scale deployment of innovative technologies which can recycle CO2 emissions into useful products such as chemicals, synthetic fuels and building materials.
This will allow to decrease CO2 emissions and to make the energy intensive industry and transport sectors move away from fossil carbon.
This is the defining point of CCU:
It’s not just about decreasing emissions, it’s about letting the fossil carbon rest in peace.
Unlike other alternatives, CCU technologies are drop-in solutions as CO2 based synthetic fuels can be used without changes in infrastructures.
This is of high importance considering the emergency to mitigate climate change.
Let’s talk a bit about your educational endeavours.
Science-by-Trianon: I see that you’ve been working with all levels of the population. What is the difference in work with the young generation compared to adults, and what is the difference between working with the general population, scientists, and politicians.
Let’s start with the young ones.
CS: I have been heavily involved in educational conferences at schools. The overriding message here was:
Follow your dreams!
It was my intention to make the kids aware of their possibilities.
After all, I was told many times at school that I’d never make it and I did make it, because I never doubted and followed my ambitions whatever happened.
During these presentations I show of course many pictures from my expeditions, in the polar regions, pictures of polar bears, icebreakers, it talks to them. But my main goal is to make them aware of the environment they live in and give them the motivation to act in its defence.
I have written a children’s book as well, it’s called ‘Sol au Pôle Nord’, it’s in French.
It tells the story of a little ray of sunshine that lands on the north pole and get’s stuck there because the ice is gone. The little ray wants to go back home but he can’t because the green house gases won’t let him. He then asks the children of the world to help him go home.
The book is open ended and at present it’s an e-book and the kids can send in there ideas and solutions.
The next step is to gather all their ideas and solutions (and some of them are really quite interesting) and publish it as a proper book.
I think it’s important to hear the voice of the children because they have lots of great ideas and their minds have no limit!
I experienced amazing moments with them.
You were saying you also organise conferences for the general public. What do you notice there?
CS: Often people would say “Oh, conferences, that’s for scientists, I wouldn’t understand a word” so
it is really important to explain the concepts in an language that everyone can understand.
Ten to fifteen years ago I still had to convince people that climate change was indeed happening and I often had climate sceptics in the audience.
They have turned up less and less often, and in the last five to seven years, I haven’t had one at all.
So, instead of convincing people I now want to show them what they can do.
I find my audiences generally interested in two aspects: (i) political aspects, and (ii) communication aspects, especially in relation to explaining climate change to their kids.
The advice I give is, as I already said earlier, not to dwell on doomsday scenarios but to focus on solutions.
It is not about our society getting destroyed but about reinventing our society, our way of living.
This way we tickle their creativity and that’s what we need.
Finally, what can you tell us about the world of politics?
CS: While I was still an active researcher I had a very bad impression of politicians and industrial representatives. Once I got to know them in person my opinion changed.
I realised that there is a strong will for a change, in particular in the industry.
A lot of people have understood that they have no choice, a change has to happen.
For them it’s now a question of choosing solutions and keeping their company on track.
This transitional period might be difficult but they will emerge from it in a stronger position than before, but they need the support from policy makers and the actions on that side are way too slow, especially, if we consider the deadline of 2030 to largely decrease our emissions.
So a substantial acceleration is required there, but positive things are also happening as the EU has made the fundamental decision to lead the way in terms of sustainability.
Would you say that in sustainability communication is as important as research?
CS: Yes, I think so, certainly, and I think that
One reason why it took thirty years for the climate change problems to become universally accepted is because communication was really poor.
For a long time, researchers had a hard time to adapt their way of communicating to the general public.
The reason for this is that we, as researchers, are by the very nature of our work experts in our own specific fields.
It is not always easy to discuss about our findings and put it in the bigger picture.
But I see signs that the new generation of scientists is much more adept at communicating their work and their findings to a broader audience.
If you had a magic wand: What would you like to see happening in the next five years?
I would like all nations to unit their forces and voices to opt for solutions that are sustainable and fair.
In my view, sustainability is very much intertwined with fairness.
We have to make a turn towards sustainability and equality.
We have had our golden years, but now we have to honour our responsibilities towards the developing world and give them their chance.