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  • Writer's pictureSimon Kaack

Communicating Climate Change: A Guide for Everyone


As our climate is changing rapidly, communicating about possible solutions is key

Climate change and its consequences are more than present for all of us today. Every day we hear about floods, droughts, or forest fires. Solutions to these problems are just as prevalent, whether they involve technology or political decisions. But often we find ourselves in a jumble of keywords whose meaning is not clear to us. Climate change, 1.5 C, Net Zero - what are they all about? And what do all these terms have to do with my life? To become aware of how we ourselves can act, it is useful to clarify basic concepts as simply as possible. So that not only we understand them, but also our families, friends, or simply people with whom we share a conversation.


The best case to do so is an active exchange with each other, to eliminate ambiguities and agree on a common vocabulary. If the atmosphere is relaxed and leaves space for different perspectives and our own experience with climate change, even better. Such an opportunity was provided by YEP Academy for its most recent community event, which was dedicated to the basics of climate change rhetoric, besides some evening drinks to end our work week. Our premises at the Midori Rooftop Bar and the adjoining gallery offered an ideal setting for this event, as we were provided with fruity and fizzy drinks as well as comfortable seating and the necessary quiet for a large group conversation. Thus, we could address key terms of climate change in a low-threshold way.


First, we looked at what process constitutes climate change. Here, it is necessary to differentiate between natural and human-made effects. The natural greenhouse effect describes a process by which certain gases in the Earth's atmosphere trap energy from the sun, causing the planet to warm. Without it, the earth's surface would be too cold to support liquid water, which is essential for life as we know it. However, human activities are increasing the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This is causing the greenhouse effect to become stronger, which is leading to global warming. Anthropogenic climate change thereby refers to climate change that is caused by human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are fuels that are formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals. They include coal, oil, and natural gas. The impacts of these are mainly measured in emissions, or the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, of carbon dioxide (CO2), which is the most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. It is released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned, forests are cleared, and certain agricultural practices are used. As a result, so-called greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere. They include CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone.



Young Cambodians know blatant climate change impacts very well from their everyday lives

Global average temperature has been rising steadily over the past century, due to climate change. One resulting impact is the rise of sea levels, for which ocean levels increase due to climate change. It is caused by the melting of glaciers and ice sheets, and the expansion of water as it warms. All this has devastating consequences for the world, including and especially Cambodia, which is recognized as vulnerable to climate change impacts, ranked 144th out of 185 countries (ND-GAIN Index, 2021). Many of us were already very aware of this fact and what it means for the everyday life of many people in Cambodia. From our own experience, we shared and reflected on phenomena such as increased temperatures, drought, and changes in seasonal rainfall patterns, combined with extensive damming for hydropower throughout the Mekong Basin. All these phenomena threaten our food security and health (USAID, 2023). One example mentioned in our discussion is the increasing underground water salinization and seawater intrusion in coastal lowland areas used for agriculture. This process destroys rice fields and is exacerbated by rising sea levels. Equally, dams are blocking fish migration routes, which is reducing the fish catch. Fish is a significant source of protein for people in Cambodia. Can we even imagine what a Cambodian dish would look like without rice and fish? I think we don’t even want to try.


Further, many of us can tell that Cambodia already experiences some of the highest temperatures in the world, with an estimated national average of 64 days per year when the maximum temperature exceeds 35°C (World Bank, 2021). However, only very few of us knew that this is also directly linked to disease transmissions sensitive to temperature, such as dengue fever incidence. In addition, water-related diseases, such as diarrheal diseases, typhoid fever, leptospirosis, melioidosis, viral hepatitis, and schistosomiasis equally threaten our health (World Bank, 2021). Dramatically, some of these developments cannot be turned back. Tipping points describe a critical threshold that, when crossed, leads to large and often irreversible changes in a system. In the context of climate change, tipping points refer to changes in the climate system that can happen suddenly and rapidly, with potentially severe consequences, such as the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet. One comparison that came up in our discussion is that of a broken water glass. The shards of such a glass can be glued back together, but they will never be the same again and will most likely remain leaking.


10767 Remnants of a broken glass - this image by freebie.photography is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

The good news here is that we know about all this and are slowly starting to act. Politically, this is often associated with Paris. Not because the Eiffel Tower is in imminent danger of being flooded (maybe in 50 years though), but because the world agreed to the Paris Agreement here in 2015. It aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. This would avoid the worst impacts of climate change, such as more extreme weather events, sea level rise, and mass extinctions. However, the world is currently on track to warm up by roughly 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Hence, to reach the 1.5-degree target, we need to make significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades. Here, net zero comes into play. It refers to achieving a balance between greenhouse gas emissions and removals. This means emitting no more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than can be removed by natural or technological means. There are several ways to achieve net zero, among them reducing greenhouse gas emissions by switching to renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency, and reducing deforestation but also capturing and storing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. This can be done through technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS). At least for the first part of this calculation, we can all make a stand.


Our evening round also got creative at a late hour and flooded the room with thoughts on our own climate action, as well as those of big emitters, such as corporations. Among others, it was mentioned to save energy at home, for instance by using the least air conditioners. Further, all of us agreed that it is very practicable to walk, take a bike, or use public transportation to reduce our reliance on cars. Equally, when traveling, many of us already choose less carbon-intensive transport options, such as the train or bus instead of flying. Despite the many meat lovers in the room, we also brought up the hint of eating more vegetables to use less energy and water for meat production. Further, we committed to not throwing away food but rather storing leftovers in a cold place. Equally, the three magic r’s of reduce, reuse, and recycle clothes and other everyday objects are already widely applied among us. If this is not possible, then eco-friendly products made with sustainable materials are our answer, since a lot of them are produced locally in Cambodia.


To start living sustainably, engaging in conversations about solutions is paramount

Finally, all of us were able to tick off one action item on our To-do list, namely, to raise and discuss climate change. It is important to understand the terms and logic of it to have a meaningful conversation about climate change and its impacts. No matter when, no matter where, since all of us are affected, everyone has something to say about it. Our experience shows that awareness is growing in Cambodia. Fortunately, not only on Friday evenings with lots of cold drinks but also in all our everyday lives.

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