A week’s fill of uncertainties

Amongst a myriad of reasons for why climate change is such a complicated, challenging problem, the uncertainties related to its consequences is one of the most stressed issues. Many of the students’ PhD projects deal with them, as well as with the difficulties that arise from decision-making when faced with them. This was the guiding theme of the 2021 DK Winter School, 8-12 February. Despite this common thread, though, one matter was the very opposite of uncertain: the continuously high quality of the presentations and discussions.

The structure of the week

The week-long program was composed of students presentations, both to the plenum and, in the form of poster presentations, in one-on-one sessions; interdisciplinary group work; and key note speakers’ presentations. The current state of some students was presented to all, and fruitful discussions followed. In addition to that, all of the students were able to present their current state of research to several of their colleagues and professors through poster presentations, or pre-recorded elevator pitches one-on-one – well, as one-on-one as virtual meetings can be. The pandemic necessitated this format, but on the bright side, this way the winter school emitted fewer greenhouse gases than any classic winter school did before! Along with these exchanges, the emphasis of the week was made clearer still with the daily opportunities to further interdisciplinary project work among the students. Each day we spent hours progressing these projects, with valuable input from the keynote speakers.

Four keynote speakers from all areas

These keynote speakers, four experts, also each presented their work and, afterwards, discussed it in plenum. (URL: http://users.ox.ac.uk/~sfop0060/) John Broome, philosopher and economist of Climate matters: ethics in a warming world (2012), laid out the normative significance of catastrophic events with small likelihood but great impact: All that we can do is reduce the chance of these catastrophes – and, in a way, even the extinction of our civilization. But we cannot entirely extinguish it. The next day, risk analyst (URL: https://iiasa.ac.at/web/home/research/researchPrograms/RISK/Reinhard-Mechler.en.html) Reinhard Mechler followed seamlessly with his talk about limits to adaptation, and the current situation of both science and policy. The keynotes continued on Wednesday with a focus on attribution – (URL: https://pcmdi.llnl.gov/staff/santer/index.html) Benjamin Santer explained the identification of the anthropogenic impact on the atmosphere. The last keynote speaker, (URL: https://www.michaelakroemer.com/) Michaela Krömer on Thursday, turned from theory to an application of climate research in the form of past and on-going climate lawsuits. With her experience in climate litigation, she led us through an engaging overview of the current situation. Albeit the climate change future may look bleak at times, with the enthusiasm of lawyers like Krömer, things seemed to be looking up for a little while.

A wrap-up

When the time came to recall and wrap up the winter school, it was no wonder that even the mid-week social gathering – a virtual pub quiz, with much delight among all participants – was only mentioned once or twice as the highlight of the week. The other program points, be it one-on-one discussions with faculty and colleagues, interdisciplinary group work, presentations of colleagues or of the invited experts, were engaging enough to beat the entertainment and remain the experiences most valuable for the students in general. To conclude, the week’s success can be called a certainty.