Tackling the “Unknown Known” of climate change


When Donald Rumsfeld, American Secretary of Defence pointed out that there are “known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know” he caused some hilarity.  I think that it is more significant that he missed out the “unknown knowns”. The things we know but choose to ignore. There are many issues which confront us personally and as a species which we choose to ignore or deny… such as climate change.

We’ve known about the basic chemistry of carbon pollution in the atmosphere and the greenhouse effect since the beginning of the last century. The scientific consensus is now that our burning of fossil fuels has a significant impact on average global temperatures and the consequent climate change.

David Cameron has recently linked the UK’s experience of abnormal weather events with climate change – as he said in the House of Commons last week: “We are seeing more abnormal weather events. Colleagues across the House can argue about whether that is linked to climate change or not. I very much suspect that it is.” Dr Peter Stott, Head of climate monitoring and attribution at the Hadley Centre, part of the Met Office, and Myles Allen of the University of Oxford’s climate dynamics group, have backed the PM’s judgment.

There was flooding in my hometown of Faversham over Christmas. Not as bad as in many other places in the UK, but close to home. Yet there are still people in Faversham in denial about climate change, incredibly still wanting to see housing built in flood risk areas. Humans are really good at denial.

Andrew Gilham of the UK’s Environment Agency responsible for flood defence is managing retreat, areas of land are being ceded to the sea. Gilham points out a patch where grass is being stripped off by the sea, exposing some of the earth beneath. He says the whole area will become a mixture of mudflat, grassland and marshlands.

As sea levels rise, Gilham says there’s a natural desire to keep building higher and higher defences. But he says the UK needs to move away from thinking it can hold every bit of coastline exactly where it is. “That’s a battle we won’t win,” Gilham says. “We are broadly looking at perhaps a metre of sea level rise over the next hundred years, and that would be very significant.” The problem with carbon pollution is that it hangs around the atmosphere for decades – out children’s children will live with the climate change to which we have contributed.

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Harold is WTM’s Responsible Tourism Advisor, he puts together the flagship Responsible Tourism programme at WTM London which attracted 4000 participants in 2020 and the programmes run at WTM Africa, WTM Latin America and Arabian Travel Market. Harold has worked on 4 continents with local communities, their governments and the inbound and outbound tourism industry. He is Managing Director of the Responsible Tourism Partnership and chairs the panels of judges for the World Responsible Tourism Awards and the other Awards in the family, Africa, India and Latin America. Harold works with industry, local communities, governments, and conservationists and undertakes consultancy and evaluations for companies, NGOs, governments, and international organisations. He is also a Director of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he is an Emeritus Professor, and Founder Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism promotes the principles of the Cape Town Declaration which he drafted.

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