‘There is little point in climate research if it continues to be ignored’

17 Mar 2021

Paul R Price. Image: Dublin City University

Paul R Price, a climate research fellow at Dublin City University, is concerned that society continues to be trapped in inaction rather than climate action.

Paul R Price’s first degree was in geology, which he was awarded from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. But it was another 27 years before he returned to education for a master’s in sustainable development, graduating from Dublin Institute of Technology with first-class honours in 2013.

In the interim, Price had spent more than two decades working as a professional carpenter. He even started a quarterly journal of traditional carpentry.

Price has returned to his specialist craft since his master’s but he also began doing volunteer science and policy research around the climate crisis. It was through this that he began working with Prof Barry McMullin at Dublin City University (DCU).

Price and McMullin are now working on a series of climate research projects funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Their particular focus is climate mitigation and the transition to a low-carbon society.

‘The world is going bankrupt even while businesses are making short-term profits’

What inspired you to become a researcher?

In my first job in construction in Toronto, I was an unskilled labourer but I quickly realised my employers needed a carpenter. So I bought books on carpentry and researched my way to building stairs and better pay.

During my master’s, a lecturer threw doubt on climate change science and scientists. Going to the library immediately after the lecture was a shock. Belatedly, I woke up to the escalating urgency required to increase climate understanding and the need for all of us to help in acting commensurately in whatever way we can. Reading the science for those few hours changed my world view entirely. Researching climate change suddenly became important, initially just for my own understanding, only later more seriously.

What research are you currently working on?

Following on from two projects modelling and assessing climate mitigation options for Ireland, I was recently awarded a two-year Carbon Budget Research Fellowship with Ireland’s independent Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC). It’s funded by EPA Research and my fellowship research at Dublin City University is supervised by Prof Barry McMullin and Dr Aideen O’Dochartaigh.

Myself and two other CCAC fellows from other institutions will also be providing support to the council to inform their climate action advice to Government and society.

In your opinion, why is climate research important?

Climate change is an escalating threat multiplier for all of society and nature, globally and locally. Climate change science and policy research can assess the consequences and risks of the energy and land use choices we make.

As a party to the Paris Agreement, Ireland and almost every country in the world agreed to do their fair share to limit average global heating to well below 2 degrees Celsius and preferably to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial. Due to emissions from human activities – burning fossil fuels, intensive agriculture and deforestation – global heating has already reached 1.2 degrees, so immediate substantial and sustained emission reduction is required. At this stage, likely requiring radical and rapid transformation of energy and food production systems.

Our research is important to assist the CCAC and society to achieve effective climate mitigation by identifying alternative future transition pathways to limit risks and costs to society.

What commercial applications do you foresee for your research?

By paying attention to our research, companies and commercial research can identify business opportunities within the rapid transition now needed and also avoid costly inaction on stranded asset risk.

Many companies and managers are unaware that energy efficiency is not enough. Total use of fossil fuel needs to decrease rapidly every year, because it is total emissions that drives global heating.

Ireland’s current economy is highly dependent on fossil fuel energy, high-emissions dairy and beef agriculture, and international services that are highly dependent on a fossil-fuelled global economy. If we are to avoid dangerous climate change and limit societal risk, then a rapid transformation away from ‘business as usual’ is needed.

To date, the commercial world has not faced up to its global climate impact. In (carbon) budget terms, the world is going bankrupt even while businesses are making short-term profits. Our research discerns better ways forward that society and business can learn from and act on.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a climate researcher?

Perhaps the biggest challenge is working on something so necessary yet so daunting in its enormity, and also seeing that collectively we have not faced up to it despite decades of warnings from climate scientists.

As a climate researcher, one has to be careful, for one’s own wellbeing, not to dwell on all this too deeply or for too long. Burnout is an issue. We could all be happier if climate change was not happening! Thankfully, at DCU and beyond, other people working on climate understand this and support each other.

Are there any common misconceptions about climate research?

Thankfully, climate deniers seem to be in retreat though too many people still seem to think that climate change will not affect them personally, that it’s distant in time or from Ireland. But looking at the science we can see that is not true at all. Serious impacts are beginning to be seen across the globe that will increasingly affect us here over the near-term and more and more into the future.

People are waking up to the threat though. Younger people especially. And they can see that powerful actors are not doing enough. Possibly, Covid-19 has given people, particularly in rich nations, a refreshed understanding of the risks of delaying action in the face of serious threat and the need for serious coordinated planning across society to meet it.

What are some of the areas of research you’d like to see tackled in the years ahead?

To a large extent, society does continue to be trapped in inaction rather than climate action. Research is particularly needed to highlight the causes of that inaction, to determine best carbon governance, and to effectively communicate the best pathways to the safest possible future for humans and nature.

However, there is little point doing all this research if it continues to be largely ignored because government and those with decision-making power don’t want to face up to its serious implications. Climate research is good but it needs to be accelerated and, above all, for the research to be useful, our decision-makers and business leaders need to start paying much more attention to actually achieving the kind of far-reaching changes already set out by researchers.

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