Carbon emissions and pathways to a low carbon economy

Carbon emissions and pathways to a low carbon economy:

A talk about using computer modelling to generate solutions for the planet. 

by Nick Winder; Newcastle University

This seminar was about using computer models to predict events and generate solutions. The talk focused around C.O.M.P.L.E.X (not actually an acronym) which is a computer modelling software which is being used to find pathways for a low carbon economy. Many case studies are being taken over various parts of Europe to:

explore new energy technologies, new ways of using landscapes and new policy instruments to support the transition towards a low carbon society by 2050.

We need models, we use them more than we think – have you ever thought about the consequences of your actions? This is your personal model. We run our own mental simulations to make the world safer for ourselves for example; we don’t run across a motorway – we consider the dangers.

Consider this;

  • A bridge is built to allow passage over a river.
  • The river is there because theres a valley.
  • This valley was caused by the landscape.

Events that shape the environment are effected by the people who shape it; humans modify and “interfere” with natural process with dams and river bank barriers/enforcement.

Image from: Snowdonia Society

Testing models to their environmental extremes (such as extreme weather, temperature changes, carbon concentrations, and more) and use the predicted outcomes to develop resistance and policies for the landscape.

Models have a tendency to grow and change. Our current models are much more effective than ones from a decade ago. It is not possible to make an archive to last you forever nor can you construct a model that can last forever. Things change.

Resilience cycle: A cycle of adaptive change.

Logo from the EU funded C.O.M.P.L.E.X programme

The cycle allows for destruction and reorganisation of ecosystems which is often overlooked in conservation. The cycle is an important idea; not something that we should base our research around but something to inspire and motivate research.


When the cycle ends is there a change in the resilience of the ecosystem? What if
resilience is lost? Don’t worry – after a crash there is a period of recovery

Winder also stated that impact assessments
should be done on scientists;

As much as the resilience cycle is about letting ecosystems and environents naturally recover, it is also important t0 make sure that scientists are not going to make environments worse. I fully agree with this statement, how many times have we (as a species) tried to make the world better but created so many more problems? (Don’t answer – it’s rhetorical.)

Winder left us with some important words of advice:

“Every innovation has a downside”

“nothing we know is going to prepare you for your life”

“Modelling is very difficult but not impossible and very important”

Overall, this seminar was pleasant. Taught by an enthusiastic, yet soft-spoken, gentleman who wanted the younger generation of scientists-in-the-making to be able to make a difference for the future. He gave me ideas of what sort of careers I could end up with, the only down side is I am unsure if environment/ecosystem computer models are taught in my university.

Final note: Make sure the legacy of the project continues into the future. Be prepared to work with people who are already experts. Work with people, not for people – you will make a greater effect.



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