Climate Catastrophe: A Superstorm for Global Warming Research .
Such suspicions irritate PIK Director Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, particularly when they are directed against him or his institute. Schellnhuber, a native of Bavaria, normally speaks quietly and diplomatically, but he raises his voice when discussing the accusations. He says that he is far from being an environmental activist or someone who acts purely for political reasons.
"That's completely absurd!" he says heatedly. "I don't participate in protest marches, I'm not a member of the Green Party, I like to eat meat and I drive a BMW. And I didn't study physics to become a climatologist, either."
But no, he adds, he happens to be someone who has acquired inside knowledge about a looming disaster, knowledge that he cannot keep to himself. "If I'm a passenger on a ship and I see, through my binoculars, that we're headed for an iceberg," says Schellnhuber, "I have to warn the captain immediately."
But exactly how far away is that iceberg? How much time is left to steer the ship onto an alternate course? And how great is the risk of collision? These are key questions. In reality, it isn't about stopping a luxury ocean liner, but about the massive effort that is required to end the age of oil and coal as quickly as possible.
Time to React
"We climatologists can only describe possible futures," Storch points out. "It's also possible that things will be completely different."
Storch, a native of northern Germany and one of the pioneers of climate modeling, recommends a more dispassionate approach. He grew up on the North Sea island of Föhr, where he experienced storm tides at first hand. He learned that humans are tough and adaptable beings.
"Fearmongering is the wrong way to go about it," says Storch. "Climate change isn't going to happen overnight. We still have enough time to react."