Making Climate Change Visible

Two of the reasons that Climate Change is proving to be a really difficult phenomenon to tackle is because it’s so big (global in extent and stretching over many decades) and so complex (in that there are many relationships and cause and effect loops involved). This means that it’s not easy for you or me to sense (i.e. see, feel, hear, smell or taste) Climate Change in our location in the world on a daily, weekly or even yearly basis. For the most part we need scientific researchers to monitor various features of the climate, crunch a whole lot of numbers, interpret the results and then somehow tell us or show us what is going on with the climate, often via ‘the media’ (in reality lots of different people using lots of different formats telling various versions of the Climate Change story). Based on the different interests, experiences and expertise you and I have, and how connected we are in the networks that share information about Climate Change, we are likely to pick up different bits and pieces of the Climate Change story and weave this into our own broader story of the moment. What this means is that, outside of the climate science community, it’s very difficult to get much broad consensus on how we understand the Climate Change phenomenon and what we should do about it. I’m using “we” very broadly here, including you, me, our colleagues and friends, as well as our local representatives, our business leaders and our national political figures (who, amongst other things, negotiate internationally on our behalf).

There is a new development on the horizon that is likely to play some part in changing this situation… something that will make Climate Change a whole lot more visible to people living in and visiting Cape Town.

The International Polar Foundation has recently announced that they will develop a Polaris Climate Change Observatory (PCCO) in Cape Town. This is conceived to be a “new breed of science center”, a place for members of the public to go in order to see and better understand climate change.

The PCCO will be focusing on the importance of polar science in understanding the causes and consequences of climate change. It is meant to be a reference center where all stakeholders are expected to exchange knowledge and share initiatives related to mitigation and adaptation to global warming.” (Quoted from the International Polar Foundation website, August 2011)

The Polaris Climate Change Observatory building is apparently being designed to look like a giant tabular iceberg floating on a large pool of water, to be built on a Jetty at the V&A Waterfront… we might end up with the Guggenheim* of Science in Cape Town, who would have guessed?! It’s billed as opening in 2014.

(*credit to Anton Cartwright for the Guggenheim reference)



Anna Taylor a Researcher on Climate Change and Urban Sustainability at the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town. Anna’s work forms a part of her PhD research on the governance conditions for adapting to climate change at the city scale.  Her PhD research is jointly funded by ACDI and the Mistra Urban Futures Programme.

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