Climate Expert Johan Rockström Answers Youth Questions

‘I’ve never in my professional life had so much reason to be scared as today’ — Climate expert Johan Rockström explained why he’s both frightened and hopeful for the future while answering important questions from youth activists This video "Climate Expert Johan Rockström Answers Youth Questions", first appeared on

Video Transcript

JOHAN ROCKSTROM: I've never in my professional life had so much reason to be scared as today. But I've never had in my professional life so much reason to be hopeful than today.


ALLENOR ROUGEOT: You have said the ice is melting to a point of no return. And we know that all ecosystems are deeply interconnected. So I was wondering, why is the Arctic so crucial for global climate stability?

JOHAN ROCKSTROM: There's so much to know about the polar regions, about ice sheets that are fundamentally important for the action on solving the climate crisis. You have these two permanent caps that hold the climate stable. The more ice that melts, the darker the planet becomes. And the darker it becomes, the more heat from the sun is absorbed and it heats up the planet. So this is one of the biggest nightmares that we are looking into.

And we would be committing all future generations to certainly an additional one, two, potentially three meters of sea level rise. Not that it would happen overnight, but that we would not be able to stop it. It may take centuries, but it would not be possible to stop.

JOHN PAUL MEJIA: What do you see the role of the Green New Deal being in combating the climate crisis?

JOHAN ROCKSTROM: So this is the grand moment for investing in a sustainable future. I hope we can see even more green deals emerging, and not only green deals in terms of beautiful, political rhetorics, but in terms of real, real money on the ground for real action. We know where to put the money. So we still need to go from talk to walk. But the potentials are there.

SWETHA STOTRA BHASHYAM: Why is it that we still don't take action? Why is it that the world is still not ready to take the necessary steps needed for us to get out of this crisis?

JOHAN ROCKSTROM: I think what we've seen just the last five years is that the world is showing, you know, more and more convincing signs of being ready. And I agree that so far we can still be very critical, because we see more promises than delivery so far. But still, the promises are more likely to become real action given that we have so much proof that the banks, the financial institutions, the big players and the economies are starting to see the writing on the wall. And the writing on the wall is that if you want to win, if you want to really have good outcomes, you go the sustainable route. So let's see what happens the next few years. But I definitely share the concern posed in this question, but I see a change, a sea change, really, that may make it different in the coming years.

VANESSA NAKATE: With all of the research you have done and the things you've seen happening around the world, what gives you hope?

JOHAN ROCKSTROM: You know, I'm a-- I'm a positive guy. I'm always trying to look at the bright side of things. But things are not always that bright. And I cannot say that every day is hopeful. In fact, many days are not so hopeful. We learned for the first time that even the Amazon rainforest has tipped over from being a carbon sink to now being a net source emitting more carbon dioxide greenhouse gases than it's absorbing. It would not be honest to say that I can be hopeful when I read such findings. And that is a reality of the situation we're in.

But in all of that, let's say in all of that challenging darkness, there is light. There's like-- it's almost like they're kind of weighing equally on either side. And that is where the little sliver of light comes in, because it is worth fighting for. And what gives me hope here is that despite all the risks we have in that negative goal, at least-- I conclude at least, from the scientific evidence at hand, that we still have a chance. We haven't fallen over the escarpment yet. The planet is not rolling away irreversibly towards a hothouse Earth. We still can turn back into a safe operating space. It's-- we're close, so close that I get nervous, but we're not there yet, and that we can turn back and that we have the solutions that we know how to do it. That gives hope.