Archive for the 'Climate Change Solutions' Category

Belief and Knowledge and Humans and Nature:

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

Belief and Knowledge and Humans and Nature:

I am starting this entry from a previous blog, Rhetoric Again – Cycles. I got some interesting comments as well as a couple of letters for that entry. To set the tone, here is a thought from the end of that blog.

There is little doubt that humans are the dominant life form on the planet today. We shape every ecosystem. We consume all forms of energy. Throughout time, plants and animals have determined and altered the environment. Today we humans change our environment, the atmosphere and ocean. Not only are we a dominant life form, we have this amazing ability to extract rocks and liquids and gases from the Earth and to burn them. We have the ability to push land around, to remove mountains, to build islands, and to manufacture concrete. We are, therefore, not only biological, we are geological.

We humans are a force of nature – while yet a part of nature. Because we have the ability to remember, to reason, to develop and to accumulate knowledge, unlike other parts of the natural world, we have the ability to make decisions that influence the future of our environment. Therefore, our role in nature, in the natural world, is unique. To be clear, that uniqueness is not in our ability to change the environment, but in our ability to understand the consequences of those changes and the ability to anticipate and influence the future.

I bring up this idea of humans as a reasoning biological and geological force for several reasons. First, I believe that to set the world into two parts, natural on one hand, human on the other, is both a false and dangerous division. As we focus on climate change, this division is at the foundation of the thought of those who argue that the climate is full of natural cycles, that the current warming is just part of that natural cycle, and hence that we humans have no need for concern. Or alternatively, there is no need for us to modify our behavior because the changes we see are simply a force of nature, and we don’t have any influence over nature. (see also). Some of the many who see humans as outside of nature see humans as a disturbance to nature, and others believe humans have divine providence over nature. The very foundation of how we think about climate change, our environment, and our place in nature is based on our beliefs. It is a belief base associated with our personal identity. (WWF, Environment and Identity)

I have been motivated to think about what we believe and how our beliefs influence how we think about climate change working to improve our ability to communicate climate change. Some scientists spend a lot of time thinking about how to communicate their work; in fact, research sponsors often require plans for communication, outreach, and broader impacts. Many scientists, trained in a discipline of evidence-based knowledge generation, naturally present evidence-based arguments, with the idea that ultimately the evidence-based argument will be convincing beyond reasonable doubt. In many ways, this invites an argument more suitable to our approach to legal problems. We the scientists will present the evidence base. This evidence will stand in contrast to the arguments of the nonscientist. There will, ultimately, be judgment in favor of the evidence base, because, well, it becomes self-evident. This form of argument does not recognize that we humans often look at evidence and make decisions that deny the existence of that evidence. We make decisions that align with our desires, our beliefs, and what we want to believe.

I have written about some of these communications issues, and they are compiled here in What to Do? What to Do?. What I want to state more explicitly than I have stated before is the importance of the recognition of the belief-based argument. First, I naturally contrast the belief-based argument with the knowledge-based argument, which is not really the right contrast. The belief-based argument is, in fact, informed by knowledge, but it does not give high weight to science-based knowledge. Hence, it is not especially useful to pose a belief-based versus a knowledge-based argument. I have already stated that both sides of the argument are belief-based and that both sides of the argument are informed by knowledge. Hence, these arguments easily fall into attacks on personal identity – I the scientist work from the foundation of knowledge and the ability to generate knowledge. You do not. Therefore, you are wrong. This form of argument is not useful.

Second, I have used belief-based argument with the idea that belief-based might be viewed as a politically based argument or even a religion-based argument. I have often referred to the politically based argument in my blog entries, and I have stated that once the climate change discussion becomes a political argument, where the foundation is not primarily science-based knowledge, there is really little purpose in arguing over facts and evidence-based knowledge of the Earth’s climate. There is even evidence that introduction of science facts increases the polarity of political arguments (see here). In such an argument, people may be working from a different base of believed facts. This failure of science-based knowledge to win the belief-based argument is especially evident in the arguments over biological evolution, divine creation, and, say, the observation-based scientific description of progression of Earth’s life and climate.

Where am I planning to take this blog? First, the communication of climate change is complex and individual. If we mash together evangelical, conservative, and Republican beliefs as dismissive of climate change and view a concern for climate change as secular, liberal, and Democratic, then we do disservice to all. It does not take much effort to reveal evangelical, conservative, Republican organizations that are concerned about and vested in ways to address climate change (Inglis and Climate Change). That is why in the 2012 political environment, a focus on exposing the companies, the governments, and the individuals that are seeking solutions is a more useful way forward than perpetuating the political arguments and despair over the political response. There is no simple key that will be uncovered by a compelling presentation of knowledge; there is no single approach to communication that will be effective. Successful communication is purpose-based and recognizes the valid points of view brought to the table by all constituencies. It often requires overcoming barriers of prejudice.

Next, let’s return to the idea of natural cycles – climate variability. We have been faced with many environmental challenges. I wrote this sitting in St. Cloud, Minnesota, in a region that was largely deforested many years ago, on the Mississippi River, which has an excess of nitrogen-based nutrients in the water. A few miles back I saw a bald eagle, a species that was endangered by the insecticide DDT after World War II. We eliminated the use of DDT, and we have seen the return of the bald eagle. Why can we make that decision – to ban DDT? Lots of reasons, an important one being the easy identification of cause and effect. And we see the return of the eagle over our lifetime. Climate change does not have that easy cause and effect.

Responding to climate change lacks the narrow focus on regulating an insecticide and saving a grand bird. It is not easy to see the benefit of regulating carbon dioxide emissions. Those benefits are many years in the future, and the near-term cost is high and very visible. It is like people not taking a medicine that has a 90 percent chance of curing them from a slowly progressing disease because they don’t understand how the drug they ingest might work and they don’t want to introduce alien chemicals into their body. They seem to be doing okay right now. And if we look at the consequences of climate change, they are frightening, threatening, and our fault. We don’t accept fault easily; we have a mandate to feel that we are right. We don’t like change forced upon us, either individually or collectively. We fall back to our beliefs, our identity.

After the blog Rhetoric Again – Cycles, I was asked whether or not I considered man part of nature. Yes, I am saying that man is part of nature. But I don’t think that nature proceeds as a completely unrestrained force. We are many, and we influence nature. In fact, we are at this time the most dominant force of nature. However, we are also able to investigate nature, develop knowledge, and anticipate scenarios for the future. Therefore, we can influence the course of nature. My belief is that we have the responsibility to act on this knowledge. And like people who get caught in cycles of behavior, perhaps trapped by psychological pitfalls, with recognition of our role in nature, we have the ability and the opportunity to take advantage of our knowledge.

To my students I try to teach that they separate what is known from what they believe and what they want to believe. Advocacy needs to be recognized by the advocate, and advocacy changes one’s role in decision making. The advocate identifies with an issue and is trying to elevate one position relative to other positions. The convincing advocate for addressing climate change is anchored in a knowledge base that is drawn from scientific investigation. With a separation of what is known, from what is believed to be known, and what is desired based on belief, the climate-change advocate becomes more effective in the decision-making process. It is then easier to incorporate climate knowledge into planning and policy, and societal response becomes possible.

Something New in the Past Decade? Organizing U.S. Climate Modeling

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Something New in the Past Decade? Organizing U.S. Climate Modeling

Update: The report referred to in the original blog was released on September 7, 2012: National Academy of Sciences Report, A National Strategy for Advancing Climate Modeling (2012).

In 1999 I was part of a small group of people that was asked to write a report on climate modeling and supercomputing, and in particular, what needed to be done to make U.S. Federal efforts more effective. The report was published in 2000, and it is still available on line at the USGCRP website. (U.S. Global Change Research Program) Now in 2011 a panel is being convened to write about “A National Strategy for Advancing Climate Modeling.” (link) In this entry I want to return to the older report and think about what is different from 10 years ago.

When my co-authors and I wrote this report, we presented the results to several panels of distinguished people. Over the years, people have continued to send comments to me about the report. I contend that this report was different from a lot of other reports. I think it is safe to say that the authors of the report were chosen because of a willingness to look beyond their home agencies. Also we included as an author a sociologist who is expert in organizations and how to make organizations function.

The report was motivated by what I might call discontent by some of those responsible for oversight of Federal climate expenditures. There was in the late 1990s a (highly politicized) national assessment of climate change. Much of the information for model predictions came from Canadian and British models. This occurred despite the fact that not only were their several U.S. modeling efforts, but the U.S. spent (far) more money on modeling than these other countries. A natural question, what was wrong with the U.S. efforts?

In the report, we concluded some things that some of our colleagues considered radical. We focused much of our discussion on issues of management of scientific programs and organizations, and concluded that the culture and practice of science in the U.S. was, fundamentally, fragmenting. We even went as far as to state that “Without addressing these management issues, providing additional funds to the existing programs will not be effective in the development of the Climate Service.” (Not sure that statement helped my career and reminding people of that might take me right through retirement.)

In the spirit of being conversational – there was press coverage of the report at the time, and most of that press coverage was in publications that focused on computing and supercomputing. We authors quickly regretted this emphasis on computing, and the document being cast as a “computing report.” True we did say that U.S. policy on supercomputing and our ability or inability to import supercomputers impacted, negatively, the competitiveness of U.S. climate and weather modeling. But we did not feel that our primary message was about computing.

Our primary message was meant to be about fragmentation and distribution of resources that could be brought together to address integrated problems such as climate assessments. The U.S. scientific culture values highly innovative, curiosity driven research. This is often best achieved through the efforts of individual scientists and small groups. This individuality is exciting, and it is how scientists get promoted. It develops a culture of expertise. Our point in the document was that there needed to be another path of scientific practice, one that valued the integration of all of the pieces and the production of validated, science-based products. We called this “product-driven” research. We could have as easily called it applied research.

So the question comes forward, how do we value product-driven research? It’s hard. In the U.S. we have this idea that if we generate products from our research, then that is in some way damaging to innovation and the generation of the “best science.” The “science” gets compromised. The word “operational” is invoked, and there is a prejudice that operational systems, ones that produce products on a schedule, must be less than they can and should be scientifically. Hence, anytime there is a push towards product-driven research, there is both individual and institutional resistance that rises to defeat the push. This makes sense, because it is asking people to change, and it is asking them to do something for which they cite plenty of evidence that it will assure less successful careers.

We have institutions where people are expected to work on community models but, at least historically, their performance plans make no mention of community activities. I have worked on documents for U.S. agencies as recently as 2010 where I tried to write that we were building climate models that could be used in energy planning, policy decisions, and by society to anticipate and plan for climate change. This, however, was deemed as contrary to the true agency mission of fundamental research for the benefit of the nation. People are hired to do multi-disciplinary research, but they are promoted or given tenure for their individual accomplishments in specific disciplines. Individuals are recognized for novel breakthroughs, programs are recognized for funding novel breakthroughs, and agencies are recognized for having programs that fund novel breakthroughs.

So in the final presentations we made of the 2000 Report we drew pictures like the one below. We put in arrows and money signs and suggested lines of management, and argued that there needed to be internalized incentive structures. (For those with energy, the article continues below the figure!)

Figure 1. An organization designed to deliver product-driven research (maybe what we should do).

What I have stated above is that the fragmented way we approach the practice of science is valued because it encourages innovation and fundamental discovery. One the other hand, it stands in way of the cross-disciplinary unifying branch of science. As climate scientists we have a need to perform assessments, and assessments are, by definition, cross-disciplinary unifying science. Therefore, to align our assets and efforts to perform assessments comes into basic conflict with not only our fragmented scientists and science organizations, but with the underlying culture of our practice of science.

The fragmentation extends beyond the practice of research. There are separate organizations responsible for high-performance computing, and they have their needs to demonstrate breakthroughs. Such a goal might be the greatest number of calculations in a second. Goals like that are achieved with special problems and computer codes, not with messy real problems like weather prediction and climate modeling. Computers are often provided for a set of grand challenge problems. Another point in the report was that the climate models and computational platforms needed to co-evolve; they needed to be managed together.

And if computers and models need to co-evolve, then there needs to be balanced development of software and data systems and analysis capabilities. In fact, in the 2000 report, we identified the greatest deficiency in federal investment being in software infrastructure. Since 2000, there has been significant development of software and data systems and analysis capabilities.

Perhaps then, there is some impact from the report, with more balance in the funding of all of the pieces that are needed in a robust climate program. The expenditures, however, are still fragmented, and the developments have a tendency to be independent. Even given the recognition that these expenditures are essential for a robust climate program, there is always a fight to maintain the expenditures as they are viewed to take away resources from “the science,” from research, from discovery. The program managers and software engineers and the data system professionals have to compete with the high profile breakthroughs of research and high-performance computing.

I paint here a fundamental characteristic of our practice of science. It is deeply engrained, and in many ways, it is highly successful. Therefore, approaches to provide assessments, to address cross-disciplinary unifying science, to develop climate services – these approaches need to build from this practice and from these successes. This is a challenge to agencies who like to think in terms of re-organizations, institutions, and programatic collocation of needed assets. Reorganization does not address the basic fact that the underlying structure is fundamentally fragmenting, that there is perceived value in that fragmentation, and that there is investment in that fragmentation.

In the 2000 report we described the type of organization that we thought was needed to address the issues of climate modeling, high-performance computing, and climate services. Today, I would nuance or refine that recommendation, based on emergence of community-based approaches to complex problem solving. A new type of organization is needed, one with stable, balanced, coordinated, product-focused investments in all of the elements necessary for science-based climate products. Essential in this organization is giving value to those who perform cross-disciplinary unifying scientific research to address complex problems. This is not reorganization or restructuring; this is not merging agencies and programs; this is focused, mindful development of a capability to achieve a specific, needed goal.

r

Facilitating Disruption

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

“Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”

Yesterday I got into an exchange with a person who posted a comment wishing the curse of a pox to the students writing on the UoMichigan COP15 Blog . It reminded me of Joseph Welch’s question to Senator Joe McCarthy, “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?” (Welch-McCarthy Exchange from American Rhetoric)

In the United States we devolve into something that is more like tribalism with sides taken based on the color of your uniform or who pays you the most. Discussion is based not on ideas and solutions, but on who makes a statement. Issues are advocated, and ideas are placed into extremes that take on attributes such as good and evil, for and against. The other side is wrong, and their intentions are of hidden control or hidden profit. This threatens our credibility and our viability.

US Senators pursue an investigation of climate science based upon the stolen and published correspondence of a small clutch of prominent scientists. Here at the Conference of Parties (COP15) in Copenhagen the news says that we should anticipate a visit by Congressman Sensenbrenner to call for the end of “climate fascism.” This will place this US political tribe in solid alliance with, perhaps, Saudi Arabia.

For the conference as a whole, I, my students, my colleagues, new people I meet, the discussion in the plenary sessions – from all of these sources, I hear no serious discussion about any challenge the CRU emails present to the basic conclusions that the Earth will warm, ice will melt, sea level will rise, and the weather will change. I have had a small number of interviews, and the question is asked almost as a curiosity. It’s more like the scandal of the emails is really a scandalous aspect of the US culture, like displays of disfigured animals in the back lot of a traveling freak show.

Some of my American colleagues, those closest to the IPCC, these people spend time developing rational responses to calls for investigations, allegations of lies, searches for conspiracies, and efforts to control the participation of individual US scientists in IPCC assessments. They work to craft rational responses to the irrational. Members of the Congress form and dissolve COP delegations. The rationalist’s response to a process that is being managed to be irrational is, itself, irrational. As the rationalist counters the irrational, their irrationality becomes more and more damaging.

It took me several years of management at NASA to realize that there were some people who thrived on the fight. There were those who were disruptive and sometimes deliberately hostile. Others, who benignly fueled chaos. These efforts to cause organizational dis-structure, to increase organizational entropy – these efforts were their strategy for success. Or if not a strategy for success, it was a strategy to keep others from succeeding, of using the distraction to outlast efforts they viewed to their disadvantage.

I spent some time as a manager of scientists trying to find the rational arguments that would help people see the intent and advantage of what I was trying to do and to develop buy in. I had some success, but there was always a group that worked, deliberately or subconsciously, to sabotage. Their strategy was often to create disorder. Their tactic was often to isolate facts or conjecture that in their isolation suggested rationality, compelled a rational response. The rational response was, ultimately, parried with the next isolated fact or conjecture. This is a tactic to build selective doubt.

While at NASA I had the experience of being on a long camping trip with a person who had a psychotic episode. My companion started to hear voices in the radio background, and transmissions through rusted cans lying on the side of the trail. There were always perceived people with weapons in groups of people near us. My first response was to discuss the inability of people speaking through rusted cans. Then I proceeded to showing that nothing bad did occur following the perceived threat. I tried to use a rational description of reality to prove a point that was motivated and fueled by extreme irrationality. Irrationality ultimately anchored in fear.

As a manager, I became more aware of fear and the fear of change. I tried to make my contribution as organizing disorganized systems. I hired a sociologist to work with me at NASA. What I learned is that this tactic of developing the rational response to the isolated assertion, conjecture, or fact was, fundamentally, ill posed. I learned that irrationality and sabotage were a natural part of getting the job down. I learned that if you allow the isolated assertions, conjectures, and facts to grow to dominate the job, then progress will be slowed, perhaps stopped. I learned that if you want to make progress then the leader has to differentiate her/his self from the turmoil, objectify the irrationality and sabotage as part of the whole – and manage it. Place the disruption in its place – the place of the disruptors.

I also learned that it is important to listen to the disruptors, to truly understand the motivation of the disruption. Almost always a sound foundation of the disruption is offered. It was my job to determine if the stated foundation was the real foundation – what is the subtext? It was my job to determine if I needed to accommodate the concerns of the disruptors into the direction the project or organization needed to take. The reason people disrupted ranged from a true conviction that a certain path was wrong to strong emotional attachments to particular ideas and, even, pieces of software. There were always some who where, often by their own admission, contrarian. And, if one is contrarian, it is usually because being contrarian has been a successful strategy in their lives. There are a host of reasons to disrupt, to resist, and to sabotage change.

As long as the community of climate scientists engages in the disruption and the creation of selective doubt, the disruptors will garner attention and an exaggerated amount of success. The march forward will be slowed. The behavior of all will be reduced to one where it makes sense to question decency. The disruptors cannot be convinced by the exposition of the rational totality; they are not looking to be convinced. Their motivations are elsewhere.

The person who made the original comment on the blog responded to me that their comments represented civility in 2009 and suggested that I would be intimidated by and unwelcoming of the language of Shakespeare. I do not, however, accept that participating in this game of personal attacks, repeated slogans, and outrageous assertions is the form of how we must now carry out deliberations of serious issues. I find no relevance of the curses of MacBeth’s witches. If I behave like a character in a tragedy, then it is likely the results will be tragic.

This behavior of disruption is an old and common tactic. It is always in present in politics and management – really throughout life. It is something one imagines as absent in the purity of science, but it is not absent in the best of worlds; it is a community peopled by scientists. We in the US have allowed it to grow to a way of doing business that threatens our relevance and our viability.

I sit here in Copenhagen, not far from Hamlet’s castle of tragedy. I hear quiet men developing community-based climate adaptation plans to link to development activities in their countries. I see interesting technology in transportation and energy from countries eager for wealth. I see policy and practices developing in other countries that promote efficiency and environmental trade. I see the US distracted and wasting its intellect and time on disruptions designed to play to people at home, and which will assure to hasten our marginalization as a great culture. We don’t even look smart to our own children.

r

Other relevant blogs

Paul Edwards: IPCC Press Briefing

Paul Edwards: “Climategate,” Not IPCC

Jeff Masters: Manufactured Doubt

Jeff Masters: Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Rood: Climategate Copenhagen Impacts

Rood: Update from Copenhagen

And here is

Faceted Search of Blogs at climateknowledge.org

Sustainability, Climate Change, and the Role of the University

Friday, October 30th, 2009

This post is something in the spirit of an essay. These are a few introductory paragraphs on a big picture view of sustainability, climate, global warming, and, ultimately perhaps, on the expanded role that I think educational institutions will have to take going forward.

Sustainability, Climate Change, and the Role of the University

Cultures, civilizations, and nations have evolved in the past 5000 years within a temperate climate with stable sea level. The accelerated growth of economies and population since the European Renaissance has relied on ready sources of energy and the ability to discover and utilize new sources of minerals and ecosystems. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-nineteenth century, we have been able to change, on a global scale, the basic physical and biological characteristics of the land surface and the composition of atmosphere and the ocean. These anthropogenic changes are significant enough that we now influence the mean state of the environment on local, continental, and global scales. Air quality is a defined and managed resource. Decisions made in land use and land management influence local and regional temperature, precipitation, ground water replenishment and water runoff. The increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have and will warm the surface of the Earth; melt the abundance of fresh water held in snow, glaciers, and ice sheets; lead to rises in sea level that are unprecedented in human experience; and cause more violent storms, more flooding rains, and more severe droughts. Humans and the enterprise of humans are an integral part of the energy balance that is the Earth’s climate. Moving forward a sustainable planet will require us to take responsibility for managing the climate. No longer can we count on the discovery of new lands for resources – and no longer can we dispose of our waste into the atmosphere and ocean without regards to the consequences of our behavior.

Climate change, global warming, and changes in water resources sit in relation to energy use, societal success, energy security, food security, and population. Use of resources is an imperative of humans seeking to improve their lot. Therefore, we will not avoid global warming, and we will be required to adapt to the consequences of global warming. At the same time we must also work to mitigate the magnitude of global warming as, for example, sea level rise of several meters would be ruinous to individuals, cities, and nations. With unmitigated warming, ecosystems and agricultural productivity will change at a rate that will stretch and rip the fabric of the resource base that sustains us.

Energy security offers far more urgent challenges than those generally associated with global warming. Economic stability, de facto growth, always trumps efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, efforts to develop policies and strategies are conflated not only with many questions of the scientific investigation of climate change, but with complex political and business interests.

More efficient use of energy always is our best near-term strategy for increasing energy security, reducing costs, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. New materials emerge as important in increasing efficiency, providing new sources of energy, managing urban temperature, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Urban design and policy rises as an essential method for scaling up the actions of individuals to have substantive consequences on global scales. This mix of long- and short- term mandates, local- and global- scale of actions and consequences, offers many complex problems that challenges our ability to organize, structure, rationalize and optimize solutions. Meeting these complex problems head on – at the same time defining what we can do and keeping in mind what we must do – meeting these problems head on is at the heart of sustainability.

When viewed as a whole, universities address this suite of problems. However, the university culture focuses on and rewards disciplinary research in reduced problems. This is necessary, but no longer sufficient. Looking forward, the consilience of knowledge and its application is necessary for sustainability and habitability of our planet. Universities need to address, formally, the trans-disciplinary nature of the problems, and develop the organizational units and incentive structures that promote careers of unified problem solving. The role of the university should be recognized as extending beyond one, primarily, of research, but as a place where complex problems are addressed for the benefits of all of society. (Here is a white paper by several of my colleagues and myself that look at this problem more deeply. Federal Climate Services and Academic Institutions )

A Healthy Way to Travel

Monday, August 24th, 2009

The use of the automobile for personal transportation brings considerable benefits to individuals, such as the ability to travel quickly, easily and independently over long distances. However, car travel also contributes to health problems and societal threats such as physical inactivity, obesity, air pollution, climate change, habitat degradation, oil dependence, political instability, and economic insecurity.

These problems are particularly pronounced in the USA, which currently consumes roughly 27% of global oil production and produces approximately 25% of global carbon emissions, and where roughly 65% of adults are overweight or obese. Other countries throughout the world that replicate or hope to replicate the automobile-based lifestyle of the USA face similar problems now or in the near future.

Diet, genetic makeup, culture, and politics predispose some individuals to obesity and overweight. However, weight gain or loss is determined by the balance of energy intake (eating) and energy expenditure (exercise). Therefore, increased physical activity, assuming no other changes, would translate into a loss of weight.

In a recent paper, I explored the relationships between the distances that could be travelled through recommended daily exercise by walking or cycling with weight loss, oil consumption and carbon emissions. Straightforward calculations demonstrate that an average individual who substitutes the recommended daily amount of exercise for car trips would burn 12.2 and 26.0 kg of fat per year for walking and cycling, respectively. If exercise based transportation were adopted by the population as a whole, this rate of weight loss is sufficient to eliminate obese and overweight conditions in a few years without dangerous or draconian diet plans.

At the same time, substituting exercise for car travel would reduce the USA’s oil consumption by up to 38%. This is a potential saving that far exceeds the amount of oil recoverable from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, suggesting that exercise can reduce foreign oil dependence and provide an alternative to oil extraction from environmentally sensitive habitat.

Finally, if the savings on health care that result from increased physical activity were applied toward reducing the risks of climate change—roughly US$ 117 billion is spent annually in the USA on health care for obesity and overweight health problems alone—a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of roughly 35% is possible. Of course, alternative uses for any health care savings may make sense.

These are highly simplified calculations, of course, that overlook significant barriers to the adoption of exercise-based transportation. For example, given the option to drive, people are often reluctant to walk or cycle even short distances under ideal conditions. Poor health, disability, weather, time of travel and previously developed infrastructure all pose additional obstacles to the substitution of exercise for driving. Furthermore, driving distances are unequally distributed throughout the population and many individuals do not drive sufficiently far (or even at all). This makes the assumption of substitutability of driving questionable in some cases.

On the other hand, urban planning could facilitate a transportation approach that combines public transportation with exercise and that offers even greater potential for reaping co-benefits. For example, individuals could walk or bike short distances to bus or train stops and then take mass transit for much longer distances. This would amplify the potential to reduce oil dependence and carbon emissions.

Most importantly, these calculations appear to contradict three widely-held views: (1) meeting current and future energy needs requires either extraction or technological development, (2) addressing the threat posed by climate change requires social and economic sacrifice, and (3) dieting constitutes the most effective weight-loss strategy. Instead, exercise based transportation offers a favorable alternative to the energy and diet plans that are currently being implemented in developed countries like the USA and may lead policy-makers to better development choices in developing countries.

For individuals, these calculations illustrate that by integrating exercise into daily our lives, we can dramatically improve our physical activity and health and help solve several of today’s most challenging social problems. Given the crushing burden of obesity on individuals and society, we need to tap all potential sources of motivation.

This post is adapted from: Higgins, P.A.T. 2005. Exercise based transportation reduces oil dependence, carbon emissions and obesity. Environmental Conservation. 32(3):197-202.

How to Prevent Climate Change Summit from Failure

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

In December 2009, the parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet in Copenhagen. Their aim will be to conclude an agreement that will succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which terminates in 2012. Given the abysmal failure of Kyoto one may be permitted to ask, Will Copenhagen succeed any better? The answer depends on expectations of what can be achieved in this short amount of time; the answer depends on how “success” is defined.

It is easier to define failure. Most climate watchers would define failure to mean lack of an agreement by states to “commit” to limiting their emissions dramatically. I would define failure to mean repeating the mistakes made in Kyoto in 1997. The worst outcome would be for the United States to “commit” to meet quantitative targets and timetables of emission reduction without being sure that these obligations will be approved by Congress. (more…)

Science, Belief and the Volcano:

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

Science, Belief and the Volcano:

In January 2008 there was an article in the National Geographic called the The Gods Must Be Restless. The author, Andrew Marshall, describes Mbah Marijan, who has the job of satisfying the ogre that inhabits the volcano Merapi in Indonesia. The volcano is about to explode, the government has ordered an evacuation and Marijan is not convinced. Quoting the article:

“The alerts are merely guesses by men at far remove from the spirit of the volcano. The lava dome collapse? ‘That’s what the experts say,’ he (Marijan) says, smiling. ‘But an idiot like me can’t see any change from yesterday.’ ” (more…)

Opinions and Anecdotal Evidence

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Opinions and Anecdotal Evidence:

Here at the beginning of the Obama administration there is a shift in mindset unlike any I have ever seen. During my years in the U.S. government, the science agencies didn’t get significant attention until a year or more into the new administration. This year we see science getting attention from the beginning, and, for example, there was a nominee for NOAA administrator announced prior to the inauguration. (Jane Lubchenco from Wikipedia, Professor Jane Lubchenco, More on Obama science appointees). Along with this new emphasis on science there are people and groups trying to position themselves. This includes those who fight against the government taking action to mitigate and adapt to climate change. (more…)

An Insightful and Provocative Keynote

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

Herman Daly delivered a fantastic keynote address to AMS’s workshop on Federal Climate Policy. The text is reproduced here in full.

Climate Policy: from “know how” to “do now”

Herman E. Daly

The recent increase in attention to global warming is very welcome. Most of the attention seems to be given to complex climate models and their predictions. That too is welcome. However, it is useful to back up a bit and remember an observation by physicist John Wheeler, “We make the world by the questions we ask”. What are the questions asked by the climate models, and what kind of world are they making, and what other questions might we ask that would make other worlds? Could we ask other questions that would make a more tractable world for policy? (more…)

Problem Solving: Breaking it down

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

On my (more dynamic) Wunderground.com blog I have been writing a series about how we make the attribution of climate change to humans. Recently, the comments on that blog have moved to the discussion of the Copenhagen Consensus and how the climate change problem stacks up against other great problems we face. Here is the TimesOnline on the Copenhagen Consensus. Here is the primary link to the Copenhagen Consensus. There is an interesting list of priorities developed by the Copenhagen Business School. The Consensus Project is headed by Bjorn Lomborg, who has become a controversial figure in the community. The project aims to look at the great problems of the world taken together and in the face of both monetary resources and capabilities. Then it is determined which are the most urgent to address. In general, full-on attack of the climate change problem does not come out on the top of the list. (It seems that some of the readers of my Wunderground.com blog use this to dismiss the importance or correctness of climate change science.) (more…)


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