My favorite line reflects on the importance of placing scientific debates on the edges of understanding in the context of established knowledge: “Disagreement about how to model the flight of a Frisbee correctly doesn’t imply that basic aerodynamics are wrong.”
It’s an important line of work, with the potential to help clarify everything from the risk of disease outbreaks to the rate of warming across the vast and sparsely monitored Antarctic continent. I hope its practitioners make a lot of progress.
I also hope that progress, going forward, mostly doesn’t resemble the fight that has played out between Eric Steig of the University of Washington and Ryan O’Donnell, an independent data analyst, in the wake of competing papers aiming to use these methods to clarify patterns of temperature change across Antarctica.
I also hope that tussles at the edges of understanding, where data are scant or uncertainty is high, don’t distract the public too much from the basics of climate science, which are boringly undisputed yet still speak of a rising risk that sorely needs addressing.
Here’s what’s happened on the Antarctic “edge”: Read more…
A city polluted due to mismanagement of coal-plant emissions.
My post over the weekend on growing recognition of a role for gaming in learninggenerated a great mix of responses that are worth highlighting and building on here.
The piece focused on Will Wright, the mind behind Spore and The Sims, and solicited questions for Wright as well as others’ views on the notion that virtual experiences can help fit infinite human aspirations on a finite planet.
Early efforts have focused on embedding scientific or environmental themes in conventional games, as was the case in SimCity Societies (left) in 2007. (The climate-related components of the gamewere sponsored by BP, which was the subject of a very different game last year.)
That’s just one tiny facet of what might be explored. I think far greater potential lies in using gaming technology and design, along with explosively expanding communication channels, to foster global collaboration and knowledge sharing.
Not all games involve avatars or buttons. I’ve participated in Model U.N. meetings and events organized by the International Education and Resource Network, but would love to help see similar efforts bring students around the globe together via the Web to play out scenarios in which they grapple with issues that grownups are stuck on — like the “climate divide” behind many of the fights over global cooperation to limit climate risks.
Here are some of the most interesting insights and reactions from readers (I’ve added some links and video here and there for context): Read more…
Feb. 9, 12:10 a.m. | Updated The Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the Pacific walrus, greatly recovered from decades of slaughter but facing stress in the warming Arctic climate, merits protection under the Endangered Species Act. (The photograph above was taken byJohn Sarvis/USFWS.)
But the species, like others that face rising pressure but are not in imminent danger, will for now remain in the regulatory equivalent of an overcrowded hospital triage department. The Center for Biological Diversity, which filed the petition that resulted in the agency decision, calls the “warranted but precluded” species status given to the walrus and many other species a “black hole.”
The walrus’s situation will be reviewed annually, according to the wildlife service. Here’s background from the agency:
On a related front, a new paper in the journal Nature Communications (available in full online) projects deep reductions in litter size in the polar bear population along the western shores of Hudson Bay, should the open-water season continue to lengthen as foreseen under the warming influence of accumulating greenhouse gases. Bears in other parts of the Arctic with similar ice patterns could face equal peril, according to the paper. I’ve queried the authors about some details in the analysis and will file more on that research when I can.
For walruses, here’s where things stood when biologists and filmmakers from a wildlife group spotted vast herds crowded onshore in areas where the marine mammals typically rest on ice floes (as I reported, this coastal crowding is not an unprecedented phenomenon):
Now comes the Pacific walrus. The giant clam-digging marine mammal, greatly recovered from enormous hunting pressure, appears to be facing rising climate-related stresses as the sea ice that it normally relies on as a haven and nursery has stayed far from the coasts on the Russian and American sides of the Bering Strait and Chukchi Sea. I have an article running in The Times describing the latest analysis of recent stampeding episodesof walruses crowded onshore in the absence of ice. [Read the rest.]
I recently wrote a couple of pieces aiming to move “Beyond the Eternal Food Fight” between techno-cornucopians convinced that innovation and efficiency will feed 9 billion prospering people and enviro-calamatists convinced the cliff is nigh, or we’re already over it.
When you look behind dueling posts and columns, it’s clear that the building and long-lasting influence of humans on the climate system is progressively tipping the odds toward outcomes that can be bad for agriculture in many struggling places. And it’s doing so just as the human “population cluster bomb” is creating high densities of people in many of those same places and the growth of the global middle class is amplifying appetites.
However difficult it may be, though, it’s probably best not to look with too tight a view at particular events, most recently the turmoil in Egypt, in building arguments for specific policies. And it’s clear, too, that trends in food availability and cost are shaped by so many local and global factors, with all kinds of feedback loops, that claiming causality is inadvisable.
Pielke points out that a longer view of prices, adjusted for inflation, makes a link to climate change pretty challenging. The paper he cites, by Daniel Sumner, the director of the University of California Agricultural Issues Center, is well worth reading.
You can follow others’ observations on Twitter using the tag #SEESummit.
I’m going to post rough riffs and reactions below through the day, as time allows:
Janet English, a prize-winning science teacher at El Toro High School in San Diego, introduces a batch of students to inspire the adults in the room to build the environment kids need to become learners and leaders.
Sir Ken Robinson discusses the need to reexamine the anachronistic norms for education aimed at innovation, the destructive lines between arts and sciences, and new models for teaching that can advance human progress.
“Most people only discover who they are after they’ve recovered from their education,” he says. “If you make science arid, you lose another generation.”
Here his most famous riff on these issues:
Tony DeRose from Pixar describes the wonders of the annual “Maker Faire” in the San Francisco Bay area, including the potato cannon gatling gun:
I sent the piece to several other scholars and researchers in this arena. Below you can read a section of Luft’s analysis, followed by an e-mail chat with him and then a variety of reactions, including those of Vaclav Smil at the University of Manitoba and R. James Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Pano Kroko, a man of many talents whom I met a few years ago at a retreat on the role of the Internet in forging human progress, saw my post “Explaining Egypt” and offered some reflections on the causes and meaning of the uprising and whatever comes next. (The photo above, of anti-government demonstrators on Wednesday night, is by Ed Ou for The New York Times.) Kroko’s comment is reposted here as a “Your Dot” contribution:
The Egyptian uprising has been in the offing for more than 10 years. A well organized effort that uses current tools but otherwise an expected Nile drought, failed agriculture and food shortages rebellion as old as age and time and quite cyclical in Egypt.
I suppose that puts it somewhat in the economics and environmental arena… It’s not an accident that Africa suffers the most immediate effects of climate change.
In some ways it has crossed the Berkeley line and it leads to popular uprisings against stupid governments that are out of touch with reality of the people. Climate change delivers political change too. In this case as it turns out a positive outcome realized — yet.
Surely cellphones and social media matter and much like in the French revolution print lithography and broad sheet typography was critical — it wasn’t crucial.
The current rebellions are not about access to tech but about the basics: Food, free will, future survival, self determination and happiness.
He provided a link to the latest post on his Bleeding Edge blog, which is highly relevant. Kroko discusses the environmental and economic drivers of the unrest in a broader context that includes President Obama’s stated pursuit of sustainable economic growth. Here’s an excerpt and a link to the rest: Read more…
I’m in Tempe, Ariz., today, where the fountains are frozen, having (barely) escaped the Groundhog Day blizzard that just swept much of the country. I won’t be able to join my friend and Pace University colleague John Cronin on the “snowfa” carved on Main Street in Beacon, N.Y., until the weekend (the photo is by Russ Cusick, whose work has been featured here before).
I am preparing to spend most of today at Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability with one of my favorite thinkers, Braden Allenby, exploring one of the core questions of Dot Earth, which I phrased this way ina recent post:
Through science, we are getting the growing impression that our petri dish has an edge. Do we grow unabated until fundamental resource constraints rein us in, or can we modulate behaviors to soften the transition to some steadier state?