Category Archives: General

TechnoGarden : Finland?

The MA Scenario TechnoGarden is based on the emergence and spread of ecological property rights and technology. Pieces of this potential world are described in a Washington Post article about how the growth of green business in Finland is being stimulated EU policies.

Finnish entrepreneurs are investing in eco-friendly businesses. Their most important salesmen may not be Finnish businesspeople (for whom, many here acknowledge, salesmanship is not a natural talent), but the European Union’s regulation writers in Brussels who set the community’s ecological standards.

Proventia, for example, hopes to make millions from the new E.U. regulation requiring the original manufacturer to recapture and recycle at least 75 percent of the contents of every piece of electronics and electrical equipment sold in Europe. The new standard comes into force in August, and adapting to it will cost companies (including some U.S. corporations) huge amounts of money, according to Noponen. He hopes Proventia companies will earn a lot of that money.

Proventia Automation, another member of the group, already produces machines that can cut up television sets and computer monitors, separating leaded from unleaded glass with a laser and recycling all the glass and other valuable, reusable components. Noponen hopes the E.U.’s new standard will produce numerous new customers for this technology.

More broadly, his firm can provide information technology and management advice to help manufacturers figure out how to meet the new rules most efficiently. Manufacturers of electronic equipment can actually make money by recycling their own creations when their useful lives are over, Noponen said.

via WorldChanging

Climate of Man

Recently the New Yorker published “The Climate of Man” an excellent three-part series on climate change by Elizabeth Kolbert.

She covers ecological change, adaptation, flexible infrastructre, and global (and US) environmental politics.

Below are links and excerpts from each of the three articles. I suspect it will be a good book next year.

Part 1: Disappearing islands, thawing permafrost, melting polar ice;

By the time I got to the lookout over Sólheimajökull, it was raining. In the gloomy light, the glacier looked forlorn. Much of it was gray—covered in a film of dark grit. In its retreat, it had left behind ridged piles of silt. These were jet black and barren—not even the tough local grasses had had a chance to take root on them. I looked for the enormous boulder I had seen in the photos in Sigurdsson’s office. It was such a long way from the edge of the glacier that for a moment I wondered if perhaps it had been carried along by the current. A raw wind came up, and I started to head down. Then I thought about what Sigurdsson had told me. If I returned in another decade, the glacier would probably no longer even be visible from the ridge where I was standing. I climbed back up to take a second look

Part 2: The curse of Akkad;

“I gave a talk based on these drought indices out in California to water-resource managers,” Rind told me. “And they said, ‘Well, if that happens, forget it.’ There’s just no way they could deal with that.”

He went on, “Obviously, if you get drought indices like these, there’s no adaptation that’s possible. But let’s say it’s not that severe. What adaptation are we talking about? Adaptation in 2020? Adaptation in 2040? Adaptation in 2060? Because the way the models project this, as global warming gets going, once you’ve adapted to one decade you’re going to have to change everything the next decade.

“We may say that we’re more technologically able than earlier societies. But one thing about climate change is it’s potentially geopolitically destabilizing. And we’re not only more technologically able; we’re more technologically able destructively as well. I think it’s impossible to predict what will happen. I guess—though I won’t be around to see it—I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that by 2100 most things were destroyed.” He paused. “That’s sort of an extreme view.”

Part 3: What can be done?

“The amphibious homes all look alike. They are tall and narrow, with flat sides and curved metal roofs, so that, standing next to one another, they resemble a row of toasters. Each one is moored to a metal pole and sits on a set of hollow concrete pontoons. Assuming that all goes according to plan, when the Meuse floods the homes will bob up and then, when the water recedes, they will gently be deposited back on land. Dura Vermeer is also working to construct buoyant roads and floating greenhouses. While each of these projects represents a somewhat different engineering challenge, they have a common goal, which is to allow people to continue to inhabit areas that, periodically at least, will be inundated. The Dutch, because of their peculiar vulnerability, can’t afford to misjudge climate change, or to pretend that by denying it they can make it go away. “There is a flood market emerging,” Chris Zevenbergen, Dura Vermeer’s environmental director, told me. Half a dozen families were already occupying their amphibious homes when I visited Maasbommel. Anna van der Molen, a nurse and mother of four, gave me a tour of hers. She said that she expected that in the future people all over the world would live in floating houses, since, as she put it, “the water is coming up.”

The series ends:

“It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing”

The formation of creative teams

In a recent paper published in Science Guimerà and colleagues use network theory to investigate what makes teams sparklingly creative as compared to those less inventive. The authors use large datasets on producers of Broadway musicals and authors of scientific papers in Economics, Ecology, Social Psychology and Astronomy to document the character of successful teams. Factors that seem of importance include the fraction of veteran members of a team, as well as the extent to which veterans involve their former collaborators.

From Barabàsis analysis of the authors results:

To comprehend the structure of the collaboration map, we must understand how people form friendships and alliances. Given that in the professional world friendships are just as crucial as hard-nosed professional interests, modeling the evolution of creative teams may appear to be impossible. Guimeraà’s results indicate otherwise: They show that a simple model successfully captures many qualitative features of the network underlying the creative enterprise. In their study, they distinguish between veterans, who have participated in collaborations before, and rookies, who are about to see their names appear in print for the first time. Two parameters are key: the fraction of veteran members in a new team, and the degree to which veterans involve their former collaborators. If choosing experienced veterans is not a priority, the authors find that the network will be broken up into many small teams with little overlap between them. As the likelihood of relying on veterans increases, thanks to the extra links to earlier collaborators, the teams coalesce through a phase transition such that all players become part of a single cluster.

The results of the Guimerà et al. study indicate that expertise does matter: Teams publishing in highimpact journals have a high fraction of incumbents. But diversity matters too: Teams with many former collaborative links offer inferior performance. Thus, the recipe for success seems relatively simple: When forming a “dream team” make an effort to include the most experienced people, whether or not you have worked with them before. But diversity matters too: Teams with many former collaborative links offer inferior performance. Thus, the recipe for success seems relatively simple: When forming a “dream team” make an effort to include the most experienced people, whether or not you have worked with them before.

Nature uses fiction to communicate global risks of Avian flu

The 1918 flu pandemic killed 50 million people across the globe. This weeks Nature is devoted to the potential of an avian flu pandemic and contains both news and scientific reports on the subject. To highlight and communicate the risks involved story telling is used in the form of a future weblog, written by a made up freelance journalist.

Continue reading

Governing the Resilience of Venice

Venice lies in the shallow waters of a coastal lagoon connected to the northern tip of the Adriatic sea. It is occupied for more than 1500 years, and in the 14th century it became a major martime power. However, human activities have reduced the resilience of Venice which is increasingly experiencing floodings. The buffering capacity of the lagoon has been reduced by pollution (affecting sea weed vegetation which keep sand together), fishery (clam fishing by mechanical equipment that damage the lagoon bed), groundwater withdrawn and sealevel rise (climatic change). Venice in Peril is a committee that coordinates research to save Venice. A nice book came out on this subject “The Science of Saving Venice” which can be ordered from this website.
A flooded St Mark's Piazzetta

Paper competition on “Novel approaches of integrative science for the future”

The journal Ecology and Society invites submissions for in a manuscript competition on novel ways of performing integrative science and policy research. The annual ‘Ralf Yorque Memorial Prize’ of 5,000 Euro will be awarded to the most novel paper that integrates different streams of science to assess fundamental questions in the ecological, political, and social foundations for sustainable social-ecological systems.

Transdisciplinary science is often promoted in words and not in practice. Young scholars derive many incentives to specialize in certain disciplines, and experience few incentives to be creative in combining insights from various scientific disciplines and performing science in nontraditional ways. This paper competitions is meant to be an incentive in the effort to stimulate novelty and creativity of new ways of performing science.

The 10,000-year Gallery

Photographer Ed Burtynsky has proposal a “The Gallery of the Long Now.” It would compliment the Clock of the Long Now project, now underway. The idea for the clock was hatched over 20 years ago and the goal is to build a clock that can run–by itself–for 10,000 years. The plan is for it be housed in a mountain, protected from the elements – Burtynsky thinks that a gallery would be a great addition.

http://www.cbc.ca/spark/blog/2008/09/full_interview_ed_burtynsky_on_1.html

On the The Long Now Blog Stewart Brand writes about Edward Burtynsky‘s proposal for a 10 000 year art gallery in the Clock of the Long Now (aimed at fostering long-term responsibility) in its Nevada mountain site.

The gallery would consist of art in materials as durable as the alloy steel and jade of the Clock itself, and it would be curated slowly over the centuries to reflect changing interests in the rolling present and the accumulating past.

Photographs in particular should be in the 10,000-year Gallery, Burtynsky said, “because they tell us more than any previous medium. When we think of our own past, we tend to think in terms of family photos.”

The rest of the presentation was of beautiful and evocative photographs from three demonstration exhibits for the proposed gallery—”Museum of the Mundane” by Vid Ingelvics; “Observations from a Blue Planet” by Marcus Schubert; and “In the Wake of Progress” by Burtynsky himself. A typical Burtynsky photograph showed a huge open pit copper mine. A tiny, barely discernible black line on one of the levels was pointed out: “That’s a whole railroad train.” Alberta tar sands excavation tearing up miles of boreal forest. China’s Three Gorges Dam. Mine tailing ponds beautiful and terrible. Expired oil fields stretching to the horizon. Michelangelo’s marble quarry at Carrera, still working.

“This is the sublime of our time,” said Burtynsky, “shown straight on, for contemplation.” Indeed worth studying for centuries.

Resilience reflections wri

WRI 2008 Roots of Resilience the report states:

Resilience is the capacity to thrive in the face of challenge. Communities that are successful in using a community-driven model to manage their ecosystem assets and build them into enterprises can experience a marked increase in their resilience. With increased resilience, these communities are better prepared to survive economic downturns, environmental changes, and social disruptions—challenges whose impacts are often most severe where poverty is highest.

Defining Resilience

Resilience is usually defined as the capacity of a system to tolerate shocks or disturbances and recover. In human systems, this is closely linked to the adaptive capacity of the system—the ability of individuals and the group to adapt to changing conditions through learning, planning, or reorganization. In the context of rural communities, we can speak of three forms or dimensions of resilience: ecological, social, and economic.

Ecological resilience is the level of disturbance that an ecosystem can absorb without crossing a threshold to a different ecosystem structure or state (Walker et al. 2006:14; Folke et al. 2002:13). The disturbance may be natural, like a storm, or human-caused, like deforestation, pollution, or climate change. The new ecosystem structure that results after crossing a threshold may have lower productivity or may produce differ- ent things that are not as desirable to those remaining in the ecosystem. Overfishing, forest clearance, and overgrazing are typical disturbances that can challenge ecosystems and ultimately overwhelm their ability to recover, forcing them over the threshold to a new and, from the standpoint of naturebased livelihoods, less desirable state.

Social resilience is the ability to face internal or external crises and effectively resolve them. In the best cases it may allow groups to not simply resolve crises but also learn from and be strengthened by them (Brenson-Lazan 2003:1). It implies an ability to cohere as a community and to solve problems together in spite of differences within the community. Social capital and a shared sense of identity and common purpose support this aspect of resilience.

Economic resilience is the ability to recover from adverse economic conditions or economic shocks (Briguglio et al. 2005:6–7). It encompasses having a variety of economic options available if a particular economic activity fails or being able to create more options if necessary. It benefits from

Disagreement over Climate ‘Tipping Points’

In the New York Times, Andrew Revkin describes disagreement between scientists on how important tipping points are in understanding the future of climate change.  I think this article is fine and the term tipping point is often used in a confusing manner.  But it misses the point that current governance and strategies assume gradual change -  there is clear evidence for abrupt climate change in the past and in ecosystems that suggests experiementation and resilience building are important strategies to combine with mitigation.  Below is a section from the article Among Climate Scientists, a Dispute Over ‘Tipping Points’:

the idea that the planet is nearing tipping points — thresholds at which change suddenly becomes unstoppable — has driven a wedge between scientists who otherwise share deep concerns about the implications of a human-warmed climate.

Environmentalists and some climate experts are increasingly warning of impending tipping points in their efforts to stir public concern. The term confers a sense of immediacy and menace to potential threats from a warming climate — dangers that otherwise might seem too distant for people to worry about.

But other scientists say there is little hard evidence to back up specific predictions of catastrophe. They worry that the use of the term “tipping point” can be misleading and could backfire, fueling criticism of alarmism and threatening public support for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“I think a lot of this threshold and tipping point talk is dangerous,” said Kenneth Caldeira, an earth scientist at Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution and an advocate of swift action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. “If we say we passed thresholds and tipping points today, this will be an excuse for inaction tomorrow,” he said.

While studies of climate patterns in the distant past clearly show the potential for drastic shifts, these scientists say, there is enormous uncertainty in making specific predictions about the future.

In some cases, there are big questions about whether climate-driven disasters — like the loss of the Amazon or a rise in sea levels of several yards in a century — are even plausible. And even in cases where most scientists agree that rising temperatures could lead to unstoppable change, no one knows where the thresholds lie that would set off such shifts.

Nevertheless, the use of the tipping point concept has intensified recently, as the Obama administration and Congress work on legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions and the world’s nations negotiate a new climate treaty.

In reports released this month, both the World Bank and the United Nations Environment Program focused on tipping points as a prime concern. And last year, a team of European scientists published an influential paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences compiling what is known and not known about various climatic tipping points — including the loss of summer sea ice around the North Pole and worrisome changes in the West African monsoon.

The authors said they wanted to reduce the chance that “society may be lulled into a false sense of security by smooth projections of global change.”

On the other hand, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its influential 2007 report, expressly avoided specifying tipping points and instead concluded simply that the gradient of risk for a host of “large-scale discontinuities” increased with each degree of warming.

Dr. Hansen defends the use of the term tipping point and said that it accurately depicts some probable consequences of unchecked global warming. There is abundant evidence, he says, that rising temperatures can have an abrupt, calamitous and “nonlinear” effect on glaciers and ecosystems.

“I assure you that nonlinear systems exist,” Dr. Hansen said. “Ice sheets really do disintegrate. Documented sea-level rises of 4 to 5 meters per century exists — that was nonlinear collapse. Ecosystems also can collapse.”

He said that in discussing global warming, he refers not only to tipping points but to more general threats and that he was “not sure where the confusion about tipping points comes from.”

But other scientists, who study the response to climate change of polar ice and tropical forests, said that they saw scant evidence of runaway disruption.

For example, the idea that recent sharp retreat of summer sea ice around the North Pole has now taken on its own momentum has been challenged recently in papers by the earth scientists John S. Wettlaufer of Yale and Ian Eisenman of the California Institute of Technology. They contend that thin ice floes have the capacity to regrow quickly as summer ends, balancing out the melting that occurs as sunlight hits and heats dark open water.

More generally, Dr. Wettlaufer has stressed the importance of being “caustically honest about what we know and don’t know.”

As policymakers try to address the risks facing the planet from a warming climate, some experts worry that focusing on tipping points and thresholds will perpetuate paralyzing debates over specifics — and obscure the reality that decisions need to be made, even in the face of uncertainty.

“It would be far better to spend less time musing over tipping points,” said Christopher Green, an economist who studies energy and climate at McGill University.

“Whether the probability is high, medium, or low, I think the response is the same: climate cannot be stabilized without an energy technology revolution,” he said. “One way or the other, we just need to get busy.”