Category Archives: Scenarios

New New Orleans Pt 2 – Issues, Leverage Points, Scenarios


On Sept 2 I posted about an article Dreaming a New New Orleans.

In another post on WorldChanging Alan AtKisson follows up in A New New Orleans – Issues, Leverage Points, Scenarios

From A New New Orleans – Issues, Leverage Points, Scenarios:

Another tool for producing best-possible outcomes is scenario planning: imagining several likely future-history pathways, starting from present conditions. In a short brainstorming session, at an international conference on regional sustainability held in central Hungary, an informal workshop group produced several possible scenarios for what New Orleans could become. Three of these scenarios are named after the Dutch cities they most resemble — appropriate, given the city’s position at the end of a major river, under sea level — and they roughly correspond with some scenarios floated by other US commentators (which I had heard about largely through conversation with a BusinessWeek editor reporting on the story).

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Art of Climate Change: telling stories to understand the future

The Guardian on Sept 24th, has an article by Robert Macfarlane The burning question, which argues that writers can play a crucial role in helping us to imagine the impact of climate change, but to date there is a gap of literature on climate change that reduces the ability of people to envision possible futures and consquently make better decisions today.

From the article:

Contemplation of the situation on Banks Island prompts a broader question about the relationship of climate change and language. Where is the literature of climate change? Where is the creative response to what Sir David King, the government’s chief scientific adviser, has famously described as “the most severe problem faced by the world”?

Cultural absences are always more difficult to document than cultural outpourings. But the deficiency of a creative response to climate change is increasingly visible. It becomes unignorable if we contrast it with the abundance of literature produced in response to the other great eschatological crisis of the past half-century – the nuclear threat.

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Abrupt Climate Change Fiction

Cover Fifty Degrees Below

American ecological science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson recently talked to the Guardian about his new, near-future climate change novel 50 degrees below, which presents a scenario of future climate change, its impacts and humanity’s response.

From the Guardian:

Set in an America of the almost-now, Fifty Degrees Below (and the first volume of the trilogy, Forty Signs of Rain) tells the story of the efforts of a loosely-connected group of scientists, campaigners and politicians to provoke a national response to the crisis of global warming. Unfortunately for them, as environmental aide Charlie Quibbler observes, it’s “easier to destroy the world than to change capitalism even one little bit”. It is not until the combination of two colliding storm systems and an unprecedented tidal surge causes Washington’s Potomac river to bursts its banks and overwhelm the country’s capital at the climax of book one that the world sits up and takes notice. But, by this point, the polar ice caps have already begun to melt in earnest, shutting down the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and creating environmental conditions that could usher in a new ice age. The last ice age, 11,000 years ago, took just three years to start.

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Dreaming a New New Orleans


On the Sustainability weblog WorldChanging, Alan AtKisson writes about rebuilding New Orleans –Dreaming A New New Orleans, Version 1.

He sees the possibility of a future New Orleans that combines elements of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Scenarios TechnoGarden and Global Orchestration, by using technological innovation to ‘green’ the city, ecological engineering to produce a safe livable city , and poverty alleviation to produce a fair and open city. He envisons how these things can combine to noursh a vibrant distinctive creative city.

AtKisson writes based upon his experience with a regional vitalization process in New Orleans:

What follows are very preliminary thoughts on principles for eventually creating a “New New Orleans,” one that is more environmentally secure, more economically successful, and more socially healthy and equitable, while retaining the culture that made it world famous. As the news reports continue to create a picture of the city’s horrible descent into hell, such an exercise feels a bit foolhardy; but there is so much dreaming to be done, to restore this great and wondrous city, that the dreaming must begin now.

Beginning in 2001, my firm was engaged by a consortium of regional leaders in New Orleans to help them design and launch an ambitious regional initiative, called Top 10 by 2010. … this extraordinary group worked together for a year and a half to craft a new foundation for regional progress. It was just in the process of re-forming and assessing progress so far when Katrina struck.

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MA Desertification Synthesis

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (see earlier posts Biodiversity Synthesis and 1 and 2.) has released Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Desertification Synthesis which is freely downloadable from the internet (as a 3 Mb pdf).

My summary of the report is drylands cover about 40% of Earth’s land surface. These areas contain about 2 billion people (~1/3 of world), but only 8% of the world’s supply of water.

Compared to people living in other ecological regions, people living in drylands have the lowest levels of human well-being, including the lowest per capita GDP and the highest Infant Mortality Rate.

Between 1/10th and 1/5th of drylands are degraded – their croplands, pastures and woodlands have been ecologically simplified reducing their economic productivity. The primary causes are over-cultivation, over-grazing, deforestation, and poor irrigation practices

There is substantial variation in rainfall in drylands. Climate change is expected to worsen this variation. People in these regions are already vulnerability of climate variation, climate change and population growth are expected to further decrease the ability of people to maintain their well-being in the face of social and environmental change. However, there are many possible institutional, economic, and ecological responses the people, businesses, and governments can adopt to reduce this vulnerability. In particular, approaches that integrate land and water management are needed.

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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.

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Positive Steps for Resilient Ecosystem Services

Although much of the mainstream press attention to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (see State of the World’s Ecosystems posted 31 March 2005) has emphasized the losses of ecosystem services and the adverse trends, a substantial fraction of the MA technical reports is devoted to positive, feasible steps that can be taken to improve ecosystem services in the future. All of these proactive steps are grounded in policies that are presently in place somewhere in the world today. A few examples:

• Increase the use of economic instruments and market-based approaches, e.g. assignments of property rights for ecosystem services, user fees for externalities, payment for ecosystem services, and mechanisms to express consumer preferences through markets (such as certification schemes)

• Explicitly include ecosystem services in poverty-reduction strategies

• Connect environmental management across ministries and sectors, instead of isolating it in a single ministry

• Create co-management systems to maintain reserves as part of regional mosaics

• Include local and indigenous knowledge, as well as technical knowledge, in decision-making

• Expand information available to individuals about how ecosystems affect them, and how their actions affect ecosystems

• Expand environment-friendly technology, especially in the areas of agriculture (water, nutrient and land use), urban design, and energy efficiency

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Framing the Future

In the April edition of the Scientific American, Steven Popper, Robert Lempert and Steven Bankes discuss a computational approach to assess the impact of crucial uncertainties of future developments on the decisions one has to make to meet desired targets, Scientific American: Shaping the Future.

People have the tendancy to make decisions with a short time horizon. Many developments in social-ecological systems have uncertain long term developments. Popper et al. explicitly focus on the possible consequences of uncertainties and visualize the result of many simulations in to a useful figure of how robust future scenarios are for meeting policy targets.

State of the world’s ecosystems

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) has started to release its reports. A statement from the review board and the main synthesis report have been released at a press conference and on the web.

The MA report shows that its undeniable that the human impact on the world’s ecosystems is large. For example, agriculture covers roughly 1/4 of the Earth’s land surface.

cultivated area of world
The extent of cultivated ecosystems across the globe.

There are a whack of news articles on the MA (e.g. BBC, Christian Science Monitor, SciDev.Net & Guardian)However, most of the focus is on the eco doom and gloom side of the reports (which is real) but is neglecting the more positive side of the report, which talks about what people can do and are doing to make things better. In particular how changes in ecological management can improve the economic productivity of ecosystems as well as the human well being of people who live in them. Also, I think, is the discussion of the strengths & weakenss of different approaches – and where and in what way technological and institutional changes appear to be most likely to be successful or unsuccessful is novel and useful. This issue is discussed further in a post on WorldChanging

For example, the MA scenarios present four different stories about the future. In several of the supply of many ecosystem services are improved (See figure blow).

Changes in Ecosystem services across MA Scenarios

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