Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Picture: Cover of the new journal Nature Climate Change

I decided to break this post into two parts (as it got a bit long).

Overstretching attribution

This is a fantastic paper! It really made me think about the claim that biodiversity is responding to human induced climate change (e.g. earlier flowering or migration of animals). But is biodiversity behaviour itself good evidence of human induced climate change? After all, biodiversity will adapt to normal changes in climate. But a study in 2003 shows that while some species do show a strong response to a change in climate (57%), some showed no change (32%) and some showed behaviour in the opposite direction (11%). This is mainly due to "basic differences in species' sensitivity to climate". Hmmm, this really demonstrates that we need to be careful that we don't overstretch attribution of human induced climate change, especially if we only select cherries from the data (remember there are somewhere between 30 and 100 million different species on the planet).

The other problems are that "human forcing of the climate is only detectable on large spatial scales, yet organisms experience local climate" and there is "a complex interplay among habitat destruction, land-use change, exploitation and pollution, in addition to climate change".

The authors "propose concentrating on assessment of the interacting roles of climate and other environmental factors, regardless of the causes of the climate events or trends" rather than trying to find more proof/evidence of human-induced climate change. Well worth a read!!

I really looked forward to this paper as science communication, and social/decision sciences are particular interests of mine. It didn't let me down! The paper looks at the challenge of communicating uncertain climate risks and suggests that the answer is "strategic listening" rather than yet another poorly targeted climate change campaign which has "little chance of sustained success" and which has the effect of "eroding both the public's trust in the experts, who seem not to know their needs, and the experts' trust in the public, which seems unable to understand the issues".

It also suggests that what is needed is "contributions from cross-disciplinary teams, working within an institutional framework that provides support for their efforts. Such teams would include, at minimum, climate and other experts, decision scientists, social and communications specialists, and programme designers". Music to my ears! This paper is well written and definately worth a read.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New Book on Climate Change by Robert Repetto

Picture: Cover of the Robert Repetto's new book America's Climate Problem

Robert Repetto has released a new book  on Climate Change called America's Climate Problem: The Way Forward. Note: as a taste, the publisher 'Earthscan' has released Chapter 6 on Winning the Battle Over Climate Policy.

The free chapter alone is worth a look! It was interested to see the five lines of defence used by Climate Change denialists (my summary of pages 153-154).
1st line of defence is denial: 'It's not true; the science is flawed or incomplete'

2nd line of defence: 'It may be happening but it’s not harmful'.

3rd line of defence: 'It may be happening but we can’t stop it'.

4th line of defence: (the economic arguments) ‘It may be happening and may cause some harm, but trying to stop it would cost far more damage to the economy and is therefore not worth doing.’ 

5th line of defence: ‘the costs should fall on somebody else, not on me.’
Read more here

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 Americans and climate change

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Picture: Cover of the new journal Nature Climate Change

Here is a link to a new journal called Nature Climate Change

I have now had a good read of the Nature Climate Change Journal and it definately has some very interesting papers that may be useful to others including:

It isn't easy being green

How much do our friends influence our behaviour? This article looks at some of the psychological aspects of being green. Plus, I love the use of the Kermit the frog quote used by psychologist Dr Paul Stern "it isn't easy being green". It also argues that social science has a lot to offer when it comes to making society more green. This is not a huge suprise to me, given that people and society are involved in human induced climate change. 

Time to try Carbon labelling

"A Global Carbon-labelling scheme for consumer products" it is argued could help people select the lower Carbon option when shopping. Economic rational thinking suggests that people make their decisions based on full knowledge of the product. However, the Carbon price is not included information at this time. With this missing information, consumers will hopefully make better decisions. "Labels are a well established method for providing information", but are people willing to pay more for lower Carbon products or will more information pale when compared to choosing a cheaper (more carbon intensive) option? 

The authors admit that labels alone won't solve a complex problem, but they will give the consumer (and supply chains) the option to select a lower Carbon alternative. They conclude "The size of the consumer footprint suggests that only small shifts in purchasing behaviour could yeild large emissions reductions". Is greener consumption part of the answer (ecological modernisation) or is it a part of the problem ('green business as usual' from a deep green perspective)?

It also makes the point that firms may make changes and obtain positive reputation impacts, even if consumers don't change their behaviour in response to these Carbon labels. Also the complexities of Carbon labels is discussed (e.g. the need to include full life cycle analysis) and the fact that the ISO 14067 is being developed as a standard for world-wide usage. Interesting paper!

There are many more articles that may be of interest to other (e.g. "The Future of Food").

So check it out!!
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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Charles Perrow on the Fukushima Reactors

Picture: Smoke rising from the Fukushima Reactor in Japan

Below is a link to a piece written by Charles Perrow on the background and situation at the nuclear plants in Japan. It came through the Envirosoc listserver. He is an Emeritus Professor of Sociology and an expert on the sociology of risk.

He wrote "The Next Catastrophe" and "Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies". (Note: Now both on my list of books to read).

As I noted in a recent book, The Next Catastrophe (Princeton, 2011), we continue to populate our planet with systems that have catastrophic potential. We have vulnerable concentrations of populations, economic power, and hazardous materials. The most fearful concentrations of hazardous materials are in nuclear power plants.

We have yet to face up to the enormous risks of nuclear power plants. Japan is the current case in point. Known risks were run regarding earthquakes, plant layout, and engineering design, all assuming that the “worst case” event would be a rare outlier. I will take each in turn.
More here

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Readings in Sustainability Science and Technology

Kates, Robert W., ed. 2010. Readings in Sustainability Science and Technology. CID Working Paper No. 213. Center for International Development, Harvard University. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, December 2010.

Abstract: This Reader is one possible set of materials for advanced undergraduate and beginning graduate students of sustainability science. It consists of links to 93 articles or book chapters from which appropriate readings and internet sources can be chosen. Many of these can be downloaded, others need to be sought through University libraries. These are organized around three major domains of sustainability science: Part 1: an overview of sustainable development; Part 2: the emerging science and technology of sustainability; and Part 3: the innovative solutions and grand challenges of moving this knowledge into action.

The Readings begins with the history of sustainable development and its many concepts. Among these are the dual goals of sustainable development—the promotion of human development and well-being while protecting the earth’s life support systems. Thus, the current status, long-term trends, and impacts of nine essentials for human well-being and seven of the essential life support systems are examined. Part 1 concludes with the interactions of human society and the life support systems as these have been sketched—simply, realistically, and imaginatively.

Part 2 of the Reader focuses on what, why, and how to do sustainability science and technology. It begins with three essential qualities of the emerging science: its use or needs orientation, focus on human-environment systems, and goal of integrated understanding. As a science in support of a sustainability transition, it is clearly value-driven and a second section of this Part considers the science of identifying and analyzing values and attitudes. The third and fourth sections examine the current practice of the science, the analyses undertaken, and the distinctive methods and models used.

Professor William C. Clark

Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy and Human Development
Harvard Kennedy School of Government
Harvard University

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