Some interesting bits and pieces I bumped into that I didn’t see much in play elsewhere:
First was a discussion and update on “Planetary Boundaries”. At the previous year’s session, a commitment was made to investigate key “planetary boundaries”, and initial contributors included James Hansen, Tim Lenton, Robert Costanza and others. Apparently there is an upcoming paper in Nature based on the nine identified “boundaries”:
It’s a good panel discussion and update of the broader, interconnected environmental issues we face. Some of it’s a bit slow/basic, but moderator Johan Rockström does a good job consolidating the discussion. I hope there is a paper forthcoming that expands on how the 9 boundaries and targets are being chosen. I suppose it’s encouraging that they didn’t conclude that there are 50 boundaries we need to worry about – although when you have categories as broad as “chemical pollution” and get to count mercury, radioactive wastes, POPs, plastics, etc. as one category, maybe it’s not as meaningful. (An aside. There was an interesting, throw-away “visualization” I liked: A panelist remarks that we have added about 250 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere. Which means the equivalent mass of having suspended about 150 billion Volvo’s in the air above us. Just an interesting way of expressing it…)
The second Tallberg video I enjoyed was a short discussion by Paul Gilding, really just because it is the first time I heard him speak and I was even more impressed than in his good writing. It is very blunt and sobering, although he ends up quite optimistically (admitting that he has personally despaired at times).
Paul contends that most of “us” – environmentalists, activists, scientists – are, ourselves, in denial because the reality of the situation is so disturbing that even we are reluctant to live with it. He said we must still accept 3 uncomfortable realities:
1. Business and old existing institutions are not going to change until they are threatened. It will take a crisis, which is a very uncomfortable truth.
2. The crisis has begun. Economic growth is finished. The Earth is full.
3. Things are going to get very difficult.
But, as I mentioned, he sees this in an optimistic vein, because he says that the old “plan” we have been using – since the 1970’s – of enlightening the public and leadership of our environmental challenges and waiting for them to change has failed. And we need to admit that it has failed so that we can begin working within the crisis to achieve the transformations of our economic, energy and societal systems.
Admittedly, the speech is too short to do a good job of articulating just how, exactly, we are to achieve this new plan! Frustrating. So, if you enjoy Gilding’s themes, you may want to check out this longer (70 minutes), more solutions-based keynote speech to the University of Sydney Institute for Sustainable Solutions:
Paul Gilding argues that we have entered a period of global ecological crisis and economic stagnation that will last for decades. This will lead to an economic and social transformation of significance in the history of humanity… This crisis is now inevitable because the fundamental drivers are not opinion or politics but the established momentum of changes in the ecosystem. This is not philosophy, it’s physics and biology.
As a result our current model of economic growth is finished. Buying more stuff we don’t need, with money we haven’t got, in the pursuit of distraction from lives that lack meaning was never a really good idea, but now we’ve hit the wall.
The crisis we are now entering will present humanity with a clear choice between civilisations’ collapse or economic and social transformation. We will choose the latter, because there is no other way around the wall. This will lead to the complete transformation of our cities, our transport system and our energy sector in order to achieve a net zero CO2 economy. Whole sectors of the economy and many businesses will simply be replaced. All this will occur within a few decades.
Gilding’s assessment of “where we are” – in terms of effecting the changes we need, what’s (not) worked in the past, etc. – reminds me of Gus Speth in “The Bridge at the End of the World”.
Last “suggestion”: A REALLY Inconvenient Truth. Dan Miller “updates” the slideshow, reflecting the disconcerting advances in our scientific understanding since ~ 2007, the 2009 MIT update, etc. Perhaps not new info for anyone that might bump into this blog, but what is most useful interesting is that Dan has made all of his slides and animations available for anyone that wants to use/adapt them in their own presentations.
Finally, for those in the GTA, a reminder that the UofToronto Centre for Global Change Science 2009-2010 Distinguished Lecture Serieskicks off again next week, with a pleasant-sounding topic: “The boreal ecoregion: A global change time bomb?”. Interestingly (to me), Schindler has done some good work on the nitrogen cycle as well, and there looks to be a good session on perturbations of atmospheric nitrogen later in the series. That goes to the point in the first Tallberg video that it is about a lot more than just carbon…
No “Bernard Shakey” tunes this time. Instead, interesting lyrics and visuals (from ~ 3:10 onward, ending with the blue marble), 20 years on, from World Party:
“We’re setting sail to a place on the map
From which no-one has ever returned
Drawn by the promise of the joker and the fool
By the light of the crosses that burned
You will pay tomorrow
You’re gonna pay tomorrow
You will pay tomorrow
Oh, save me, save me from tomorrow
I don’t want to sail with this Ship of Fools, no, no
Avarice and greed are gonna drive you over the endless sea
They will leave you drifting in the shallows
Drowning in the oceans of history”