The best of: Climate Forum

My thoughts on some of the best ideas and proposals to come out of the Climate Forum, both big and small:

  • From a measurement perspective, it is time to stop viewing all greenhouse gases in the framework of “CO2 equivalent.” Methane, for instance, has a shorter lifespan in the atmosphere but is more potent for its duration of occupation. This behavior does not translate well to the behavior of CO2, which is less potent but longer lived, and probably needs to be viewed differently when we consider our warming trajectory.
  • I asked Martin Manning about how to communicate the idea that uncertainty in climate science does not translate to “We don’t need to worry about it,” and he drew me the following sketch (reproduced by me, of course, will minimal mathematical accuracy)


    The idea is that, if we view risk as the product of cost and likelihood, where cost can be thought of either financially or otherwise, the peak in risk is not over the peak in likelihood, but rather shifted to the right. This of course assumes that cost will increase with greater warming, and for some areas, this may not be true – increased agricultural production is probably the best potential example, but more research needs to be done in this field.

  • I mentioned most of the ideas about communicating climate science in my previous post, but I’ll just reiterate the importance of framing climate change within existing value systems, emphasized by Erik Conway.
  • With regards to framing, there was discussion of discussing a carbon tax as a waste disposal fee, which fits neatly into the waste disposal fees we already pay for disposing of rubbish.
  • Brian Fallow recommended that scientists, before talking to the press, try to write down what they would like to have the public hear in 400 words or one spoken minute – and then tailor what you express to a reporter with those constraints in mind.
  • A bit impractical, but I liked the idea of instituting an individual carbon trading scheme. This would be a cool experiment in a small community, I think – see how families respond when they are given a certain carbon allocation to spend or sell. This fits in well with the “waste-disposal” framing, although the price of trash disposal is fixed.

That’s all I have for now – the real test of the Forum is if any change happens because of it. Wellington is a small enough and liberally-minded enough place that it just might, but remains to be seen.

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Kiwi ideas 1

One of the great experiences of living abroad (or in a new place in the States, for that matter) is that one gets to see how other communities, governments, and societies do things. I was inspired by my friend Mei‘s discussion of the design of the ATM withdrawal process in New Zealand compared to the States to record examples of little things I’ve noticed in Wellington that lead to a more friendly, healthy or otherwise good city.

Both availability and affordability of fresh produce are of concern in the States, especially as the obesity problem and its related health challenges increase. The latter problem is addressed in Wellington through the Sunday vegetable (and fruit) markets, where a plethora of produce is sold for cheap. (How cheap? I can buy enough produce for my house of five for the week and spend ~$40.) The market is not a farmers’ market; rather, the goods sold are bought wholesale from grocery stores when they are just beyond their shelf life. If you’ve ever lived in Boston, this may sound like Haymarket, but the produce is of much better quality, and will last for more than just a couple days.

I’m guessing the accessibility issue may remain a problem; the only two markets I am aware of here are in Wellington City. That said, public housing in Wellington is integrated throughout the city, which may alleviate some of this concern.

It is time that vegetable markets in the United States move beyond venues where produce is sold from local farmers – while these are great, only a small subset of America can actually afford to purchase the goods. The problems of waste from spoilt goods in grocery stores and high cost of fresh foods could both be addressed through the establishment of similar veg markets.