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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Wordle

Wordle.net has revolutionized my life. You input text or a blog address, and it makes word art of the all the words used in the provided text, scaling the size of the words to number of times used.

Here’s the wordle of this blog:

Wordle


Media Control

Every time I read a novel by Milan Kundera, his powerful and insightful prose always delights me. Not only has he mastered the art of telling a good story, but also manages to provide relevant views of our society.

From Immortality on the media and isolation in our lives:

My Paris neighbor spends his time in an office, where he sits for eight hours facing an office colleague, then he sits in his car and drives home, turns on the TV, and when the announcer informs him that in the latest public opinion poll the majority of Frenchmen voted their country the safest in Europe (I recently read such a report), he is overjoyed and opens a bottle of champagne without ever learning that three thefts and two murders were committed on his street that very day.

Indeed, with the media there to tell us what is happening outside our window and beyond, it is easy to ignore the realities that could be discovered through personal investigation. With media outlets providing not only the news but also the interpretation around the clock, there is no need to discover or think for oneself. We may know more facts than we ever have in the past due to the availability of information, but we are likely more isolated than ever before as well – all the information we need can be found via switching on our computers or televisions. All of this gives the media great power over our thoughts because they determine not only what news we hear but also how we hear it. While one cannot determine first-hand what is happening in Gaza, one can move beyond the isolation of the television and learn about her community through leaving the sphere of the office, car and home.


Travesties

The New York Times published a piece today about violence committed by soldiers returning from their deployments in Iraq or Afghanistan. The story as a whole is a tragic one – while we continue to extend the tours of duty of our soldiers to fight a losing war, we are not providing them with enough support when they return. Individuals who were healthy and stable before their deployment come back changed, and in the worst cases commit murder, rape or other crimes. Indeed, what they have seen in Iraq or Afghanistan is unlike anything that I (and most other citizens) can imagine, and our government has an undeniable role to do everything they can do help returned soldiers reintegrate into society. This is not an easy job, but it’s also clear that we could be doing much better.

Within the article, there was a phrase that stuck out amongst the rest of the article. The man who committed the first of the recent nine murders by past or current members of the Fourth Brigade was Stephen Sherwood

…a musician who joined the Army for health benefits, [he] returned from Iraq and fatally shot his wife and then himself.

Not only is our government failing at providing adequate care for the men and women who sacrifice for our country as soldiers, they are also failing at providing basic services such as health care for all citizens. The United States proclaims to have a voluntary army, but the army is no longer voluntary if citizens feel the need to join the army for health care services.

(There is an obvious irony in this situation, but that’s a whole other train of thought.)

When we enter into the social contract with our government and agree to pay taxes and perhaps do some civil service,  we do so because of commitments from the government: That they will protect us and provide basic services. For some reason in the United States, the mentality that basic health care is not a basic service that should be provided by the government is pervasive. Many citizens and policy-makers seem to think that it is OK for the government to spend tax dollars on the Iraq War or the financial bailout or even the interstate highway system, but that spending tax dollars on health care for all citizens is unacceptable. 

Without universal health care, “domestic tranquility” and “general welfare” will be ideals that cannot be reached. No citizen of this country should have to join the army, work multiple jobs or be forced out of their home due to health care costs.


Forever

A description of wealth and forever, courtesy of Allegra Goodman in her excellent short story, “Closely Held”:

…He saw what wealth would mean: not just traveling the world and buying toys, but paying huge complicated taxes and living in a house with Molly forever – not forever in the romantic sense – forever like her parents, with a loud dog and yellowing houseplants. Molly would gain a hundred pounds, and Orion would have to start collecting humongous ugly paintings. They’d have a three-car garage and seven bathrooms, and they would sit around at night and debate whether it was better to time-share or buy planes.

Perhaps those wanting to go into finance and consulting for the money should contemplate this description of their future before they take the plunge.


Welcome to Boulder: A Portrait

A view from the foothills:

Woods

 

Two contrasting depictions of the Boulder mentality via graffiti:

Stop Hatin'

Fuck McCain

 

Only in Boulder:

Joyful Furniture and Planetary Solutions

 


Kennedy Speaks to Press, Fails

Caroline Kennedy finally decided to open up to the press in her bid for appointed office. So far, that’s not going too well. According to today’s New York Times:

With several weeks to go before Mr. Paterson makes his decision, she is doling out glimpses of her political beliefs and private life. But when asked Saturday morning to describe the moment she decided to seek the Senate seat, Ms. Kennedy seemed irritated by the question and said she couldn’t recall.

“Have you guys ever thought about writing for, like, a woman’s magazine or something?” she asked the reporters. “I thought you were the crack political team.”

After that burn, and an admission that she could not think of a single issue on which she would “depart from Democratic Party orthodoxy,” Kennedy ended the interview with grace:

As things wrapped up, a reporter tried to pose another question, but she interrupted him.

“I think we’re done,” she said.

Better luck next time?