Scientists: stop criticising each other on how you communicate with the masses

April 27, 2009

A leading expert on the public understanding of science argues that scientists should stop criticising each other’s attempts to communicate science to the masses.

From the BBC:

Kathy Sykes, professor of sciences and society at the University of Bristol, has argued that experts are always attacking each other either for “dumbing down” or being elitist. She discusses her comments with Ben Goldacre, who writes a science column for the Guardian.

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Sir David King, “We are being misled over the economic impact of climate change”

April 27, 2009

The government’s former chief scientific advisor Professor Sir David King has expressed concern that the government is being “misled” on the economic impact of climate change as the information they are using – Lord Stern’s review – is “out of date”.

Professor King discusses the possible ramifications, from the BBC:


Russia announces special arctic military force

March 28, 2009

The BBC reports that Russia expects the Arctic to “become its main resource base by 2020.”  And it wants to protect those resources.

Climate changed induced arctic melting has already opened up a land grab for the untapped resources beneath the ice’s surface.  In 2007 Russia made a bid to claim much of the 90 billion barrels of oil estimated to exist.

Although the legitimacy of Russia’s claims are in dispute, a report released by Moscow indicates that Russia won’t give up these reserves easily.

In order to protect its assets, Moscow says one of its main goals will be the establishment of troops “capable of ensuring military security” in the region.

News snippet here.


Mobility VIP cards; a creative and effective tool for rapid scenario generation

March 27, 2009

mvip

The Art Center College of Design have created an intermixable deck of cards designed to jump start the scenario creation stage of futures workshops.

Jamais Cascio brings our attention to another extremely interesting and relevant development for those involved in futures work, scenario planning, or strategic design at any level.  Called the mVIP cards, the deck loosely follows the “STEEP” framework for identifying various elements of change in the future.  

The best part about the deck is that they are presented as an online Flash application for anyone to explore.  Check out the Flash site here.

We played around a bit and created a future with the following components:

  • All electric utilities
  • Rapid learning networks
  • Ubiquitous bugginess
  • Carbon rations
  • Fertile soil is gold
  • Asia invades Australia
  • Genetically modified crop failures

While perhaps random generation of futures, I-Ching style, isn’t the best strategic orientation strategy, the deck does a very fun and effective job of mixing and matching different developments to open the mind to new possibilities.  Very useful and effective.


Resilient, durable, or agile? A metaphor for future aid organisations

March 26, 2009

oak-and-reed

Much talk is made about resiliency as a social strategy in the face of uncertainty.  But is this the right metaphor for future aid organisations?

Resilient

Resiliency is an often used term in climate, ecology and social sciences, taken to denote a sense of flexibility or endurance.  The dictionary defines resilience as the ability “to recoil or spring back into shape afterbendingstretchingor being compressed,” or to “be able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions the fish are resilient to most infections.”  It is thus often associated with the term flexibility.

A good image of resiliency then is the reed, which can bend in the face of massive pressure and then bounce back into shape. 

Durable

The French word for sustainable is durable.  The two terms have something in common; sustainable is often defined as “the ability to maintain a certain level or rate,” while the English word durable can be defined as “the ability to withstand wear, pressure, or damage.”  Thus resistance to change or the maintenance of a current state or form is implied by both.

A good image of durability then, is the oak tree, which can withstand massive amounts of pressure unchanged.

Agile

The corporate and private sectors make much use of the term agility, which can be defined as “the ability to move quickly”.  Agile comes from the Latin agilis, meaning “nimble or light, easily moved.”  Agility is thus associated with the concepts of change.  Like resilience, agility is also related to flexibility, but more so in the sense of change or transformation.

A good image for agility then, is the gymnast, who can quickly reconfigure themselves in the face of massive pressure, in a way which balances or relieves this pressure.

Which metaphor is most appropriate for the future of aid?

Given the “perfect storm” we are facing in the coming decade, which is metaphorically equivalent to the “massive pressure” discussed above, which of these three concepts makes the most sense for aid? 

Do we want an aid system that is resilient, i.e., that will be able to bend and flex in the face of stress, and then return back to its current form?  Perhaps, but what exactly is its current form, and isn’t this changing all the time?  Is it possible to hope for some kind of stability in the face of massive change?

Or do we want an aid system that is durable, i.e., resistant to large amounts of pressure and stress, doing its best to maintain its current structure and relationships?  Isn’t this perhaps what we already have, a system resistant to change?  And what happens in the classic children’s story about the Oak and the Reed?

Or finally, do we want an aid system which is agile, i.e., can actually change and transform itself in new ways, like a gymnast, ultimately morphing into some entirely new balance of forces and stress?  Isn’t this perhaps the most desirable metaphor to use?  Doesn’t this take into account the evolutionary, indeed, co-evolutionary nature of the world?  

Which kind of aid system do you want in the future?  Resilient, durable, or agile?


Americans “overwhelmingly support” climate change action

March 25, 2009

yale-figure-5

In a significant change from past attitudes, a new poll by Yale and George Mason Universities found that most Americans “strongly support” action on global warming.

The survey, found in summary here and in full here asked 2,164 Americans about their “climate change beliefs, attitudes, policy preferences, and actions.” It found that:

  • 92 percent supported more funding for research on renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power;
  • 85 percent supported tax rebates for people buying energy efficient vehicles or solar panels;
  • 80 percent said the government should regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant;
  • 69 percent of Americans said the United States should sign an international treaty that requires the U.S. to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide 90% by the year 2050.

Surprisingly, the majority said that they would, “support policies that would personally cost them more,” specifically (emphasis in original):

 

  • 79 percent supported a 45 mpg fuel efficiency standard for cars, trucks, and SUVs, even if that meant a new vehicle cost up to $1,000 more to buy;
  • 72 percent supported a Renewable Portfolio Standard that required electric utilities to produce at least 20 percent of their electricity from wind, solar, or other renewable energy sources, even if it cost the average household an extra $100 a year;
  • 72 percent supported a government subsidy to replace old water heaters, air conditioners, light bulbs, and insulation, even if it cost the average household $5 a month in higher taxes;
  • 63 percent supported establishment of a special fund to make buildings more energy efficient and teach Americans how to reduce their energy use, even if this cost the average household $2.50 a month in higher electric bills.

This is fantastic news for the planet!  And it is true despite the case that the US media is still largely ignoring the issue of climate change.


US researchers find disaster relief laws unsuitable for modern threats

March 25, 2009

New York University Professor Mitchell Moss suggests in the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, that US Federal disaster relief legislation is dangerously out of date and must be reformed to provide for rapid relief after a catastrophe.

The paper argues that the main US Federal Disaster laws, in the form of the Stafford Act, is too cumbersome to be of use for today’s complex crises.  The report’s author argues that the laws:

 

  • Not recognizing 21st century threats such as chemical, biological, nuclear or radiological attacks or accidents as legal grounds for a major disaster declaration by the President; 
  • Fail to establish a difference between the scale of rural and urban disaster – the Stafford Act offers the same level of aid for a blizzard in a rural community as it does for a major earthquake in a metropolis. 

It goes on to suggest that US lawmakers should,

  • Amend the definition of a “major disaster” to recognize 21st century threats such as chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attacks and accidents; 
  • Create a level of disaster specifically for “catastrophes” to cover incidents such as Hurricane Katrina and September 11 and to provide increased levels of aid beyond that provided at the “major disaster” levels

The press release can be found here and the full paper here.