Categories
conservation biology maori

Learning from rongoā Māori

Dr Rob Whitbourne works in conservation in Whakatāne. We talk about how he came to be involved in conservation and how this is driven by
Rongoā Māori medicine.

(note: We apologise for the sound quality of this conversation, the main recorder failed, so this is the back-up. All hail the back-up).

Talking points

Always into nature

Lucky that our playgrounds and experience in life was always based around the bush. My father was always a bushman…when you grow up with people like that they impart on you a sense of understanding….You grow up knowing the names of the trees, where different birds nest, how trees change during the seasons

Sense of curiosity and understanding

(after teenage years in Australia) For a long time after I came back I had this sense of the New Zealand bush as this foreboding dark forest

I went to a rongoā wānanga, a workshop on traditional medicines…it opened my eyes, gave me a feeling of really knowing the bush

PhD focussing on traditional crops and how their significance is maintained today…The bigger question: how indigenous communities engage with research institutes?

The social side of knowledge, isn’t given the same focus – especially when it comes to Western Science and indigenous knowledge systems – the focus is often on factual knowledge and deeper assumptions, ontologies.. and the social stuff isn’t given that much attention..and that leads to a focus on difference…here’s the body of knowledge that one system has, and here’s the body of knowledge that this other system has, or a deeper level, we see the world this way and you see the world that way. That tends to draw out difference and it doesn’t give much room for common ground or interaction.

If we put more attention on the social side of things, on the practitioners, how can the people who do Mātauranga Māori, or people who practice indigenous knowledge in Peruvian communities, how can they best interact? How do the people interact? So the questions are of who has decision making control? How do you respectfully engage with and respond to each others knowledge traditions?

It’s too easy to say these indigenous ideas of nature having a spiritual element, well empiricism doesn’t deal with that so they’re incompatible. But if we say people who work and live in urban institutes and others who live in rural communities, they speak different languages, they have different values, they make decisions in different ways, how can those come together? That gives you more scope to work together.

We lose knowledge when our people are depleted. The two are the same.

We might be lucky to name 5 or 6 plants. We know the world we are familiar with, today we might know 300 logos, before it was 300 plants and animals.

How do we get people connected, to feel part of those places? We are those places

We need to find the spark that’s already there for people – in my case it was rongoā o wananga.

It’s a love of those places, and a love for each other in those places, we are those places.

Environmental management is really people management

A Māori perspective – we are all family (people and land), do you know your family, do you care for them? I’m surrounded by my family.

It reminds us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

Activist: Yes, I’ve always stood up to confront and fight for the positive. In a sense of accelerated disruption and destruction there’s a real need for urgency.

Superpower: A genuine commitment to the world around me and its people. I’m an idealist, positive. Maybe that comes from the sense of being I have.

Challenge: conservation on Māori land.

Advice: All of these things require the collective, none you can do on your own.

Categories
ocean science

Sharks! A sign environmental regulations are working

 

 


 

 

The Environmental Revolution…we put in all this legislation because we recognised all those problems. Here we are 40, almost 50, years later, and we’re seeing the top predator in our coastal ocean recovering. I would argue that that is a sign that we’ve been doing some things right.

 

 

Dr. Chris Lowe, Professor of Marine Biology and Director of The Shark Lab at California State University Long Beach.

 

Sam: Welcome to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio. A weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher, and me, Samuel Mann. Shane’s not here tonight because I’m at the California State University of Long Beach. There’s big signs up everywhere that just say The Beach. So we’re at the beach.

 

Each week we talk with someone making a positive difference, and we try to find out what motivates them, what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens, appropriately for the beach, is that of Dr. Chris Lowe, Professor of Marine Biology and Director of the Shark Lab here at California State University Long Beach. Thank you very much for joining me.

 

Chris: Sure. It’s a pleasure.

 

Sam: Big picture things first. Where’d you grow up?

 

Chris: I grew up in Martha’s Vineyard, a little island off Cape Cod. My mom’s family had been on the Vineyard for a couple hundred years. We were whalers and sea captains and commercial fishermen and things like that. So I grew up fishing. Something I did everyday as a kid. I loved it. Then I learned to dive. First in my family to go to college, and they couldn’t understand why I wanted to be this strange animal called a marine biologist. Why didn’t I want to be a fisherman or a carpenter or something? I kind of broke the mould. I was the black sheep of the family.

 

Sam: Did you always want to be a marine biologist?

 

Chris: Probably since I was about eight. I really … I just found marine animals fascinating, and I just love learning about them.

 

Sam: Where’d that come from?

 

Chris: You know, I think it was I was just naturally drawn to them. I was fascinated by them. I would catch these different fish. I remember the first shark I caught. I was eight. I didn’t know what it was, and it actually forced me to go to this place called a library. I wasn’t a big reader, but that actually got me interested in reading. I spent a lot of time in the library learning about sharks, and that was it. I kind of knew what I was going to do, even though I didn’t know what that was and nobody in my family could tell me what it was.

 

Sam: Did you have a mentor or somebody that inspired you on that?

 

Chris: You know, I did. We had a shellfish hatchery on the island, and I met one of the marine biologists that was running that. He kind of took me under his wing and kind of got me interested in marine biology, and that was my first kind of mentor as somebody who did this for a living.

 

Sam: So you took yourself off to college.

 

Chris: Yeah, so I got a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology at a place called Barrington College, which was in Rhode Island. Then that led me to Central America, where I worked for a couple years building field stations. Then I came to Cal State Long Beach, actually, for my Master’s degree to work with a guy named Don Nelson. He was kind of a world pioneer in shark behaviour, and he started the Shark Lab here at Cal State Long Beach back in 1969. Don used a lot of technology, I’ve always been a technology fanatic, and he used a lot of technology to study sharks. A lot of the technology that’s used all around the world today was developed here at Cal State Long Beach.

 

Sam: When you went off to do your B.S. in Marine Biology, is marine biology like studying everything but underwater?

 

Chris: It was and that was good because what it did was it gave me a big broad perspective. I was learning about algae and invertebrates and all these things that weren’t necessarily my favourite, but I still found them interesting, and it gave me that kind of breadth. I had a better understanding of what sharks eat, for example. I think that was very important, part of my early career, was to have such a broad base in the study of all those different things.

 

Sam: What did you enjoy the most?

 

Chris: You know, we did a lot of salt marsh work, and I love slugging around the mud and doing beach transects and things like that. Even though I wasn’t working with sharks, I still loved that part. We were out in the field a lot, and that was the part that really kind of got me going. It even got me interested in things like chemistry and math and all the things that I didn’t think were important in marine biology, I learned to appreciate more.

 

Sam: You’re still doing a lot of field work?

 

Chris: I do.

 

Sam: There’s a group of students behind you cleaning off the boat. You’ve been out recently.

 

Chris: They’re getting ready.

 

Sam: Oh, are they?

 

Chris: We’re preparing for our summer field season, and they’re getting the boat ready to go. They’ll spend a whole summer living out at Catalina Island working on orange sharks and game fish and things like that.

 

Sam: What’s the question for this summer’s work?

 

Chris: Well, we have about eight projects running this summer, so that group that’ll be out at Catalina will be tracking horn sharks, which are kind of like Port Jackson sharks in Australia. Cute little sharks. They feed on things like sea urchins and crabs, and we believe they’re actually a keystone species for the kelp beds. I have a grad student who’s going to be using new devices we call Smart Tags that we clamp on their dorsal fin. It’s like a backpack that we put on their dorsal fin. It measures acceleration in three dimensions, and it has a gyroscope so we get a compass heading. We get a temperature and a depth that they’re at, and we can then put a transmitter on them and then follow them around and see where they go.

 

One of my grad students has been calibrating the Smart Tag in the lab by feeding sharks different types of meals, and we can actually identify what they’re eating based on their movement signatures.

 

Sam: How they’re wiggling?

 

Chris: Yeah.

 

Sam: Swimming differently or something.

 

Chris: Well, when they’re feeding. For example, when a horn shark eats a sea urchin, what it does is it has to pull all the spines off the sea urchin in order to get to the shell. When they do that, they get a lot of up and down, bouncy movements. So we can tell when they’re eating an urchin because they do that up and down, bouncy thing. But when they’re eating a crab, that becomes minimal, and it’s more side to side. We can begin to tease out those signatures and identify what they’re eating, so the goal would be in the field, we won’t have video cameras and somebody watching, but we can use the acceleration signals to figure out what are they doing during the day? What are they eating at night?

 

Sam: Do you have a pile of students frantically getting equipment ready at the moment?

 

Chris: I do.

 

Sam: Testing a lot of gear that’s not behaving.

 

Chris: Exactly. We’re getting ready for field season because we’re coming into the season when all the fish are going to be active. Our waters are going to start warming up. Productivity blooms in the spring. This is a big time of year for us, and summer is our big field season. In addition, we have a lot of fishers, just recreational fishers, that volunteer for us. They love it because they get to fish in a marine-protected area. But the coolest thing is we share the data with them. So they get to see not only all these big fish that they normally wouldn’t get to catch because it’s protected, but they’re involved in the science. They get to see how we collect the data and begin to understand why we do what we do, and they become awesome ambassadors because they go out and fish with their buddies, who are fishing in non-protected areas, and they tell them about the things that we’re finding. That’s how we’re changing, hopefully, the way fishing is done in southern California.

 

Sam: In terms of the big question, the really big one: why sharks?

 

Chris: I think a lot of it has to go back to when I was a kid. That fascination of seeing that animal that looked different than every other fish that I’d caught and not knowing what it was. Then really digging in and learning more about them. The more I learned, the more I realised well they’re just a fish, but they’re a very different fish. That kind of set me off on this path. I’ve studied sharks and stingrays and skates and, basically, the whole gamut is interesting to me. Unfortunately, there’s no money to do shark research, and that’s where my love of fishing comes in because … There’s actually a lot more funding to study game fish, fish that people like to eat, or fish that people like to catch, so a lot of my research has focused around that.

 

Then also the fact that I grew up fishing. I love to fish. My family’s living came from fishing, and I want to see that continue.

 

Sam: You probably hate this question but I’m going to ask it anyway. What’s been the ongoing impact of Jaws?

 

Chris: That is a major one, right? I think it’s had some good impacts and some bad. The bad impacts, of course, are people are afraid of sharks. The good impacts are that people are interested in sharks. Jaws only transitioned into Discovery Channel Shark Week. When you think about it, there’s an entire network that was dedicated, originally, from programming about sharks. The entire Discovery Channel Network started with that. When you think about it, it’s pretty remarkable. I mean, there are tonnes of books out there on sharks and snakes and whales and dolphins and things like that, but how many have their own week of programming?

 

Sam: Is it an irrational fear?

 

Chris: I think so. I mean, much of my job is dedicated to providing people with science-based information about sharks to help convince them that they’re not thin, mindless, feeding machines that people have imagined them to be. That’s hard to overcome because mass media has contributed a lot to that. I’m in the process of writing a book for the general public talking about how what we’ve learned about sharks over the years, the science behind what we’ve learned about sharks, and a little bit about why I think people think the way they do about sharks. A lot of it comes back to how our brain works.

 

In the early days when we would have to go out and fend for ourselves, hunter/gatherers would encounter dangerous animals. Then sometimes they’d have to fend them off, sometimes people would be killed, but they’d come back and they would talk about these vicious animals they encountered. People who weren’t in the field, maybe people who were just hanging around the camp, would intently listen about these things, and these stories would be scary because this was a scary event. What happens is your brain gives you a little happy juice when those things happen. That’s why people go to horror flicks because they get off on a little bit of being scared. But evolutionarily, it’s good for us to be scared. You remember those things. You paint that picture in your head. The tough part now is for us to convert that image that people have in their heads that have come from that scary stories and begin to give them some reality.

 

The other thing is, people are not aquatic. We don’t feel at home in the aquatic environment because we’re not aquatic, which adds another layer of fright to it. I can relate it back to wolves or bears or mountain lions. 150 years ago, we killed all those animals. We saw them as potential threats. They worried us. Sometimes they hurt people. They killed people, so we killed them. We’ve eliminated all the land predators. About 25, 30 years ago, we realised that that was not a good idea because ecologically, all the things they fed on were no longer being controlled. Like deer on the east coast. We’ve spent a lot of time and money bringing those things back, and a lot of that’s required science to learn more about wolves and their behaviours. That information’s got out into the public. The cool thing is, if I were to take the average person out and we were to go walking through Yellowstone and we were to see a wolf, and people were to see that, they would go, “Wow! That’s awesome! Look at that wolf!” If I were to ask, “Are you frightened right now,” they would go, “No because I learned all about wolves.”

 

Now the funny thing is, now imagine it’s night. It’s completely dark and I play back a wolf howl. Now they’ll know that’s a wolf, but if I ask them if they’re scared, they’ll go, “Yes.” If you ask why, they’ll go, “Well, I can’t see it.” Humans are very visual. We rely on our vision to reassure us. Here’s an example of an animal that most people will go, “I’ve learned a lot about wolves. They’re very caring. They’re group-oriented. They’re not potentially dangerous.” All those sorts of things. But that part of our brain that tells us I am no longer in control. I am no longer in my comfort zone. I’m at night. I’m not a nocturnal animal. I can’t see this animal coming. All of that programming changes. This is a difficult thing to convince people that sharks pose very little threat to them. It’s hard to get out of your head.

 

Sam: I’m a distance ocean swimmer.

 

Chris: Yeah.

 

Sam: I swim along and the way to deal with it, is you just pretend it’s not happening.

 

Chris: Exactly. But that’s hard to do, right? These are things that I think we’re making progress. Let me give you another good example. Whales. Okay, 100 years ago, 150 years ago, people were scared of whales. Whales were dangerous animals. They killed people. Now remember, most people never saw a whale, but whalers that would come back from these voyages where people would be killed by whales would talk about these horrible events where somebody was killed. They would paint these pictures. Now, you know the other part of the psychology is when somebody’s telling a story about something scary and people listen, they tend to embellish. What happened is these stories get scarier and scarier as time goes on. Moby-Dick, for example.

 

Okay, so by the end of the ’70s, most whales in most oceans had been hunted to the verge of extinction. Scientists are trying to do work on them. We’re trying to educate the public. Whales become protected in many coastal waters and many international waters. There was a lot of educating done about whales. What do we know about whales now? They’re mammals like us. They nurse their young. They’re highly intelligent. They’re very social. I think what really happened was whales got a very good PR agent back in the early ’70s, and they did a great job at changing people’s perspective about whales. Now, if we were to go out and somebody were to jump in the water and a whale to swim by, most people will go, “Oh, that’s a whale. That’s awesome!” They wouldn’t be scared at all.

 

How do we go from that with whales-

 

Sam: At the same time, when sharks got a very bad PR agent, from their perspective.

 

Chris: Exactly. So we’re in the process of rebranding.

 

Sam: They’re also, for some cultures, tasty.

 

Chris: That poses another problem. In many ways, that was a double whammy. People were afraid of them. They were scared of them, and they didn’t have a problem with fishermen catching them. In fact, they were doing double good. Not only are you eliminating threat, but you’re providing people with a meal. We quickly learned that this is where, one of those places, where sharks are different than other fish. So a shark and a tuna, two very different beasts. Tuna? 20 million eggs in a spawn. A shark may only produce one young every three years. How many tuna can you take before you completely deplete the population? By the way, that tuna can reach sexual maturity in two years. That shark may not reach sexual maturity until it’s 22-years-old.

 

Sam: Which is a lot closer to mammalian type reproduction.

 

Chris: They’re more like people. What we learned, literally in a 40- or 50-year period, very rapidly, is that you cannot fish sharks, rays, like we fish other fish. They’re more like people. They’re very easily over fished. When you do over fish them, it can take decades, or even a century, for their populations to come back. These are things that have been difficult to educate the public on mainly because of that fear. They saw that as a double good. You’re keeping the waters safe for us humans because you’ve eliminated the predators. Much like land predators, we have a lot of educating to do.

 

Sam: Are they indicator species? Are they keystone species? Do they represent the health of the ecosystem?

 

Chris: Well, most sharks are either intermediate or top predators, which means on the food pyramid, there are fewer of them. Their populations are most easily impacted, but they’re never very abundant. The top predators are usually the apex. The ones at the very, very tippy top are never super abundant because there’s never enough food to support them. So they’re easily impacted. White sharks are a good example of an apex predator that’s probably been impacted worldwide for over a hundred years. Now, there’s no direct commercial fishery for white sharks. There’s never been one. There’s been a recreational fishery, a trophy fishery for them here and there, but their numbers are so low that they could never support a commercial fishery.

 

Their teeth are incredibly valuable. Their jaws are valuable. Their fins. Their meat is perfectly edible and valuable, but they’re just not abundant enough to support that. Nonetheless, we saw their populations, what we think, go down from over fishing, mainly of the babies. A baby white shark is about a metre and a half long, about five feet long at birth. A female will give birth from anywhere to 2 to 14 sharks that size. One of the things that we’ve learned in the last 10 years is that a lot of these young white sharks like to hang out off our coastal beaches. Here in southern California, we have probably one of the largest nurseries for white sharks in the Northeast Pacific.

 

When I was a grad student here at Long Beach back in 1989, I never heard of that. We heard about adult white sharks up around the central California coast in the fall but never heard about a baby white shark ever. Then about 10 years ago, it started to happen. Fishermen started catching them on the piers. They’d catch them on the beaches. We’d get footage of people seeing them just literally right outside the wave break. Last year, we tagged 22 off Huntington Beach in a single summer. The numbers have just been going up and up and up.

 

What happened was this got me thinking about, “Okay, wait a minute. We’ve been telling the public that shark populations have been going down. How can this be? This doesn’t make any sense.” I didn’t believe my own data, so for a year, we collected more information, and we looked at more data, and we collected historic records, and the data all showed this trend of numbers going up. There were even other scientists who were saying, “No, the population’s going down.” We kept saying, “But this doesn’t match. You can’t have more babies without more mommies. Things have to be going up.” Then I started to ask questions. Well, how can the white shark population go up? Let’s just say, for example, that I’m right and the population is going up. How could that be?

 

Well, the white sharks have been protected in California for 20 years. In 1994, the state of California passed legislation to prohibit capture of white sharks. Mainly because they recognised the importance of white sharks in the ecosystem, and they recognised their vulnerability to over fishing. So for 20 years, they’ve been protected. There had been fishery interactions. Commercial fisheries have caught juvenile white sharks, and they landed them prior to 1994. But many of those commercial fisheries have gone away. They’ve either been banned, their use have been banned in certain locations, or the fisheries just went extinct because they couldn’t make a living anymore.

 

Just protection alone might have allowed some of the population to come back. However, that’s not enough to explain the trajectory that we saw. So what else does the population need to recover? Well, it needs food. So what do adult white sharks eat? They eat marine mammals. Then I started looking at marine mammal populations. Then is when the bells really started to go off. Our coastal seal and sea lion populations are some of the biggest carnivores we have in our coastal oceans. They’re warm-blooded like us, and they eat fish like gangbusters.

 

When you looked at their populations, to give you an example, in 1920 it was estimated that there were as few as 2,000 California sea lions in all of California and Baja. By 1920, they had been hunted to what biologists thought was the verge of extinction. If a fisherman saw a sea lion, they simply shot them. They viewed them as competitors. In 1973, the Marine Mammal Protection Act goes into place, and we see a steady uptake in California sea lion population. In the mid-1980s, there’s a dip. That dip was because of the last strong El Nino we had. Because the food got pushed offshore, a lot of sea lions starved. Then after that, in the mid-90s, when we heavily regulated commercial fishing in California, we see the greatest influction. Population was estimated to be growing at a rate of 6.5% per year at a time when we were telling the American public that we had fished out our ocean. We eat the same things sea lions eat, so if we fished out the ocean, how is this population growing at a rate of 6.5% per year?

 

Now population estimates for California sea lions are somewhere between 220,000 to 470,000 animals. They went from the verge of extinction to maybe the most that have ever been on the planet, in less than a hundred years. They did that because we protected them. Is it any surprise that the white shark population’s recovering if there’s all that adult white shark food out there? Now the question is, how does the sea lion population grow that fast? They need food, too. We’ve been telling the public … On the news, we hear about over fishing is a big problem and pollution is killing all the fish and we’re taking too many. How are they getting enough food? We’ve done a lot in the last 40 or 50 years to better manage our fisheries, to better manage our water quality.

 

In the US, we had what I call the Environmental Revolution, which occurred in the late ’60s. So Rachel Carson and all these other kind of alarm sounders about all this environmental damage that we had done through the US Industrial Revolution, which happened from the ’20s through the ’60s. As a result, we passed the US Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Wetlands Protection Act, the Magnuson-Stevens Act. In California, we passed the white shark protection. We banned the use of nearshore gill-nets. We passed the Marine Life Protection Act. We put in all this legislation because we recognised all those problems. Here we are 40, almost 50, years later, and we’re seeing the top predator in our coastal ocean recovering. I would argue that that is a sign that we’ve been doing some things right.

 

Now the interesting thing is, if you look in many of our coastal environments like southern California, we have 22 million people that live within 60 miles of the coastline. Every single one of those people flushes the toilet every day. All that water goes out five pipes. In the ’70s, California had the worst water quality that existed probably anywhere in the country. We were discharging raw sewage, basically, offshore. We had the industrial waste going into that wastewater treatment. Clean Water Act forced a massive restructuring of that. Now in southern California, we have complete secondary, in some cases tertiary, wastewater treatment. We have some of the best wastewater treatment that exists anywhere in the world, basically accommodating a huge population density. We have cleaner water now than we did fourty years ago, with three times more people.

 

Sam: Is this a sign that southern California can be sustainable?

 

Chris: I think so. I think so. I would argue that the steps to sustainability are recognising that there’s a problem, which is what has happened. People had to get disgusted with the air quality. People had to get fed up with the water quality. People had to be upset about over fishing. Enough so that it forces governments to do things. In addition, all those things, all that legislation comes at a cost. We, as citizens, pay taxes to cover those things. New technology has to be developed. That is a really important step to this process because the way you make water quality sustainable is you have to develop new technology to clean that water, to recycle that water, reuse that water. The only time that technology gets developed is when you have a problem.

 

I think the key in these steps are you recognise there’s a problem, people do something about it, and then we develop new technology that helps us remediate or deal with those problems.

 

Sam: It seems like this is a good news story. We should be celebrating it. So why aren’t we? Is it, perhaps, there’s a fear that if we get it too right, the sharks will come back?

 

Chris: Well-

 

Sam: We’ll be afraid to go back in the water again?

 

Chris: Well, yes and no. What I’ve been telling people is there are things that we should be definitely cheering about. We’ve solved a lot of problems and the recovery of that … Bringing back top predators is a sign that the ecosystem’s getting healthier. However, there are going to be challenges that come with that, and that is we’re going to interact with these animals more, and sometimes those are going to be negative interactions. The tricky part is, I would argue two generations of Americans have had the benefits of unfettered access to the ocean, to use it for all our recreation needs without worry of having to interact with those predators. But we’ve spent a lot of time and money trying to bring these animals back, and now that they’re coming back, we’re going to have to learn to share.

 

In my opinion, the way we do that is through education. People in many places have not learned to recognise and manage risk well. I think that’s particularly true in the United States. Okay, you go to Disney Land. You expect to be able to get on a ride and that ride will be safe. There are inspectors. There are all these strict codes that they have to adhere to to ensure that when you go there for fun and recreation, you will be safe in the park. When you go in the ocean, that disclaimer doesn’t hold true. That’s the part that people have forgotten. Even though we use the ocean for recreation, there are risks that we have to assume ourselves. Nobody else is responsible for those but ourselves.

 

When you go in the ocean, you could be bitten by a shark, but the likelihood is already so ridiculously low, that it is not worth worrying about. Nonetheless, you have the choice about whether you want to go in the water or not. Now if there are sharks sighted in that area, you have the choice as to whether you want to take that risk or not. I think what we need to do, and what I need to do as a scientist, is provide the best science-based information that we have about sharks and their behaviours to give people information so that they can make good, educated decisions on what they’re going to do and how they’re going to use the ocean.

 

Sam: Is there media society interest in this too? There’s certainly the lots of interest in shark tourism and the people wanting to go and feed the sharks sort of stuff. Is there interest in the work you’re doing?

 

Chris: I think there is. I think it’s growing. I think people’s attitudes towards sharks are changing, and I think the more science we use, the less fear. It’s like anything. The less you know about something, the easier it is to be afraid of it. The more you learn about it, the less you may fear it. One of my life’s goals are to provide the public with good science-based information about sharks to help alleviate those fears. The other thing is if people aren’t afraid of them, they’re going to care more about them, and therefore, they’re going to do more to protect them. I think we’re seeing that. In other words, I think what we’re seeing now with sharks is the same thing we saw with whales back in the ’70s and ’80s. We’re seeing a change in attitude where people are going from, “Kill them. They’re scary animals that could hurt me,” to “You can’t kill sharks. They’re important. We need to protect them.”

 

Unfortunately, that pendulum can go too far that way. To the point where people don’t think it’s right that a fisherman should be able to catch and eat a shark. They argue that shark fisheries aren’t sustainable, and that simply isn’t true, either. This is, again, where we have to use science to provide the public with the best information because we don’t want people wanting to protect animal fur for just those reasons that, “Oh, we needed to protect them 20 years ago, but now the populations are back. But we should still protect them.” In many ways, I think we should still be able to harvest and eat sharks, but we have to do it smartly. We have to do it sustainably.

 

Sam: Do sharks have personalities?

 

Chris: To a certain extent.

 

Sam: You can tell them apart by how they behave?

 

Chris: Yeah. In many ways, they’re not that different from people. You’ll meet people who you know who love to bike. That’s their favourite thing. If you give them all these different options of how to get around, they would prefer to bike, and they’re really good bikers. They’re good riders. They know how to ride well. They can ride in any conditions. They can mountain bike. They can street bike. We find very similar sorts of trends with sharks. There are some sharks that like to eat this one type of prey. If you watch them, they’ll feed primarily on that, and they’re really good at it. But they won’t eat other things, or other sharks may be more effective at eating those things and have learned to feed more effectively on a different prey. In that sense, we do start to see kind of trends or some people could call it a personality. But those sorts of things are common in sharks and other fish.

 

Sam: Do they have complex societies?

 

Chris: They do have pecking orders. They have clear pecking orders. They’re, to a certain degree, social, but I don’t think we fully understand all that. They do have networks. We have seen studies where some species will hang out together, individuals will hang out together, and they form, what could be, social groups. We don’t know about that just yet. You know males and females quite often separate at certain times of the year, and they occupy different habitats. The only time they come together is to mate. We’ve seen, what could be, cooperative hunting in some species. So there’s probably some of that, but not as much as we’d see in mammals, for example.

 

Sam: When you have students come in, what are they wanting to do now? Is it that they’re people that, like you, think, “I’m going to study sharks. That’s what I’m going to do.” Or do people find their way here by accident, perhaps a mix of those things?

 

Chris: A majority of the students that want to come work with me for grad school, that’s the primary thing they want to do. They want to study sharks. My wife, who’s a marine mammalogist, studies seals, and she argues that it used to be dolphins. Everybody wanted to become a marine biologist to study dolphins. Dolphins are out now; sharks are in. That’s part of that people losing that fear of sharks and wanting to know more about them and study them more. So that’s increasing.

 

I think the thing that I’ve noticed the most since being a professor, and looking back at my career, was my reason why I wanted to be a scientist was I wanted to learn about the animals. That generation that I was in, that’s what drove them to be scientists. This generation, if you were to ask them that big picture question, why do you want to be a scientist, why do you want to be a biologist, why do you want to be a marine biologist, and their answer is different. It’s “I want to protect things.” It’s amazing. This is a generational thing. Then I say, “Well, aren’t you just interested in learning,” and they go, “Well, of course, but we have problems to solve.” As an ecologist, it’s interesting for me to see that regime shift in philosophy. Why they want to be a marine biologist is to learn to conserve things.

 

Sam: Does that mean you have to include policy and such that in your feature?

 

Chris: Yeah. Absolutely. I teach a class in fisheries ecology in conservation, and the whole point of the class is to get them to understand that we have 8 billion people on the planet, and they all need to eat. Fish is an important food that we need to feed the masses with. Fishing isn’t going to go away just because some populations have been over fished. We still have to find ways of having fisheries, making them sustainable, and to do that, we need people who have good training and backgrounds. That might mean studying fisheries from different angles. What I mean by that is there are some people who are more interested in the beast, studying the fish and its ecology and its life history and its population dynamics. But there are another group, I call that group the more social group, who begin to understand when you regulate a fishery, you don’t regulate the fish; you regulate the people.

 

In order to do that, you need people who have good training in sociology, who have good training in psychology, who have good training in policy, and in regulations. Because you’re managing people, not a fish population.

 

Sam: I’m thinking of the Maui’s dolphin in New Zealand, which seems to be on a relentless march to extinction, despite the obvious solution being stopping fishing in a couple of reasonably small areas.

 

Chris: Right.

 

Sam: Perhaps that’s not a wicked problem, but are there areas where you do have wicked problems? Those things that you just can’t untangle?

 

Chris: Well, I think the biggest one, the biggest challenge … While I’m excited and I think what we’re seeing are signs that are really good here in California, and maybe in the US, the biggest one is global climate change. The problems that we have solved are regional problems. But global climate change, that’s different. That’s not the state of California saying, “We’re going to do this to try to reduce carbon emissions,” and those sorts of things. Or the US saying, “We’re going to do this,” or even a bunch of nations saying, “We’re going to get together and do this.” This is everybody on the planet pitching in to do something. That is hard. That is really hard. That’s going to take more than climate scientists. That’s going to take more than biologists and fisheries biologists. That’s going to take more than economists. That’s going to take everybody. I think that is a big, big problem.

 

Sam: How sensitive are the sharks and other fish to climate change?

 

Chris: Well, we’re trying to figure that out now. We’re already seeing shifts in populations that we are pretty convinced are attributed to these global climate change issues. Rising sea temperatures and things like that. But we don’t know exactly how those populations will be affected. They have the ability to move, so that automatically gives them a little bit of buffer. But other animals that can’t, like sessile invertebrates and things like that, they’re kind of screwed. But nonetheless, those are integral in the food chain, and somewhere along the line, they’re going to impact sharks. I see that as our biggest challenge now.

 

With the Maui’s dolphin, and here in California and Mexico, we had the Vaquita dolphin, where we have a limited area, the animals are definitely on the track for extinction. But you run into these challenges where you have these subsistence fisheries, you have these small scale artisanal fisheries, and you can’t shake your hand and say, “Oh, it’s the big industry that’s doing this.” You’re talking about people who are living on like $5,000 a year and putting them out of business. So we have to be more creative. We’ve done it in other places. We’ve done it at certain scales. The tricky part is quite often populations that are under these impacts, it’s more than just fishing that’s driving these issues.

 

I did a lot of work in Hawaii, and the Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most endangered marine mammals in US waters. However, it’s also one of the most isolated marine mammals. The Hawaiian Archipelago that they use is some of the most isolated areas in the entire planet, and yet its population is still declining even though humans have the least amount of interaction with that species. In some cases, you’ve got to wonder is it just evolutionary if the clock has run out on the species. We might have accelerated the clock a little bit, but their ticket was punched a while ago.

 

Now, the US government invests a lot of money in trying to keep that population going, but all the while, we have all these other populations that are really just getting hammered, but they’re not as charismatic as a seal. What do we do about those? Plants that are going extinct at unbelievable rates. But how do you get the public to rally around a plant? Or a toad?

 

Sam: No. Most large animals have the advantage of being charismatic megafauna. Sharks don’t, perhaps, have the charismatic, but at least-

 

Chris: Well, they do. They do. Maybe not as much as a dolphin or a whale.

 

Sam: There was a cute one in Finding Nemo.

 

Chris: Exactly. Whales, sharks, and things like that are … People can kind of rally around those species. But it’s all the others. What worries me is that there are a lot of conservation groups, there are a lot of NGOs, that will selectively pick those species because they know they can get funding for them. Yet, some of these other species are ignored. Who’s going to look out for those?

 

Sam: Is there something that ordinary people can do, perhaps in their purchasing, that would help? Can we avoid shark fin [crosstalk 00:41:03]?

 

Chris: Sure. In fact, I think this is the education component. We have to have multiple lines of defence when it comes to protecting species. We have to have federal protection. We have to have state protection. We have to get grass roots. We have to get people educated so that they understand why these regulations are in place and what they can do to minimise their impacts. Then after that, it’s really the consumer. The consumer has all the power. If people don’t buy a certain species of fish, or if they don’t buy shark fins, fishers won’t catch it.

 

Once we get past the marketability issue, then we have to get back to bycatch issues. Those are things where fishers are catching things while they’re trying to catch something else, and those things get just discarded, and that poses another problem. But I look at those as technical issues. Those are where we just have to find better, smarter ways of fishing that are less impactful, less stressful, less destructive. If we can develop all this other technology, why can’t we do that?

 

Sam: What’s your go-to definition of sustainability?

 

Chris: I would say the ability to keep doing what we’re doing with the population that we have now. I realise everybody has probably a different definition of that, but for me, it would be the ability to keep doing what we’re doing with the population we have now. With a growing human population, the game changes, I think. Because what I worry about … The reason why I think we’ve been able to be sustainable with agriculture, with some of our fisheries and things like that to date, has largely been based on technology. If our human population growth grows faster than our ability to remediate or to modulate those things through technology, then it’s game over.

 

Sam: Does the premise of sustainability of us living on the land … but we’re not very good at thinking about people on other bits of land, cumulative effects of what we’re doing, other countries, and even worse, at looking into the future. I would put under the sea even further away than that.

 

Chris: Yes. I would agree. I think things are getting a little better, though. You know the whole global economy thing? I think people are starting to think more globally. You know what I think changed that? Was our ability to go into space. For people to be able to see the earth from space, from people to be able to go online and see what the ocean temperature is anywhere on the planet at anytime. To see storms and clouds and things like that, and you can go on any computer, you can go on any smartphone, and you can see that anywhere on the planet anytime. I think what’s that done is it’s changed many people’s perspective. It’s made it more global and less regional.

 

Now there are obviously lots of humans out there that don’t have access to all that technology and may not have that same perspective. But I think that technology has helped change some of that. We still fight that it’s my inalienable right to take what I need to survive and forgetting the fact that you multiply that by 8 billion.

 

Sam: We’re writing a book of these interviews. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes. Trying to look at what people are doing now that we’re going to look back at hopefully and say, “That was awesome,” and we’re describing it in terms of people’s superpowers. How would you describe your sustainable superpower? What is it that you’re bringing-

 

Chris: I would say my superpower will be my students. I think a lot of the work that I’ve done has been, I hope, has made a contribution to the field. I do a lot, as much as I can, as a scientist to not just stay in my little scientific world but to get out to the public. What I’m trying to do is train my students to be more that way, to be a less selfish with their data and their knowledge and try to make it more accessible to the public.

 

Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Chris: I think the biggest success that we’ve had has been in getting our science in the hands of the public. I’ll give you an example: some of the work that we’ve done on catch-and-release fishing. We’ve done some studies on different species of fish, and we’ve demonstrated that if anglers handle fish properly and they put them back in the ocean, like the regulations require, that those fish will recover rapidly. I think the key success for me was … In fact, it was very discouraging because when we had the data and we gave it to managers, managers said, “We can’t use this for regulations,” and we kept saying, “Why? This is great. We’ve shown if you bring a rockfish up and its swim bladder over inflates and you recompress that fish, it can survive that.” They go, “Well, we won’t pass a regulation because fishers won’t do it.” It was very discouraging to have such encouraging, supporting data and not have it used by managers.

 

Then what I started doing was giving talks at fishing clubs and just telling fishermen at what I had learned, and here are some things that they can do. Then they started inventing things, like devices to get fish back down. Before I knew it, they were actually going to managers saying, “We think you should put regulations in place, and we want credit for it.” It kind of changed my perspective on that. I used to think that I did science to help managers improve management, and I began to realise well maybe I’m doing the science for the wrong people. Maybe my science needs to go directly to the public, and when it comes to fisheries, who better than the fishers?

 

Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Chris: Not really. I consider myself to be an educator.

 

Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

 

Chris: I love what I do. I love solving a problem. I love developing new tools that help us do something that we couldn’t do before. I love seeing my students get excited about what they do, and I love seeing them develop those skillsets. This comes back to my superpower hero, my students. I have students that have, so far, surpassed me in their careers, and that just is awesome. For me, I’ve done my job. Done my job. The next generation of student that I’m trying to develop are hybrids. They have computer science backgrounds or engineering backgrounds, but they have training in biology, and they have training in policy and all those areas. That’s what it’s going to take to make this planet sustainable.

 

Sam: Do you make much use of citizen science?

 

Chris: Actually, quite a bit, but it’s tricky because … We spend a lot of time training as scientists to be able to do what we do, and you can’t expect to pick somebody from the general public and just have them do what we do. However, the fishers that help us with our fishing science, that’s a perfect example, I think, of a really good citizen science project. All I’m asking them to do is be a fisher.   Catch me a fish. So they’re going to catch the fish, and they’re going to do what they do. Then we’re going to sample the fish, and they get to watch and help us with that. Then we let that fish go. Then we show them the data. But what if you handled this fish this way? Well, let’s do another experiment. Now we’re going to handle the fish, and we’re never going to touch it with your bare hands. We’re going to use a shammy cloth, so we’re not going to rub off any mucus. Then we’re going to measure all the same things, and we’re going to put it back. Then we’re going to show them the data. “Oh, you know, if I don’t hold the fish that way, look at the blood chemistry. The blood chemistry shows that the fish is responding better.” Or we recaptured that fish and there were no marks on the fish, so that means there’s less stress.

 

For them to see the data is very different than if I publish a paper and I say, “We did this study, and this is what we did.” They never believe us. They always go, “You science eggheads, you don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know how to fish.” But if they’re involved in it, they see us, they watch us do it, they’re part of it, they believe the science. If they believe the science, they change their practises. If they change their practises, they convince their friends to change their practises.

 

Sam: What’s the biggest challenge you’re looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

Chris: I would say the biggest challenge … You mean environmental challenge? Science challenge?

 

Sam: Both.

 

Chris: I would say the biggest environmental challenge we face is global climate change, without a doubt.

 

Sam: Not just the challenge of climate change but that’s also the big scientific question.

 

Chris: It’s how do we measure its effects, and simultaneously, how do we convince people to change their behaviours? Quite often, one helps the other. If we can measure some of these effects, then we have a better likelihood of convincing people, number one, that global climate change is real, and number two, that things that they do can make a difference. The examples I can use are water quality, marine mammals. All of those are examples. These are problems that we recognised, we found solutions, and look at … Things come back.

 

Sam: Isn’t it interesting how we mix the doom and gloom, because clearly climate change is a doom and gloom story, but we need to leave enough of a positive story.

 

Chris: Or else why would people want to change their behaviour? If they think it doesn’t matter anymore, that we can’t reverse it, that we can’t make things better, why would anybody change their behaviour? My theory on the doom and gloom is that it catches people’s attention. Like going back to the evolutionary parts of our brain. People are programmed to pay attention to things that can harm us. We listen to those things. We pay attention to those things. What the media has learned is that that makes news.

 

Now what we have to start to do is seed in some positive things, some things that we’ve done well. The funny thing is US agencies are horrible at that. NOAA has done some amazing things, but they are horrible about bragging about it, and they need to. Because if they can’t convince the public that we can reverse some of our fishery trends, or we can reverse some of our ocean problems, then why should people care?

 

Sam: Two more questions. If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur by tomorrow morning, what would it be?

 

Chris: How big?

 

Sam: However you like. I have a follow up question.

 

Chris: Okay, well if it’s a big wand, it’s a really big wand, it would be a big CO2 reduction. That would be a big one.

 

Sam: Okay. What’s the smallest thing that we could do that would have the biggest impact on that?

 

Chris: Smallest thing. Unfortunately, I don’t think there are small things when it comes to that. These are big things. It’s more than just magically sucking up the CO2 and making it disappear because it’s going to come right back. I think the biggest thing that we need to solve, as a society, is a renewable energy issue. That is our number one thing.

 

Sam: Tim Flannery’s talking about third wave technology, I think that’s what he calls them. Essentially carbon scrubbing, and a big part of that is seaweed farming to suck up carbon dioxide.

 

Chris: Sure.

 

Sam: But the area to which he’s talking about is massive, but it’s still a … Is that a doable thing?

 

Chris: Yeah. I think there are a lot of really smart people out there thinking about these ideas, and that is a good scrubber approach. Kind of a remediation approach. But at the same time, we have to stop using fossil fuels. We have to wean ourselves off that. We’ve over paved everything, which doesn’t help. You lose water that way, and you gain and you reflect heat. There have been really good moves to try to eliminate some of the concrete and go back to planting plants that are low-water tolerant, that can handle low-water conditions, those sorts of things. I think it’s going to be a bunch of small things, not one very big thing that makes a difference.

 

Sam: Lastly, then, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Chris: Yes. My biggest advice, the same advice I give my students, is you should always be asking why. That comes down to voting on issues. That comes down to listening to what scientists say. How do you know that? Why? Those are the most important things. Because if people ask those questions, that drives that change faster. That gets people motivated to do things because if nobody can answer those questions, then that means somebody needs to try to do that. Even scientists need to be asked, “How do you know that? What’s your evidence for that? Convince me.” If we can convince sceptics, that’s going to be good science.

 

 

This conversation was recorded at Long Beach in June 2016.

Categories
climate change communication science

Science communicator, a bit subversive.

Tim Flannery

My working definition of sustainability is a world that isn’t creating more problems than it solves.


Professor Tim Flannery was named Australian of the Year in 2007 and until mid-2013, was a Professor at Macquarie University and held the Panasonic Chair in Environmental Sustainability. He is the chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council, an international climate change awareness group. He was the Chief Commissioner of the Climate Commission, an Australian Federal Government body providing information on climate change to the Australian public, which was disbanded by the new right-wing government in 2013. Almost immediately afterwards he announced that he would join other sacked commissioners to form the independent Climate Council, that would be funded by the community. Prof Flannery is currently a Professorial Fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne. He started his career as a mammalogist and his work has earned high praise, prompting Sir David Attenborough to describe him as being “in the league of the all-time great explorers like Dr David Livingstone”. He has published extensively but his two most famous books are “The Future Eaters” published in 1994 and “The Weather Makers” published in 2005. We literally could go on and on talking about Tim’s achievements but we have to stop somewhere so we can actually let the man do some talking…

Talking points

As much a science communicator as a scientist

Somehow I was fascinated with science from an early age

I remember finding my first fossils on the local beach, aged about eight, and taking them into the local museum and having them identified, that was a formative moment – one of those things you’ll always remember

All the time I was doing my arts degree I was volunteering at the museum – working on fossils, learning everything I could about science.

The curator would ask who wanted to go on field trips – my hand was always up.

They clearly got that I was interested in this sort of stuff.

The guy in the lab coat could have been the curator of fossils or the cleaner – it doesn’t matter to me, he changed my life.

What I love about museums is the reach into the community.

Even when I was running the museum, if the opportunity arose to talk to kid about what are interested in, I would always grab it.

If you see some kids looking at the exhibits, take the time to talk with them, it could be hugely important.

My favourite places – swamps where I looked for frogs – were being filled in with rubbish, the beach with oil and junk floating in the ocean and thinking this is not right. I asked my mother about it and she said “that’s progress”, and I decided then that this “progress” was a pretty bad thing.

I put my hat in the ring for a job – the only job in the country I really wanted, a scientist at the Australian Museum in Sydney – curator of mammals.

I did twenty marvellous years doing survey work in the Pacific Islands.

We called it Rattus detentus because its ancestors had been detained on Manus island, also we were well aware of the plight of the detainees there.

(A slight subversive name?) Yeah, just to let people know they haven’t been forgotten. What can a scientist do with that sort of stuff, not much really, but this was an opportunity, and that name will be there forever, so they will be remembered.

Boaty McBoatface – if the people want it then I’m firmly of the view that they should get it.

I don’t like power structures…there is true wisdom in the people, if you can tap into that wisdom you will achieve great things as society.

As the new director of the South Australian Museum…engaging with the SA government that I became aware of what a huge challenge this climate change issue was.

Future Eaters: The people of Australia were really the first to start eating their future, eating into their capital that was meant to sustain them into the longer term.

A spectacular manifestation of the nature of what it means to be human.

The book came about from 15 years of questions I just couldn’t answer.

There’s something about my personality. I do think about difficult questions, and I tend to do it from first principles basis. I can’t just live in Australia without understanding the place.

Some of those questions are big and complicated, and do take a while to work through, but I’m very happy doing that, picking away at the puzzle, a giant jigsaw no-one’s ever done before.

Weather Makers: I tried to distil the science into a form that was understandable by the public but still faithful to the original research – all held together with a story of human impacts on this very complex climate system.

There was a nasty backlash…once climate change became a political issue in Australia there was no holds barred…it was really scary for a while, I had to have federal police protection at home for about four months – that was tough.

There’s a lot of economic interests in Australia, tied into the fossil fuel industry.

We had a bigger share of the export market for coal than Saudi Arabia does for oil.

Those industries were very embedded in government and society.

But I knew the reason this was happening is because I’m winning, I’m having an impact. If I wasn’t having an impact then none of this would be happening, they wouldn’t be bothering.

(Geological time-scales it doesn’t really matter what we do) That’s true, but what sort of argument is that? Where does that leave us as human agents? Where does that leave us in terms of care for our children and future generations?

This has to relevant to us as people in some sort of moral framework we live in.

(Are we at the point of people understand climate change but don’t want to?) If I believed that I’d be doing a different job. I think that carrying on explaining it is making a very big difference.

People come up to me all the time saying I embarked on this career, chose this PhD, because I read your book and wanted to do something…some of those people are now running significant companies – renewable energy companies and so forth.

So it makes a difference but it takes time.

I’m a really big believer in the wisdom of common people – if you can tap into that , into people as individuals and their sense of what is right and wrong, then you’ve done somthing very profound, and that’s what my life has been about. It hasn’t been about going into politics and trying to lead people, I’ve been much more interested in releasing the latent good and capacity in people.

When you reach out to people as individuals, even those antagonistic people, you get beyond the façade – the frightened person or the smart arse, and you can reach a real person in there, and that is where the reason and where the goodness lies.

empowering people with knowledge, reaching them as individuals, that’s the important stuff, it’s not about political leadership, nor parties or ideologies, it’s about somehow unlocking that individual goodness and letting that flow upwards into some sort of societal structure or shape that gives meaning to all our lives and makes things better for all of us.

You have to treat people with dignity and engage in a dialogue.

We are now committed by virtue of the greenhouse gas we’ve put into the atmosphere for the temperature to rise by about 1.5 degrees by the middle of the Century. We’re getting into the danger zone (has been at +1.2 degrees for a couple of months).

This El Nino has done us a favour in a way, it’s spiked temperatures by about a third of a degree – it’s giving us a little window into the future.

In some places, this view seems OK, the great Autumn we’re having, but look north to the Great Barrier Reef, we’ve just learnt that it is 93% bleached, a bleaching event six times larger than anything we’ve ever seen before. And there’s massive and long lasting consequences from that on the reef ecosystem.

Arctic ice is at its all time winter low.

The thing to remember is that climate change is a process, not a destination. It’s a process of change. 1.2 degrees will transform to 1.5 degrees then 2 and 4 if we don’t do something about the driver.

Scientists are now increasingly prepared to say “this weather event would not have occurred were it not for human greenhouse gas pollution”. That’s a big breakthrough – linking individual weather events to the cause.

This is a collective action problem – it’s something the whole world needs to act on together.

The capacity of any society to do anything about this is driven by passionate individuals.

We need that drive to come from society…to drive down emissions.

But my personal view is that’s not all we need to do, we also need to get some of the gas out of the air. That’s going to require the development of a whole series of new technologies over time.

Technology is a tool…you’ve got to have a spanner to fix the car. But having a spanner is not enough. You’ve got to have the knowledge to know how to use the spanner, and you have to have the will to actually employ it

You need all of those things, you need the technology and you need the will-power to use it. We need the right regulatory structures and the right enabling circumstances in society for this to happen.

(is third wave technology a green myth? Carry on having a party, technology to save us is just around the corner?) Excellent question, one we need to answer.

From 2016, two things are very clear, first, that we have to reduce emissions as quickly and as hard and fast as possible whether we develop new tools or not. The second is that we don’t really know at the moment whether those tools will have the capacity to draw enough CO2 out of the atmosphere at the scale needed.

At the moment humanity is putting 50 Gigatonnes of CO2equivalent into the air every year. Now, if you want to plant trees to take 5 Gigatonnes out of the atmosphere per year, you would need to plant an area larger than the size of Australia. This is a very large scale problem.

Can we manufacture carbon fibre out of the atmosphere at a scale that will make a difference? Carbon plastics, CO2 negative concretes? Silicate rocks to draw C02 out of the atmosphere? Seaweed farming? Can we do it at scale? We know all these things are possible at very tiny, laboratory scales. But do they work at the gigatonne scale? That’s the question we need to answer by 2050 if we’re to have the hope of any of these technologies making a real difference.

(Scale of problem is going to need solution at that scale, which is more industrial development, which will make extinctions worse…will a focus on climate change make everything else worse?) eg seaweed farming which are a great place to grow proteins.There’s a lot of biological desert in the world’s oceans that could feed the world…if we could cover 9% of the world’s oceans with seaweed farms we could draw down all 50 Gigatonnes.

If we can take the problem – atmospheric CO2 – and turn it into a solution (eg sky mined carbon fibre) that competes with other polluting industries you’ve done something major.

This is where technological advancements can take us, not just into a more industrialised dirty future, but as a replacement for already dirty processes, and thinking differently about the world in ways that might make a difference.

My working definition of sustainability is a world that isn’t creating more problems than it solves.

There are always uncertainties, but you have to move forward, you can’t be paralysed by uncertainty.

We can have sustainable growth, it depends on what is growing and for how long, but there’s a billion people out there living in abject poverty who need betterment and a better quality of life, so we have to have at least enough grow to give them a decent standard of living.

Limits to Growth – general sentiment was right, but was wrong in that people thought we would run out of resources, but it turns out that there are lots of resources – particularly mineral resources – the volume you have is proportionate the amount of energy you’re willing to put into getting them out.

The big limits to growth turn out to be the rubbish bin – earth’s rubbish bin, the oceans and atmosphere. That’s the real limit, once the rubbish bin got full…that’s something people didn’t foresee.

We need a big political change…it entrenches privilege, it disenfranchises people…

A vision of where I think we might be going that solves these problems. Imagine a situation where politics is not a career. an you imagine if each one of us had the experience of sitting on a jury to decide the size of the defence budget, or how the health budget should be used, or an aspect of foreign policy.

Division of labour works in every area of human life and enterprise, except politics. It’s the one area where we all have to pull our own weight as citizens if we want to have a decent and just and prospering society.

(Superpower?) Empathy

(Success) Probably too early to tell, but the establishment of the Climate Council, adopted by the people of Australia. It’s taught me a lot, that process, a lot about structures that work, and how you engage people.

(Activist) No, I don’t see the world in those terms. Activist entails that there is a power out there, an authority that we’re fighting back against, and my world paradigm is not like that, I think that the big decisions need to be made outside the political system, and there’s a role for leaders outside the political system to engage in dialogue and influence the public dialogue about things…so no, not an activist, maybe a public intellectual.

(Motivation) I think it’s curiosity first and foremost about the nature of the world. And somehow I’ve always had this view that we need to leave the world a better place than we found it – and the only way to do that is to really understand the world.

I find this a paradox in me, because I’ve lived through a period where the world has self-evidently got worse, in so many ways over my lifetime – we’ve seen so many extinctions and all sorts of things happening in the environment, and yet I still have this belief that we need to leave the world a better place than we found it. So I don’t know how to explain that, except that it is a profound conviction that I have.

And real faith in human nature and people, that is the most important resource that we have- our fellow human beings and unlocking the full potential of ordinary humans to engage in the world and determine their own fate in a wise consultative way is just so central to what we are as a species.

(Challenges) Staying fit and healthy. Re-engaging in the Pacific Islands.

Community projects in the Solomon Islands trying to foster community conservation – which is really the most important type of conservation in those societies.

I reckon it’s like for a woman putting on that lipstick in the morning, you do that and you look great…well climate change is one of those things where you just can’t go and put on the lipstick in the morning, it’s too long a process, there’re very few moments where you can say we’ve won, we’ve done something, but this Pacific Islands work (community conservation), is great, “wow, I’ve already got some success”. The rest of it – climate change – will be a slow grind, I’ll be an old man before we can say we’ve overcome the problem, if I’m lucky enough to live that long.

(Miracle) To have us on a downward trajectory of about three parts per million of atmospheric CO2 per annum – a slow readjustment of the system back to where it needs to be

(Smallest thing) Get engaged with a group of like-minded citizens, because anything we achieve is achieved together.

( Advice) You’re a long time staring at the lid – get out there and do something, don’t waste any time.

Professor Flannery was in Dunedin as guest of the Centre for Science Communication, University of Otago.

Categories
Framework for Strategic Sustainable

Strategic Sustainable Development

Karl-Henrik Robert

On one hand I saw how wonderful people are when they gather to save patients with cancer – which was my job – and on the other hand that same species was destroying their own habitat, making doctors like me helpless if this was allowed to go on.


Dr Karl-Henrik Robèrt is the passion and the wisdom behind the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (see “also), and the The Natural Step Framework. In this conversation we look at the framework laying out the system conditions for sustainability was developed from his work in cancer treatment and research. We canvass at how the framework is being used now, and explore what’s next for a sustainable future.

Dr Robèrt is an Adjunct Professor at Blekinge Institute of Technology where he teaches on the Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability (MSLS) Programme and researches the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development. You can listen to conversations with some of his colleagues here, including Merlina Missimer who recently defended her doctoral thesis on the social aspects of the framework.

Talking points

I was interested in humans destroying their habitat. We are completely dependent on natural cycles and biodiversity.

On one hand I saw how wonderful people are when they gather to save patients with cancer – which was my job – and on the other hand that same species was destroying their own habitat, making doctors like me helpless if this was allowed to go on. I just couldn’t make those two images merge into one.

What we needed to do, from the scientific community was to present the sustainability issue as something of inherent interest for strategists, company owners, executives in politics and business.

The human body is a complex system, indeed each cell is a cosmos of complex life relationships. When and one cell gets sick, a cancer, it might eventually threaten this huge complex system – just like unsustainability is threatening the large system we are all dependent on. We needed the same kind of overriding systems principles to cure unsustainability that we use in cancer treatment. We didn’t have boundary conditions to help us cure unsustainability – so I set out to find them.

Mother Earth, our civilisation is gradually dying from the deadly disease of unsustainability.

We have outlined the basic mechanisms of destruction. Rockstrom has begun to calculate for how long we can violate those principles until the point of no-return. It is a bit like we have deduced the principle of avoiding obesity – don’t eat more than you expend in energy – Rockstrom has worked out how fat you become be until you die. Both of those things are of interest if you want to avoid dying of obesity.

Why would you design a vision for your company that cannot be?

If we backcast from a sustainable world, it is obvious that we have got there in incremental steps, so we must stepwise make whole sectors converge towards complying with the basis principles of sustainability. But on the other hand, if by incremental change you mean change that happens without the end game in sight, that will not carry us to sustainability.

Incremental change without the end game in sight is the tyranny of small steps.

Circular economy…fails to recognise that some things can’t move in cycles and should be phased out.

(Activist) Yes, absolutely, very much. If we don’t change there will be no more civilisation – and I will be as harmed as anyone. I chose the way of an activist to respond to “what’s in it for me”, to get people to think about that in a deeper way, and then how to do it.

The selfish stuff can be managed by enlightened self-interest.

(Motivation) Why do I continue to do this? Why would anyone want to learn his living by saving the planet? It’s obvious, right. But it is also fascinating. I’ve always felt confusion a challenge to overcome, I like comprehension.

(Challenges) Scaling up, using modern tools to spread the awareness of the framework.

(Miracle) What we have developed is nothing less than an operating system for sustainability…and we have developed app after app to apply the framework…a miracle would be Bill Gates phoning up to say “why don’t we put this operating system into Windows?”. So that this language for managing the greatest challenge to civilisation is made part of the operating system of our computers. That would crack the problems of how do we scale up the dissemination.

(Advice) Look up (the Framework for Strategic Sustainability), try to live accordingly, support organisations (WWF, Greenpeace), look at how you vote – this is the most important issue of all you shouldn’t vote just by tradition, you should think about which parties in parliament take sustainability the most seriously .

Categories
agriculture ecology water

Intensive agriculture: an industrialised town turned upside down

Mike  Joy

My analogy is saying that you’re going to do something about the road toll, that you’re addressing road safety, and shifting the speed limit from 50 km/h to 690 km/h. And conning the country that this is a fresh start for fresh water. That’s wrong in so many ways, but this is the reality for freshwater management.


He wades in rivers so fish (and you) can swim in them. And he isn’t afraid to talk about who is to blame for what he finds there. Dr Mike Joy is a Senior Lecturer in Ecology in Massey University’s Institute of Agriculture and Environment.

Talking points

Our rivers are special – sadly really special now as we have the highest proportion of freshwater fish species of any country in the world.

More and more of our species are threatened species, yet we have this bizarre situation where they are threatened species but we commercially harvest them and we eat them. Most New Zealanders don’t realise that when you eat your whitebait fritter you’re eating threatened species. It kind of doesn’t fit with the New Zealand way. We get all upset with Japanese whalers and people shooting tigers, but for some reason – may be because we don’t know – we harvest and expert them, we sell our threatened species to other countries.

As indicators, fish integrate the health of the whole river, the whole ecosystem.

There are really clear patterns in relation to land use – intensively farmed areas, lowland rivers…really really bad.

The best habitats are the least available.

Because they are mostly migratory, most of the fish species are found closer to the sea, but that is the area where we have done most of the damage. Most of the conservation estate is unavailable to the fish.

We do have invasive species spreading through. In a pristine NZ river these invasive species wouldn’t do well at all, it is because we have changed our lakes and rivers to be much more like the kind of degraded, eutrophic, highly nutrient enriched habitats that these fish came from – we made it like that.

It’s a death by a 1000 cuts.

A combination of multiple impacts that accumulate down river. That’s the thing with rivers, all of the impacts just pile up – everything that happens on the land, eventually gravity takes it down to the river.

I used to have a chemistry lecturer that said “the solution to pollution is dilution”, but that is such an old dinosaur view of the world. Now that we dominate the planet we can see that dilution isn’t a reality – it doesn’t just go away, it accumulates somewhere. What I tell my students is “the solution to pollution is assimilation”. If the ecosystem can’t assimilate it, then you’ve got to stop putting it in.

Massive costs to engineer solutions to do what the river would have done for you if you hadn’t messed with it in the first place. It costs us so much more to do what nature would have done for us for nothing.

I realised that I was publishing well cited papers…but all I would end up doing is cataloguing the decline. I wasn’t just going to do that.

The only way to change is if public are aware of what is going on.

I use disaster (in the title of 2015 article “NZ Freshwater Disaster”) because if you look at the facts, there’s no way you could call it anything other than a disaster. If you look at the statistics then that’s quite moderate language, probably an understatement.

But at the same time as the public awareness is going up, we haven’t seen any improvement in the decisions that they’re making.

It’s getting worse, and we’ve had a big backdown on the protection as well. You can characterise what’s happening in freshwater as more and more money and more and more effort goes into public relations and communications staff – making things sound good. And hidden underneath all that is the reality that things are getting worse and the protections are being weakened.

People claim improvement (in the state of rivers), but that is wrong. There is no net improvement, there’s a couple of rivers that point-source discharges have come out of – pipes from meat works – improvement there but at the same time a net worsening.

Forget drinking water, most of our rivers you can’t drink, but even swimming – 62% of all of our rivers are unsafe to swim in.

The government response to that has been to shift from a Ministry of Health standard called “contact recreation”, that’s to protect you from getting sick if you get some water in your mouth, that’s 260 coliform units per litre of water. Now, it’s 1000, and they call it “wadeable”…you’re safe if you’re in a boat or have got waders on is the new norm.

They’ve shifted the goalposts to go from a map that’s mostly red to a map that’s mostly green. Shift the baseline…they did the same thing with nitrogen – from a protection of half a milligram of nitrogen per litre, and they’ve shifted it to 6.9mg/l. My analogy is saying that you’re going to do something about the road toll, that you’re addressing road safety, and shifting the speed limit from 50 km/h to 690 km/h. And conning the country that this is a fresh start for fresh water. That’s wrong in so many ways, but this is the reality for freshwater management.

Almost every industry, if it had to cover the true cost of clean up, it would be more than it purports to make. We’ve covered that up for generations, but it’s all coming home now because we are paying the price.

Dairy is the major driver on the health of the waterways.

It is so dependent on external inputs.

Just think about how unsustainable it is to make make milk out fossil fuels.

Planetary Boundaries – at a global level the planetary boundaries are exceeded seven fold when it comes to global nitrogen use.

We’re all part of that sad unfortunate sad reality that we’re feeding this massive population by using energy that was stored over the millennia. We’re living way past what the earth can handle.

Just counting the dairy cows, we’ve got a population of 90 million people equivalents. This puts it into balance, sure there are impacts of cities and so on, but it is tiny compared to just the dairy cows.

It’s like an industrial town turned upside down. Imagine Victorian England – all those chimneys pumping out smoke and the issues that came from that – flip that upside down, it’s the nutrients that leak out of the bottom of our farms through the soil that are the problems, but we don’t see them. If it were smoke coming over us we would all be so aware of it, but because it just goes down and through our waters we don’t see it.

It shocked me, waking up to hear John Key on National Radio saying that swimming in our rivers is aspirational. If someone says something that we take for granted and think part of being a New Zealander is suddenly aspirational , then where will we go next? Breathing without a respirator be aspirational? It’s a slippery slope.

Farms could make more money with half the cows, for a third of the pollution.

From an individual farmer’s profit point of view, they are losing money through overstocking. But they’re being driven by the industry to maximise production, not maximise profit.

You can see the limits of biological system, that production have gone up but profits haven’t.

There is a huge cost being paid here, but it is being paid by someone else.

What we are doing now is not conventional, it is very unconventional industrialised farming. Sustainable farming…backing off from the intensity, thinking about soil health, animal health, pasture health…biological farming, and the profits are much much higher.

Commodity market…the competition globally to make the cheapest product…the competition to have the weakest labour laws, the weakest environmental laws…we don’t want to win that race.

We need to maximise value by ensuring that people pay a premium for high quality food that is sustainably farmed. In the longer term animals have to come out of the human food chain.

A government that wanted to make a change would have to price externalities. We talk about this market economy, we supposedly have a market economy, so if we want a market economy the costs have to be borne by the people and organisations who are making the impacts.

(Success) I’m excited about Landcorp’s Environmental Reference Group. Industry has to lead the way.

(Motivation) A sense of injustice and anger.

(Activist) Yes I am, I give the Alice Walker quote at the end of my talks – that’s the price we all pay for living on the planet is to be active. We can’t sit back any more. If we sit back and think someone else is going to fix it for us, then we’re doomed. We have to all become active to change this. There’s some pretty big powers that are doing very well out of this and its hard work to take them on, so we all have to be active to do that.

As an academic it is part of my job. I have a role under the Education Act to be a “critic and conscience of society”.

(Alan Mark describes lobbying to remove him as an academic). I do know from the Vice Chancellor that Federated Farmers have regularly called for me to be sacked. But I’m still here. It is crucial for society that we have the ability to speak out.

(Challenge) Trying to get change, trying to show the way.

We get portrayed as a Luddite “you want us to go backwards”. But the reality is a sustainable world would be so much more fun, so much more exciting than a dirty world.

(Miracle) A government that actually had legislation for the people not for a few. And that would mean prioritising environmental protection over the profits of a few.

(Advice) The most effect you could have as an individual is to try and take animal agriculture out of your diet. But that is not enough, you have to be active, you have to stand up for your future and your children’s future, which means stopping the destruction.

Note. This interview was recorded just before the release of the NZ State of the Environment Report. Mike’s comments on that report, along with other leading scientists, can be found here.

Categories
policy science

Challenging deep assumptions

Hans Bruyninckx

Over the long term a pillars model is intellectual nonsense, you cannot have a little bit of sustainability on a finite planet.


Professor Hans Bruyninckx is Executive Director of the European Environment Agency. He says we need to move from a focus on efficiency, to one of transition.

Talking points

It is a time we need to challenge things.

We need to challenge ourselves through better analysis what is driving fundamental unsustainability – how we produce things, how we consume things – and at the same time how we overcome that, and how we organise a transition to a more fundamental sustainability on this planet.

I wanted to do research that had relevance and I strongly believe in the responsibility that comes with knowledge – the privileged position which you have as a researcher in society.

I feel incredibly privileged (to be leading EEA), this is a fantastic organisation.

We take a systemic view, we look at four systems in society we think will need to become fundamentally more sustainable: energy; food and agriculture; transport and mobility; and urban and built environment systems.

All of the elements are connected, pieces in the knowledge puzzle, and our value is in connecting the dots.

Sustainability for me is living well within the limits of the planet.

That means taking those limits very seriously as a boundary condition, it’s not “living well and also thinking about the environment”, it’s living well with the limits of the planet, it’s a very different thing.

We need to move away from this idea that that we somehow have to pay attention in the socio-economic also to the environment and when we do we call it sustainability. In the long run, on a finite planet with limited resources with more people rightly demanding a decent lifestyle.

Sustainability is not about adding a little bit of environment to social and economic development – it’s about fundamentally organising our society while embracing the boundary conditions, and these are about environment and climate and natural resources, that’s the real meaning for me about sustainability.

We need a higher integrated approach (than a pillars approach), the issue is not adding a green pillar to the economy and then a bottle of champagne when the green economy grows 50% (from 6% to 8%) – the real success is greening the economy, which is a very different way of dealing with natural resources. (Sustainability is)… going from a linear model where you dig stiff up, you produce something that you use a limited number of times, then you throw it away. We need a circular economy, it’s about decarbonisation of our core systems, rethinking our energy systems, it’s about fundamentally understanding our ecosystems and the value of natural capital.

The so-called conflict between agriculture and nature – which you see in many countries – I don’t think the fundamental question is how we can solve the conflict between nature and people and farmers, I think the fundamental question is how we have come to a system of food production and consumption that is a key stress factor on the environment, when the basis should be the environment. That points to a much more integrated view of long term sustainability.

Over the long term a pillars model is intellectual nonsense, you cannot have a little bit of sustainability on a finite planet.

We will have to make our core systems of production and consumption essentially sustainable.

We have decoupled our economic production to a large extent from forms of pollution, but in essence, we need to move to a deeper, more systemic long term thinking.

Moving from the Venn diagram to an egg model: where we organise our socio-technical system with the environment, not just taking environment into account – that’s a pretty fundamental paradigm shift.

We need to understand the dynamics of locking in the characteristics of our current unsustainability, and then we need to understand how we can nurture more niche innovation and give that the space to become more mainstream and to upscale. We have to accept failure (in those innovations). The change we need is so fundamental it will require experimentation and it will require thinking and acting out of the box – and we can’t expect everything we invest in to work.

Encouraging niche creativity and innovation, and at the same time understanding what locks us into unsustainability is key.

(can we get transition incrementally?) The jury is out there. Yes, in some way we can go in incremental steps – if you think of urban mobility… Copenhagen’s mobility has been incremental but challenging deep assumptions – it is now operating at the speed of the bicycles – that’s quite a paradigm shift.

I think it will be a mix of more abrupt change and incremental change. We need to understand where the tipping points are – when can we say we are really entering a new paradigm. Last year was the first year that we added mode renewable energy capacity than traditional capacity – is that a tipping point?

It’s easy to shout from the sidelines that we need a revolution, but when you’re trying to push from within the system you realise that you shouldn’t under estimate the forces that are embedded within the current system.

I believe in the capacity of the system to point in the direction. The 7th Environment Action Programme is a very progressive and rather fundamental document. It was formulated after the Global Financial Crisis and people said “it’s all going to be about the economy and jobs now”, but this proves them wrong.

I believe in the adaptive capacity and forward thinking of institutions, but of course you need pressure from society, academic and other knowledge work to point in the right direction, critical forces outside and inside the system.

What we do (EEA) should be aligned to the policy agenda, how we do it comes from our independence – we are a critical voice.

We (EEA) don’t consider communication as a tail-end add-on to what we do, it is an integral part of the approach we have to policy making.

If we understand that the challenges of changing our system are rather complex and there are degrees of uncertainty in that, then we should find a language, find images to communicate that – because it would be almost intellectually dishonest to present them as single cause issues, or simple issues. We see that on social media “if only we would do this simple thing we could solve it” but it probably would not – most issues in society are rather complex, if it only took a five minute decision in one direction, then we probably would have done it. We have a duty to explain complexity, but we do it in terms that speak to those who have to make the decisions, and that’s not easy.

We need to move from an efficiency to a transition paradigm.

The air we breathe, that enters my body is the result of polices that have been implemented or not, so in a way that is political, what I eat is political, my body is political.

The structured agency debate – we all have responsibility, but we do it within systems that surround us.

(EEA’s) communication framework, five narratives, storylines that frame things. One of our core storylines is that environmental issues are not at the outskirts of the debate – this is about production and consumption, hence who we are as a modern society. So it’s at the centre of the debate, the centre of distribution and hence the centre of societal issues.

For a lot of people, environment is sort of on the outside: “if we solve the social and economic issues, then we’ll have time to talk about the environment, you’re not in the room”. Well, yes, we are in the room.

Living well within the planet’s limits is a necessity, not a luxury.

We (EEA) are not doomsday thinkers or communicators. Yes, we have serious information, and yes we need to face reality – whether it is implementation gaps or trend lines that are not positive…but I think we have found a language to say “the problems are serious, but we see a lot of pathways, or at least potential pathways to move out of this and go into a better life that is future oriented”. That, I think has opened a lot of doors for our message.

Areas of the world clearly need qualitative growth, but that doesn’t mean we need to organise those urban infrastructures around individual car use, that doesn’t mean we need to organise food systems based upon unsustainable consumption of meat and sugar – but the need for qualitative growth we cannot ignore, it would be unethical.

We need to reflect on what growth means in a global perspective and also draw the consequences of growth for those not in need of quantitative growth – the contrary, and need to reflect on the footprint of our current lifestyle.

(Success) The agency produced a State and Outlook of the Environment Report that made clear the need for transitions in a way that engages others to discuss and think of a positive future, and not in a way that closes the debate or marginalise the environment.

(Activist?) I consider myself very much convinced of the responsibility that comes with knowledge and the specific knowledge in my role, so yes. I think I have the responsibility to use the agency (small a) I have as an actor, so in that sense I could be considered an activist.

As an academic I was active in environmental organisations. I don’t see a conflict, I had a very clear line.

(Motivation) I love what I am doing – it’s science based, knowledge based policy work. I don’t just manage, it’s knowledge and value based in a highly relevant context, I find that fantastic that I’m allowed to do this.

(Challenge) Translate our fundamental analysis in a way that keeps the momentum going in Europe, going in the direction of transition.

(Miracle) The discourse that environmental and climate policies are against economic interests would disappear from our planet. (On a daily basis – other places learn from Copenhagen’s mobility pattern – what a difference).

(Advice) Pessimism has never really solved anything, we have to be realistic optimists – that motivates us too, to be active participants in change – in other words, if you want to change things, try to be the change you want to see.

Categories
geography

Professor with impact

Richard Morgan

There will be conflict, so we need people to recognise those different values.


Prof Richard Morgan teaches and researches environmental management and impact assessment in University of Otago’s Geography Department. A biogeographer who initially worked on the New Forest, his interests broadened to include the investigation of the impacts human activities on soil systems, and from there to the total environment, including humans. He now applies impact assessment to a diverse range of areas such as Health Impact Assessment.

Talking points

(Water is a resource management problem) – we have to measure what is available, how do we understand the demand for that, how we understand what are the competing demands and how they affect each other, what sort of decision making process is appropriate? Do we simply put a price on water and let people with money buy as much as they need? or do we have some sort of collaborative allocation process?

Water is one of the most contentious issues globally – between communities, between nations. Building dams and denying flows across boundaries, who has access to drinking water and who doesn’t. So understanding how much there is, understanding the seasonal cycles, the natural disruptions to supply, how many droughts we’re going to get in the next 50 years, this is all about having a good understanding that we can then feed into decisions about allocation and sensible usage.

Environmental management is coming in from a different perspective compared to management of an organisation, but we’re still trying to instill professional thinking about how we deal with that.

(Management doesn’t tend work at very long time scales, or to work in areas of finite resources or irreversible decisions) No, and they do have a habit of imposing a discount on their cost/benefit analysis that is ludicrous if you try and do that in natural resources – it just doesn’t work, but that’s not insurmountable.

Different time scales, different spatial scales, being aware of that, and recognising the issues that can arise in those different temporal, spatial scales is important.

The big switch in the last 10-20 years has been recognising values – not just monetary value or narrow utilitarian values – it’s cultural, it’s spiritual, it’s ecological, it’s social – how we take that into account is quite an important area of discussion.

Decision makers are now much more aware that they can’t just take a number, and say “we’ll go with the number and not these expressions of opinion”, now they might be more swayed by good, well founded passionate opinion from a local community than an accountant saying “this is worth so many dollars”.

(Book reference: Stone – do trees have standing? )
How do we play that in our value systems? Deep ecologist: of course. Utilitarian ecologist: well a healthy ecosystem needs those species, we can’t do without them, if we take them out the system is degraded… so it depends on how people what to consider it on a personal philosophical level – then my job as an academic is to point people to those values and say “so what do you think?”.

There will be conflict, so we need people to recognise those different values.

It’s values, every time.

That expression of value is becoming much more important…with increasing recognition of Maori values sets over water, for example, there has had to be a recognition of a holistic sometimes spiritual and ecological and utilitarian set of values.

Sustainability is a moral stance

The sustainability word is problematic because it does take on different meanings for different people, and it doesn’t matter how many academic publications there are saying there are these 5-10 different types of sustainability, that term is owned by the wider population and they will use it as they see fit.

I think what is more important is the ethos, the basic ethos that we need to think carefully about how we live, and how that affects the environment that includes people.

We are making choices every day in what we do, and we need to be thinking about how some of those choices might be having rather unfortunate effects, especially in the longer term.

Fashions change in terms of issues, but the basic ethos that has emerged is human as a species need to think very carefully about how we live, how we use resources – we’ve got to be much more efficient about how we reuse, we’ve got to be much more careful with things that can’t be be reused, choose resources that are not going to pollute to the same extent – I think that message is widely understood. Sustainability is a label that sort of goes over that but perhaps is a bit fuzzy. Maybe we should just talk about the ethos and not worry about the label.

(Motivation?) I’m still keen on being a university academic, every year there’s new minds coming in, new challenging questions, it makes us stop, rethink, perhaps change positions. It’s energising and rejuvinating every year, constantly being challenged.

(Are the new minds changing?) they do want jobs, but still they question and challenge.

(Activist?) No, prodder, questioner. I tend to be in the background. I want to stimulate people’s thinking. I think we have to be quite careful about that – we can’t stand up and say “I’m a professor of geography and therefore my value set should influence you”. But I can stand up and say “me personally, I think this, what do you guys think?”.

(Challenges?) Hand over area of work in impact assessment nationally and internationally – but not fade away too much.

(Miracle?) Solution to sequestering carbon

We shouldn’t be relying on a technical fix, but we should be trying our hardest to cover our options.

(Advice?) Get a good night sleep.

Categories
botany ecology

Ecology: Connected science

Kath Dickinson

The essence of ecology is that it is all around us.


Prof Kath Dickinson is a plant ecologist at the University of Otago. She has broad interests particularly in plant-animal interactions. We talk with her about the science of ecology, and the role of people in ecological systems.

Talking points

It’s always a good idea to be very grounded in getting your feet wet.

I’m very glad I started with geography – the breadth can lead you in multiple directions.

Ecology is the study of interactions.

Ecology is a complex science, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t try to understand it. For me, ecology is inclusive of people.

It is easy to think in the linear way, but complexity means thinking in a non-linear.

We can think of a community as a spider web, hugely complex and very strong in some directions, but easily disrupted in others – by fast and slow disruptions.

If we look at ecosystems, there aren’t boundaries, but considering scale helps, we can say whether we are talking at scale of tree, or forest, or country level, or ocean level.

Ecologists as a field tends to attract people who are attracted to complex thinking, who are able to multitask – thinking about things across scales and in a non-linear fashion.

The term ecology is being taken widely…as a sense of understanding interactions, with respect to can we discern some patterns, some sense out of it. And if we can’t…what is the role of chaos?

That in New Zealand and Australia people are considered separate to the system, even in Australasian ecological science, probably represents the colonisation history…despite the integrated worldview of the indigenous peoples. But now we are increasing working with a message of integration – from mountains to the sea.

Social ecology is a recognition of the role of people in the system.

I talk with students about a play on words: a part from the system – two words – and apart from the system, one word. The writings stemming from the colonial, Christian ethic uses one word: apart from the system. The writings of sustainability, resilience, adaption, the ecosystem services approach all show a move to a part of the system.

(Can we describe the essence of a functioning ecosystem in terms that can be reduced to money?) In some situations, its a tightrope we walk, what economic value does one put on beauty? what economic value does one put on spiritual enrichment? what economic value does one put on a Cromwell chafer beetle?

We are starting to recognise the value of ecosystems…wetlands for example.

(But does this reinforce idea that nature is there for us to exploit?) If we look at the whole planet as a system, Gaia and the moon landings…ecologists might want to talk about integrating ecology with economics

Scale…whether timescale or spatial scale, getting understanding…means understanding scale. Be very aware of what question I’m asking, match the question to the scale. Not one scale fits every problem?

(Does ecology have an inherent ethics?) As a science yes. But it doesn’t necessarily require a care ethic.

Ecology is a continuum to sustainability. A broad philosophical debate.

As humanity becomes increasingly urbanised, the connection to nature becomes more distant. So we need an appreciation of natural history, a positive relationship with nature, rather than a fear or a distance.

Climate change is the biggy, but there are very rapid changes in land cover and oceans.

The rapidity of change is of immediate concern, this is not to dismiss the important and complexity of climate change, but the very rapid phase shift with systems around the world, much like the spider’s web analogy – it easy to destroy a spiders web, but try building it back up again – it takes time, even if it is possible.

There are several elephants in the room: history (decades, centuries, evolutionary) and often we don’t know that, what we see is what we can measure – usually 20 years if we are lucky…the other elephants: market forces; how particular decisions are affected by literal downstream effects – we need integrated land policy.

(Activist?) Out there waving a board saying no to nuclear power? No, but there people who are proactive in the sense of caring about whether it is a hydroelectric dam, or dirty rivers, or the quality of our soils. But as a scientist its a tightrope over maintaining credibility as a scientist and being out there wanting to make a difference. So endeavoring to make a difference.

(Motivation?) Endeavouring to make a difference. If you gather a group of people together to solve a complex problem, and you want to make a difference, it’s not the collective IQ you have in the room, it is the diversity that you have in the room. So there’s a motivation in listening to different perspectives, and valuing perspectives, which isn’t to walk away from fact that decisions can be difficult to make, and not everybody might agree, but the chances are that the diversity will lead to a more robust outcome.

(Challenges?) New courses starting. Interesting challenges of funding.

(Advice?) As individuals we can pull together to make a difference.

Categories
climate change engineering

Engaging embodied energy

Craig Jones

The embodied energy in a disposable battery is fifty times more than the energy that can be extracted from the battery.


Dr Craig Jones of Circular Ecology is a leader in embodied energy and carbon footprinting of products, services and buildings, and in Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). Is is the author of the Inventory of Carbon & Energy an embodied energy and carbon database, and wrote the first book on embodied carbon in the construction industry. Circular Ecology, he tells us, comes from mixing circular economics with industrial ecology.

Talking points

Many kids start out with an environmental passion, but he older they get it just sort of disappears from them – they just get used to how society works at the moment – buy things, dispose of things, not really thinking about them.

It is disappointing that they don’t teach more about the environment and sustainability in engineering.

Engineering, design, is responsible for the products we have. It is a great opportunity to reduce the environmental impact of all the products that we use.

They (engineering graduates) don’t know enough about how to reduce impacts of products, and they just don’t have training and education to know how to do that.

It’s not the culture of companies to reduce impacts unless embedded in policies – which is not yet mainstream.

If you don’t take the opportunity when you design a building to reduce the embodied carbon then that opportunity is lost forever.

The embodied carbon, in a very short time frame, you are using 15-20 years worth of operational emissions. If you don’t take the opportunity to reduce that carbon you can’t go back, that opportunity has been lost forever.

We have the technology today – it is not really a technical issue.

It takes more energy to make a kilogram of paper than a kilogram of steel

Even though I prefer to read reports and documents on paper, I print about nothing these days – you do get used it.

Even as someone who does this full time, what’s a kilogram of carbon really? It is a difficult unit to understand, so I try to consider it in terms of units that are a bit more meaningful…if you did things differently, what is the saving in terms of other things that you do: driving the car or watching TV?

I think water footprints could quickly get more attention.

Too many people confuse carbon footprint with sustainability, and too many people confuse environmental benefits with sustainability.

True sustainability balances environmental factors with social factors and with economic factors.

If you are starting from nothing, then carbon and energy is a good place to start. But it shouldn’t be displayed or marketed as sustainability. Climate Change is one of the more pressing challenges we have at the moment, but there are other important issues out there: toxicity; eutrophication; inequality…

We need to look after our planet so we can hand it down to our children and our grandchildren. For them to have the same quality of life that we have had then we need to change – the planet needs to be healthy for that to happen.

There are so many environmental labels, it needs to be simplified and should be officially backed.
If all manufacturers of similar products had to adhere to the same label, the same assessment method, there would be nowhere to hide, you couldn’t hide behind creating your own label and doing it differently.

At the moment, most consumers don’t understand the impacts – their products are disconnected from the consequences – so the masses will just ignore those labels.

Recycling is not a benefit, it should be expected rather than congratulated.

If we are to live in a truly sustainable manner we need to stop congratulating ourselves for doing things that should be expected.

It needs to become an expectation, we should feel guilty for throwing away that plastic bottle or tin can.

If you recycle your tin can, that saves enough energy to power your TV for four hours.

The life span of a tin can is two months – from mining to discarding – so even with a 55% recycling rate, most of it is going to landfill.

A circular economy means New business models that are still profitable for companies

The embodied energy in a battery is fifty times more than the energy that can be extracted from the battery.

There are companies doing sustainability properly and they are making a profit. But it is not yet seen as mainstream. Those companies have the advantage of being ahead of the curve.

There is an opportunity for consumers, but there’s not really enough information in an easily digestible form.

(Activist) No. I do try achieve gains through my day-time job. And through giving out information freely.

(Motivation) Environmental gain.

(Challenges) There are more and more people in this area, it is becoming competitive. Reducing the costs of the assessments, especially on whole product lines.

(Miracle) Something in policy and legislation that mandated companies to measure and reduce the environmental footprints of their products, buildings and services.

(Advice) Everyone does have a choice when they buy things. You don’t have to always make that choice, other things come into it, but now and again just think about the environmental impacts of something when you purchase it. And even, think do I need that? Quite often you buy things and they end up at the bottom of the cupboard. Think about that, and it reduces the amount of things you buy and never use.

This conversation was recorded at the very pleasant Bordeaux Quay alongside Bristol’s historic Floating Harbour in September 2014.

Categories
business design systems

Strategic sustainable products

Sophie Hallstedt

The trick is to make a business out of being more sustainable.


Dr Sophie Hallstedt is a researcher and lecturer at in the Department of Strategic Sustainable Development at
Blekinge Institute of Technology. Her research interest is sustainable product development and the question of how a strategic sustainability perspective can be integrated and implemented into product innovation process with focus on the early phases.

This conversation is one of a series of four recorded at Blekinge Institute of Technology Department of Strategic Sustainable Development in September 2014.

Talking points

Strategic sustainable development means you you take a strategic approach to the success ladder.

Supporting companies to consider sustainability as part of everything they do.

If you talk to individuals in an organisation, many are concerned about the unsustainable society that we live in, and they want to contribute…but as part of a bigger organisation it’s not always so easy to do that – to put that on the agenda when there are other issues that are putting pressure on the company.

You need to have a long term perspective. If you only look at today, you might have one choice, but if you look 10-15 years ahead, what would be the best alternative if you could then choose for today. It may be best to invest in the thing that is more expensive today but will in the long term be more beneficial.

We are developing support for including the long term in decision making. This is tricky because you don’t know what is going to happen. So we use scenarios.

We have a tool for visualising scenarios.

There’s a danger of reducing to economic terms if you do it too soon. You need to keep it as transparent as possible and also have a qualitative assessment. You need a dialogue around the results. This can be supported by the visualisation of the quantitative results.

It is harder for engineers to accept qualitative results…it helps to visualise it…but the qualitative story is needed.

(Can human rights, human suffering – less tangibles – be represented in a format that makes them equivalent to the numerical values in a decision support system?) You can’t. You can’t put a figure on some sustainability aspects.

But if you are going to support product developers, to support them in their decisions, their designs, then it may be important to help them go from the larger picture to something they can translate and compare.

To make a more sustainable product it is important to collaborate with your partners in its value chain.

Can a product be sustainable?) It depends on how you manage it for the whole lifecycle. It is very difficult to say something is sustainable. You might be able to say more, or less sustainable.

What is strategic sustainable development? What is a sustainable society?

(Role of ecology in engineering degree?) I would think it very useful, to see how everything is connected.

Everything is connected. Even a small change can have catastrophic consequences.

(Consumers). A big impact is to use with care so it lasts longer.

(Decision to buy, are we getting better at supporting through product design the decision not to buy) You have to take responsibility as a consumer, but yes, you will see more of that.

(Is there a sweetspot as a consumer?) A mix. There is a need for companies to make products that enable consumers to choose between alternatives.

To some extent we (as consumers) need to trust the producers that they have taken their responsibility seriously to make their product more sustainable, or as sustainable as it can be at the moment and have a road map.

(but we have to wade through a swamp of greenwash). yes, as consumer, your responsibility is to be aware of that. It’s quite hard, that’s why we have labeling schemes. These aren’t perfect, but they are better than nothing.

You should be aware of the labelling schemes, but you still have to take your own responsibility when you chose your product.

Issues such as ecological issues, production issues and so on are harder for the consumer to see, so these values have to be in the company – what is good for society is also good for us.

(On planned obsolescence) I hope and think there is another way to do products design, so they have a value for lasting a long time, maybe a modular system where you replace parts of the system.

3D printing may cause a new sustainability problem itself if overused.

(Activist?) I wouldn’t call myself an activist – I’m trying to inspire. I want to try to inspire and grow and have a seed to take a direct responsibility to continue to work.

(Challenges) Having companies taking a more active role in bringing in a sustainability perspective in business strategies. I working on describing more good examples so they can see it does have a value.

(Motivation) Trying to contribute, To inspire other people to work with it.

(Miracle) My wishlist would be to have more resources in companies to prioritise this area.

(Advice) Everyone can contribute in their field to a more sustainable society and you should do that – both as a person and in your profession

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Categories
economics engineering systems

Strategic sustainable transport

Henrik Ny

If you come back a year later and they’ve got recycling in the office rather than looking at the main process, that’s a sign that they are not really buying it.


Dr Henrik Ny is a researcher and Sessional Instructor at Blekinge Institute of Technology. His research interests include ecological economics and sustainable product development. He has worked to integrate lifecycle assessment into the environmental management system and the waste treatment and recycling efforts of major industrial companies. Henrik’s current role is to run large research projects together with industry and public institutions. The largest so far is a regional electric vehicle project called Greencharge.

This conversation is one of a series of four recorded at Blekinge Institute of Technology Department of Strategic Sustainable Development in September 2014.

Talking points

I studied engineering as a route to sustainability.

If you did it from scratch it would be much easier…but it rarely happens that you get to do something from scratch.

My PhD was a toolbox for companies to practically integrate strategic sustainability into their products and systems.

Rather than just looking at the systems as they are, we started looking at applying the principles for sustainability.

Substances from the earth’s crust should not be allowed to increase in the system – because then we will have problems now or in the future. So this makes the process of increasing concentrations a problem – before you know what consequences they give.

Chemicals – combinations of emissions from the earth’s crust – these should also not increase.

The third is about other ways to break down natural systems.

The fourth is about social sustainability, because even if we address the ecological issues without the social people will not deal with this in a good way. We need to be happy at the same time.

We have focussed on the process conditions – the increasing concentrations, we’re working with others (Rockstrom) who have set up the boundary conditions for how far those processes can go.

Companies are beginning to understand that so long as they are acting in an unsustainable way, they are taking a risk. It sometimes takes while for them to understand that.

If you are working with someone who is trying to improve, it is sometimes counter productive to be too dogmatic. I never tone done the science or the consequences of something, but I am trying not to tell them how they should run their business.

If you come back a year later and they’ve got recycling in the office rather than looking at the main process, that’s a sign that they are not really buying it.

The nature of something that is so big – holistic – is that sometimes it is so big and blurry that you don’t know where to focus…that’s the value of the framework.

We have added a scoping phase to Life Cycle Assessment where you use the principles of sustainability, so that you can see, just by knowing that you’re looking for substances from the earths crust what you’ve up against… the idea is that you can keep track and not get lost into the detail.

If you want (your analysis) to become dynamic, then you use scenarios and tweak it, system dynamics from a strategic perspective.

The challenge is to do something complex enough to address reality, but not so complex that you don’t understand what is going on.

Putting social systems into that makes it more complex.

(Green Charge) The technology we need is more or less here – so it is more of a social- economic problem: how can you mobilise the necessary actors to act in a coordinated way to make this possible and affordable.

We could say this is how you should be sustainable, but if everyone is bankrupt before they get there then little is won. So we try divide in two steps. First a wish list of the things we want to do. Then we prioritise based on short-term economics.

So we try to find things that will give you money now, and prepare for coming steps.

(are we close to the tipping point for sustainable transport?) Not yet, but within five years.

The status quo is a big barrier.

As long as there are a few good examples of success, we will move forward quite quickly.

Those who don’t move will lose in the transition.

The strategic framework raises a few principles as a common guide for any actor. It is built at such a level that anyone acting in society could, for example identify according to principle one, how they contribute to increasing concentration of substances from the earth’s crust. That can lead to common goals, with different types of actors working together.

The strategic sustainability framework provides a common language so that people from different positions can work together.

When you put a price on externalities and internalise them into the economy, then you are making the economy better. But even with this environmental economics, we might consume them (the environment) anyway but at a higher cost. Ecological Economics attempts to limit this with quota and so on.

We need to think about growth in more nuanced way. Many times growth today is just expanding a wasteful business model where you waste a lot of resources, then you expand that and waste a even more resources. If you transition to a business model where you waste less resources, then you can have economic growth while not wasting as much. It is difficult to achieve this in practice – to have both growth without systematically eroding the environment.

There are different ways to fulfill needs that wouldn’t show up in our current economic systems.

Just enough is not enough. Restorative sustainability…systems that start to improve themselves again. I think this is necessary, because we have destroyed a lot of things.

(Motivation) Realisations when I was very young – looking a car exhausts and asking where they go. The realisation that this is not going to work. Then being able to be part of the solution and just looking at the problem. And I’m quite curious and I like solving problems, simplifying, explaining…and here is the biggest, most interesting problem we have.

(How many people do we need?) Amoeba theory…

(Activist?) Depends on what you mean by activist. I don’t generally go around telling people what they should do. And I’m not fundamentalist in that I do everything right always myself. I try to make the big things right and recognise that sometimes you need to make compromises.

(Challenges?) Run Green Charge to fruition. Develop the road map, develop a big systems model to look for transition points.

(Miracle?) We have the technology…so one, a sudden global awareness that we need to change to become sustainable, and two, this is how we should do it.

(Advice?) Don’t despair. Most of us are aware that there is something wrong with the world today, but most of us are also quite frustrated that we don’t know what to do to fix it. But there are many things you can do, use the internet, find things to do, trying to reduce your own energy bill for example will start helping the world.

Categories
climate change systems

Carbon footprint of everything

Mike Berners-Lee

We’re spending a lot of time chasing the wrong things. We’re pursuing things that don’t make us happy, and don’t make us healthy, and do trash the planet.


Mike Berners-Lee of Small World Consulting is an expert in greenhouse gas footprinting and organisation development. He is the author of How Bad Are Bananas?:The carbon footprint of everything, and with Duncan Clark is co-author of The Burning Question.

Talking points

Trying to give us an instinct of where the climate change impacts are in everything.

None of us are born with that instinct, this sense of the climate change impacts…this invisible gas carbon dioxide and all the other greenhouse gases, and the emissions take place, not in front of our eyes where we can see, but the emissions take place down long distance supply chains that most of the time most of us haven’t got a clue about.

I ended up doing a physics degree…but it bored me rigid, I couldn’t really give a monkeys whether the Higgs boson exists, but I’m much more interested in questions about how we live and how to better peoples’ lives and how we build a global society.

I got a job as an outward bound instructor, and that was all about people and how they live together and how we make the most of our lives – how we think about about how we want to spend our time.

I saw that by and large, environmental consultants didn’t have the ability to bring about change…they could comment, but they didn’t seem able to make the business world or the political world do what the evidence was suggesting would be a good idea.

With climate change increasingly clear as a big deal, I thought perhaps I’d better have a go at seeing what I could do, so I formed an environmental consultancy focussed on climate change.

There’s a breakdown…there hasn’t been enough understanding of all the different perspectives that need taking into account if you’re trying to create change.

If you look at the world getting on top of sustainability issues you need much more systemic thinking – who are all the stakeholders in the world? And what really are their world views, and what can they and can’t they respond to in order to create a realistic model for change.

Small World – it is an increasingly small world. Everything that Small World does is in response to the fact that it’s an increasingly small world in relation to the power of our species.

If you look at the way that we traditionally operate as a species, we can understand the impacts that occur in front of our eyes – we’re quite good at living in small communities, no one in this room is likely to hit anyone in the next few minutes, we’d all be shocked by that because we would have seen it and understand it, but we’d be much more likely to do something that has a much more indirect and diffuse negative impact – we’re much more likely to do something that triggers a carbon footprint, which causes a diffuse negative impact on seven billion people spread over the next decades.

We’ll probably never understand what we need to become much better at tuning into that kind of abstract impact.

You can get bogged down in defining sustainability. I think we can all agree that it is about living well in a way that enables others to live well now and in the future.

Over-consumption is a part of the problem. The reason we’re doing it is we think it will enable us to live well, but it doesn’t enable us to live well.

We’re spending a lot of time chasing the wrong things. We’re pursuing things that don’t make us happy, and don’t make us healthy, and do trash the planet.

Lots of us are working harder than we need to, buying things not because of their intrinsic enjoyment but because we’re subconsciously hoping they’ll give us some sort of surrogate measure of our human worth – and of course that’s completely spurious.

It’s deeply embedded and I’m not going to pretend I’m free from this either…we’re all susceptible, we all get trapped into cultural influences.

I thought I’d outsource the number crunching and I’d do organisational change, but I couldn’t find anyone doing a practical but robust job of supplying good enough management information about the real full carbon impacts of everything we do.

You can do a process based supply chain analysis: map out all the stages back to theoretical limits, but this hugely underestimates the impacts. There are infinite pathways of infinitely long supply chains – even if you do the major ones and cover all suppliers suppliers suppliers you have billions of pathways and might only have half the impact.

In some industries there is a massive underestimation…telecoms 80% underestimated, construction something like 50%

Input/output analysis…maps out the economy by industries and attributes emissions to industries then maps out the flows between industries in economic terms…the result is capable of tracking supply chains, with some major assumptions, but it doesn’t systematically underestimate.

The best route to a credible answer is a combination of methods.

The IT industry…data centres are about half a percent of the global emissions and rising fast, a pretty big deal if you think that paper has only ever been about 1%

So is digital a route to saving carbon? If we stored the same amount of information as we once stored in filing cabinets, then it would be, be the reality is that because it is millions of times more efficient, we stored millions of millions of times more information – and not only that, we’ve still got the filing cabinets as well.

This is a classic example of a really important effect – the efficiency improvements that we assume are going to bring about less drain on resources and less environmental burden, end up increasing environmental impact. Counter intuitive, but critical for us to get our heads around.

If you track greenhouse gas emissions from 1850 you get a mathematically exponential 1.8% increase per year…some tiny variation, but exponential growth, resilient, impervious to change – short term dents around wars and so on, but the curve bounces back.

What’s going on? Surely we should be seeing some dent on the curve. Efficiency gains by default don’t bring about a reduction in total burden.

This astonishingly simple reality has passed by policy makers and politicians the world over. That’s why we wrote the Burning Question.

This astonishingly simple, uncontestable science which was so so important you couldn’t hope to get on top of climate change without integrating it properly and hard into the psyche and thinking of anyone making decisions under this agenda.

If climate change was just a bit of science and politics and technology then we would have sorted it out by now. Our species is good at solving this kind of problem, but climate change isn’t one of those problems.

Climate change is the most fascinating, as well as most pressing puzzle humans have ever had to deal with. In addition to the science and politics and technology, it involves psychology, sociology, culture…probably inescapably about art as well.

How do human beings function as a seven billion unit on a small planet?

It doesn’t work to try and solve the problem in silos.

You would think the bulletproof scientific case would translate in a problem we were taking seriously

We’re good at facing up to some pressing problems, if I were to punch you on the nose everyone in this room would wake up to a problem and we’d all start dealing with it. But climate change is abstract. It’s about an invisible gas. There’s a whole lot of difficult science you need to get on top of in order to understand what is going on, there’s uncertainty, and uncertainty makes us uncomfortable, it’s a problem about the future (increasingly about now, but primarily about the future), so we have to start tuning into what’s going to be happening in 40 years time, thinking about our kids in ways that we’re not used to – so far into the future. Somehow we have to tune into people on the other side of the world who won’t ever know that you or I exist in person, and we’re never going to meet, we’re never going to know them, and we’re going to have to start caring about them in the same way that we care about our own families and our own street.

All of those elements have completely caught us off balance. Our normal ways – of doing science, communicating science, and doing politics and economics – has be proven unfit for purpose: shown to be lacking in helping us get on top of the climate change problem.

There’s a disconnect between science and politics

How we dealt with ozone was encouraging in that it showed we can respond internationally. But dealing with the ozone problem didn’t need a fundamental reworking of so much of our economic fabric.

A carbon constrained world is an enormous opportunity to huge chunks of the business world – any industry in the business of providing efficient utility should be seeing carbon constraint as a massive opportunity.

One of the great questions is to what extent is the current economic model broken and unfit for purpose? Most people jerk to one end of the spectrum. At one end – “the way we do economics has to be taken as a given , and you can’t change that, we have to have economic growth in the way that we’ve always understood it”. And at the other end there are people who think that “all of that has been the root of all evil anyway, and we need to get away from it and climate change just gives us one more reason why we should”. This needs to be a much more balanced discussion.

This is clear. Although we’ve never managed to achieve economic growth without increasing our environmental burden in the past, it is unproven that we couldn’t do that.

We have absolutely got to have a global cap on carbon coming out of the ground.

Science tells us we need to cap the total amount of carbon ever coming out of the ground, and we’re not far from that – it could be a couple of decades on our current trajectory. Because of lags and that exponential curve…if we go past two degrees and stay on trajectory, we’ll very rapidly go past 2,3,4,5,6…

We absolutely, urgently need a cap on the carbon that ever comes out of the ground.

We can burn something like half the proven reserves, if you look at the the total amount in the ground, we can only ever burn a minuscule proportion of it.

There’s no chance that fuel scarcity will get us out of this – there’s just too much of it. As a species we’re going to to have to commit to leaving it in the ground.

If you are a fuel company and your business strategy is to sell fossil fuel, then your position is similar to being a tobacco company – trying to get people to smoke as many cigarettes as possible and your only route is to try to dodge the legislation, delay the legislation, pull the wool over as many peoples’ eyes for as long as you can – that’s the kind of business you’re going to have to be.

If you are in the business of providing utility for households, for example, so that people can be warm and comfortable – that’s a different proposition. That allows you to move away from fossil fuels, it allows you to encourage people to be efficient in households, it allows you to invest hard in other energy sources, and it gives you a pathway (at least in theory, there’s detail to work through), to be a thriving business contributing to a sustainable world.

A global carbon constraint would change the value of all kinds of product and services.

If you were in the business of enabling people to have more utility through less use of resources, then you would be a pig in shit. And that case is just starting to be grasped by large organisations.

The psychology of human denial is quite fascinating…difficult news, dealing with grief…the same applies to climate change…the difficulty is the are so many new ways in which we can put off the bad news.

If your loved one dies, there’s a hard reality, your brain can’t wriggle out of it. Climate change isn’t like that, there’s a lot more wriggle room – it’s abstract, it’s going to be going on for a few years, it doesn’t start next Tuesday,…and there’s lobby funding to create a whole storyline to help persuade you that you can put this off for another day.

Even if you accept the facts, you’ve still got a whole bag of excuses why there’s nothing htat you can can do – it’s not my problem, it’s somebody else’s, it’s really down to the politicians, businesses, consumers or maybe it’s down to people in other countries…everybody’s got a reason why it’s not them that has to be them that has to do anything about it.

We’ve got layers and layers of defenses between the evidence and the hard reality that all of us have an important and urgent role in confronting the issue right now and we can all do something about it.

The business opportunity shouldn’t be the root reason why businesses should change what they do. We should be clear and unembarrassed about this – the reason why we as people, individuals, businesses, and as countries should respond to climate change and sustainability is because it is the right thing to do. Fullstop. We shouldn’t be embarrassed about that.

Whether or not it is the most profitable thing to do, we should do it because it is the right thing, because we care about our kids, and they’ll look us in the eye and ask what we did about it.

People will look back and think “what were they thinking?” and they’ll have every right to.

They’ll look back and say “what were you doing?”.

They’ll wonder how we got swept along, they’ll wonder at our inaction and they’ll be disappointed by it, and we won’t like that feeling.

We won’t like this question “when you saw climate change fully in the face, what did you do about it? Did you really just carry on? Because you couldn’t think of anything to do or weren’t you brave enough because everyone around you was just carrying on? Were you really that weak?” I think we would all be embarrassed to think of ourselves like that.

(Activist?) I roll my sleeves up in some ways. I try to target my efforts, I could always do more.

You have to find a way of responding properly to this agenda in a way that also that works personally, and that is difficult. The person that works out the answer to this will be so infectious that our species will get it.

Young people are getting it, they’re on the case.

(Motivations) Anyone who pauses to think about it wants to be constructive in their life.

I tend to see the bigger picture better than I see little details. Once you see the bigger picture, it’s pretty hard to ignore sustainability as a big deal.

(Challenges) The Burning Question remains, if you have a clear understanding of uncontestable important realities (that we need to urgently cap fuel coming out of the ground, efficiency on it’s own won’t help us, and renewables on their own won’t help), then the biggest crunch is the gap between the evidence base and the action.

It’s all too easy to collude in just being part of the problem, doing things that look like they’re great but if you look at what is their contribution to creating the conditions, we find it doesn’t really make a perceptible contribution.

What can any of us do to be meaningfully part of creating the conditions under which the world leaves its fuel in the ground?

All the little things add up if they create meaningful cultural change.

It is possible to get quite bogged down and depressed about the state we’re in, the scale of change we need and that we need it pretty fast. I could also get quite optimistic, because the way that things can change is by systemic tipping point.

The conditions will suddenly become more right. A blend of politics, culture, science and technology…all the pieces of the pie will come together in one go and we’ll realise that we don’t have to be trapped in this exponential trajectory – we can do something different.

Those conditions will have come about by all sorts of small things that look as though they’re nothing, beating heads against the wall, all looking as if pinpoints in this economic global dynamic, that’s taking us down the long road, but they’ll all add up together, and suddenly it’ll feel like things are beginning to move a little bit.

Unfortunately we can’t really set goals on getting to tipping points, spurious really, it’s too complex, and we don’t know what we don’t know, but we are gathering momentum

(Miracle) That we create conditions for world leaders to go to the Paris 2015 climate summit knowing that their careers depended on getting progress that is commensurate with the scientific evidence.

(Advice) Think out of the box. Think really differently about how you live, what makes you happy. Go back to first principles and think about it. Break out of and challenge all the constraints about how we have to do life.

We can have tonnes more fun that we’re currently having, by being more sustainable.

This is not a doom and gloom agenda, sustainability is a let’s have a party agenda.

Categories
climate change oil politics peace science

Encouraging scientists to think differently

Stuart Parkinson


We want to promote dialogue amongst scientists and engineers, particularly in areas where they don’t want to talk about things

Dr Stuart Parkinson is Executive Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility.

Talking points

Our aim is to promote science, design and technology in contributing to peace, social justice and sustainability

Encourage scientists and engineers to think differently

To think differently about their role in society, prioritising environmental issues and social justice rather than a narrow economic focus

The challenge is an agenda of security through an arms industry – we argue for science and technology not based on yet another generation of highly destructive technologies

We want to promote dialogue amongst scientists and engineers, particularly in areas where they don’t want to talk about things

There’s an acceptance of the arms industry – “it keeps us safe” – we want to question that.

We try and fill gaps, ask the awkward questions.

Not just responding to problems with a technofix – another technology.

Part of the concern is that technology is often grabbed as a simple answer and it turns out not to be – it might deal with one problem but create another.

Trying to get around the techofix mentality

The term activist is so often used as a pejorative. If it’s about about questions, proposing different solutions to mainstream, challenging systems and offering something constructive, then it’s an activist organisation.

Working in the arms industry made me ask awkward questions, ones I hadn’t faced before – severely questioning what I was doing.

One of the challenges of the environment is ‘oh we don’t need to worry about that because it is too uncertain’ but on the other hand, we’re willing to believe economists, where the uncertainties are orders of magnitude bigger than the environmental ones.

We’re willing to take at face value economic models…despite being hugely unreliable and based on so many assumptions you can make them prove whatever you want according to your political viewpoint.

We’ve developed an economic system that’s not very stable (or fair or sustainable) so takes a lot of tuning – our news has become fixated on this.

(why sticking to growth narrative) because we haven’t come up with an alternative economic model that works in the way we’ve become used to.

SGR has ethical principles rather than specific polices on every subject. We encourage debate and discussion to apply principles.

(On demilitarisation) moving towards a society that solves its conflicts through dialogue and building trust and diplomacy rather than trying to build new generations of weapons

We need a to follow cautionary principle, rather than doing things just because we can

Some scientists can create a new technology, and other scientists can ask awkward questions about that technology – like what’s the impact, social implications and will it improve quality of life.

We’re being driven along by an economic imperative, not considering broader pros and cons.

We’re breaching environmental limits, some clearly, others either we don’t know or we will breach them in few decades – and that’s really scary.

We need to change norms of international behaviour that says nuclear weapons are unacceptable for anybody to have.

Challenge the assumption that there is a technofix. Technology is just one group of approaches, we need scientists and engineers to know that there are other groups of approaches

Codes of ethics (in professional bodies) are very narrow. Our organisation’s name is Global Responsibility – derived from social responsibility, corporate, environmental responsibility.

Ethics so often in professional institutions is interpreted very narrowly – professional ethics of do you job well, don’t lie, don’t plagiarise, don’t make something that’s going to blow up as soon as you’ve sold it. We think that’s far too narrow, you’ve got to think about your role in society, your place in society as an engineer, as your company, as your profession – and think are we doing the right thing?

Activist: Yes. For same reasons the organisation can be considered activist

Making things unacceptable is a very powerful idea. At the moment nuclear weapons aren’t something to be ashamed of for a lot of countries – chemical weapons are, biological weapons are – that shame that comes with breaching international law that’s built up over a couple of hundred years – its more powerful than people realise.

(What do we need to do to preload students with awkward questions?) We want to inspire students with science, give them at least sight and experience of something else.

The science and technology that is presented as exciting, especially for boys, is things like explosions, fighter planes and warships…we’re trying to present an alternative to that, still desirable, kind of nicer, this is what society is about, helping each other and using technologies that help us to help each other. And this is how is how you can live a good life – not being dazzled by the flashing lights and loud noises of the problematic technologies.

Being affected enough to make a different choice in their lives.

Note:
This conversation was recorded in the Common House at Lancaster Cohousing (see earlier conversation with Cathy and Alison).

Categories
computing education

Standing on the brink

Elina Eriksson

Even in a future of scarcity, we still need technology, we just have to design it very differently.


Dr Elina Eriksson is interested in issues of usablity and user-centred design to promote change; both organizational change and change in individual behaviour.

Elina has multiple affiliations at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. She is in the School of Computer Science and Communication (CSC), the Department of Media Technology and Interaction Design (MID) and in research groups Green Leap and the Centre for Sustainable Communications (CESC).

Talking points

I realised quite early on that I don’t only want to work in computer science in programming, but I also want to get close to people and change stuff – so Human Computer Interaction became my major.

There is definitely a gender issue in how computer science portrays itself.

The Brundtland definition is talked about but it’s not really operationable.

The environmental aspects to sustainability are clearly important, with climate change, but I also feel very strongly for the social side of sustainability.

Circles within circles, we have to live within the bound of our earth.

Sometimes I think we are not good enough at reflecting on what we are doing and why. We can get so enthusiastic about new technology that we don’t really look back at what we are doing.

To create smart sustainable cities we need a bottom up view – what practices are making a difference and how can we help these practices through infrastructure?

Sustainability needs us to work on several different levels at the same time. Both at the policy legislation levels, and to change social norms – the culture.

For HCI this means a focus on norm-critical design. Technology can help people reflect more on their own practices.

HCI has such a suite of methods for helping improve work practices, now is the time to scale that up to the community – to smart cities.

Students report a cognitive dissonance, on one hand they are taught to develop new cool Apps, and on the other we come with our Sustainability course and tell them that this might not be the best way of working.

We focus on predicaments rather than problems. Problems are things we can solve, whereas predicament might be situations that are not solvable.

You have to find ways to work with a predicament, but there might not be one single solution.

We think it is important to be honest with students, that we are standing on the brink.

We try to find a balance between facts and values.

We can’t require them to have a particular value, but we can show…that as soon as we talk about the future, it is no longer a fact based science, it’s about values – what kind of future would we like to have.

ICT is interwoven with everything we do today in society, how much ICT is involved in efficiency, how much our norms and beliefs and culture is based on what we meet in the media

We play a discussion based board game – Gaming in Sustainability through Communication.

(Challenge) integrate sustainability into programme.

As long as the main goal of our education is forcing our students to work in an unsustainable manner, we will never reach a sustainable future.

How can we reach a sustainable future if we still have a consumer society?

Technology is a problem, but it can also solve things, dematerialise and make processes more efficient.

The fundamental problem of working with sustainability – it’s such a big system to change.

Related
Daniel Pargman

Categories
computing energy

Energy hungry constellations

Oliver Bates

The extravagant users…if they are getting the same utility as the lowest users – having the same sorts of experiences, then why do they need all these things?


Oliver Bates is a PhD candidate at the Lancaster University School of Computing and Communications. Oliver’s research focuses on understanding energy impacts in the home for which he uses using a mixed method involving lots of sensors and lots of talking and listening. He presented a paper on this work at CHI 2014 called “Towards an holistic view of the energy and environmental impacts of domestic media and IT“.

Talking points:

(why in computing?) I enjoy learning new things and the idea that I’m helping somebody else

Ecofeedback is not particularly successful in reducing energy consumption – somewhere around 5 and 15%.

What are people doing and how can we do it differently?

People design new things and people buy the new things and people use the new things, it’s a self fulfilling energy growth.

I like the thought of undesigning technology

Poeple don’t think about the energy they just want to get on with doing what they do

Because you can watch video on demand, you do…

How devices are being used in every day life

It’s hard to relate to what seems like an arbitrary number

The differences in what people do can be subtle but have huge differences in impact

the more devices you own, the larger the impacts…larger more complex arrangements of devices had twice the embodied impact

Bigger things and more things use more power

Devices physically connected together: constellations
Constellations of devices increase the impact for a given activity

If you own a phone for a year the embodied dwarfs the amount of direct energy
If you charge a phone for two hours at 6 watts, that’s nothing compared to a laptop at 50-60W for 8 hours.

Longevity, across anything is more important, especially for high impact devices.

If a thing has high embodied impacts and it has a higher electricity demand, at what point do I go, ‘this devices uses way too much electricity and I’ve had it for a while, I should buy a more efficient thing, but therefore releasing more carbon’?

(Finding the sweetspot) calculate the embodied emissions, whichever method you want, you need to then know the times of use – say a laptop you charge 8 hours a day, using 50W across those hours…for me I want the direct energy to at least be greater than the embodied impacts. I don’t want something to be created before I’ve matched its emissions – that feels like a waste, I don’t know why. Double the impact maybe, getting your impact’s worth.

The numbers on the life cycle impact vary hugely according to the method (cost, weight etc) and how deep you go in the analysis.

If I say “I can reduce my impact by replacing all my media and IT devices with new ones that are 15% more efficient” then that is a completely misinformed decision…you’ve bought a whole new thing creating 1000s of kilograms of CO2 in the atmosphere just because you can save 15% per month in your energy bill – that is a bad decision.

I don’t think there are obvious rules of thumb. That’s part of the problem with ecofeedback, it’s not like a blanket rule you can apply.

People that owned more stuff used more stuff…a difference of 12 lightbulbs to 2 lightbulbs

People make choices…the smallest user was 164Wh, the largest 4135Wh…about 40 times more impact for pretty much the same experience.

The two largest two consumers used 40% of the total consumption, which is huge and they did have large inventories, but in the middle the variation comes down to times of use and not leaving stuff on.

(the bang for the buck comes from addressing the top users). But needs context.

Consumption was a product of how they configured their things.

Constellations amplify electricity use.

If these people can it it this low impact way and be happy, then how do we get that message to the high impact users, especially if they don’t care? I don’t want to be the guy the guy that says “you need to throw out all your stuff”. Extreme policy but may be we need to be extreme sometimes, if we are trying to get from 15% to 65% energy efficiency then maybe that’s the radical steps we need to push for.

Activist: No, I’m too comfortable
Challenges: Domestic demand on cloud services. Lifetime impacts. Motivations
Advice: Discuss how you do things at home…acknowledge that (other people) get on just fine by having a ‘lesser’ quality of experience, but it’s OK…maybe we can share. I like the idea of sharing but I also like the idea of my own space and my own stuff.

Resources
Human power station

Categories
climate change computing systems

Understanding systems

Steve Easterbrook

The 95% certainty is itself problematic, because it is a very high level summary of lots of different details…if you pick the science apart there are some areas where we are much more certain than that, and there are other areas where there is a lot uncertainty…the basics of how the greenhouse effect works and then what happens if you add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere – that’s not 95% certain, that’s 100% certain. It’s a stable piece of science that’s been around more than 100 years.


Dr Steve Easterbrook studies contributions of computing and software to the challenge of dealing with climate change at the University of Toronto. His focus is on climate informatics, in particular, how climate scientists develop computational models to improve their understanding of earth systems and climate change.

Talking points:

Large complex pieces of software that have been built over many many years by large teams of people.

Each climate model is something like a million lines of code, that has taken 10-20 years to build…and there are around 25 models being built around the world…and they take different approaches. Each is building coupled systems, they sometimes swap parts.

Contributing to the models is a long slow peer-reviewed process.

What surprised me the most, I thought the models are for predicting the future – that’s what we see in the media, we see these projections of climate change over the coming century…I thought these people were essentially futurologists, how is this going to play out in the medium and long term…but it turns out they build the models to do experiments…comparing how well the model performs with observational data of recent past or even the distant past.

How they do experiments, they might have an area in the model that they know is weak, that it doesn’t match the observational data very well..so they’ll set this up as a formal experiment, they’ll create a hypothesis that says “here’s a way of improving the model by changing the way it simulates a particular part of the process”…so the hypothesis is that changing model the will improve how it simulates a particular part of the climate….my favourite example is getting the Indian Monsoons right…they run these as experiments with the existing model as the control, then go through a peer review to get the change included in the model…so on a day to day basis, almost everything they do is set up as an experiment.

With a faster machine they increase the resolution, each simulation takes two weeks.

Simulating typical weather, not what it going to do on any given day

For some scientists the broader politicisation is very frustrating, they want to keep their heads down…they’re not trained to communicate their work to wider audiences.
The other reaction is people that want to get out and give their side of the story because they feel the media does a very poor job at representing the science and what the scientists do.

The science is unbelievably complicated.

There’s an asymmetry, saying “it’s all bunkum” or more subtly “we’re not sure enough, there’s too many uncertainties, we shouldn’t take action yet”…that’s a very easy message to say, especially when faced with a complex science, especially when the public hears “this is a complex science, how can the scientists be that sure?”.

The 95% certainty is itself problematic, because it is a very high level summary of lots of different details…if you pick the science apart there are some areas where we are much more certain than that, and there are other areas where there is a lot uncertainty…the basics of how the greenhouse effect works and then what happens if you add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere – that’s not 95% certain, that’s 100% certain. It’s a stable piece of science that’s been around more than 100 years.

Scientists like to become famous by overturning existing bodies of knowledge, and when a piece of science endures for 100 years or more, we’re not 95% sure, this is uncontentious science in anyway whatsoever.

The broad story that if we keep on adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere the planet will keep on warming, there’s no doubt in the scientific community about that, the uncertainty is around exactly how much warming and exactly when will it occur.

The big picture there is no doubt about, the uncertainty is about the details.

The email leak has brought many of the climate scientists to the realisation that they have to do a better job of the communication, they can’t leave it to others to do because there aren’t any others..there aren’t other communities that understand the science enough to explain it.

I’d like to see more telling the story of what what scientists do on a day-to-day basis in terms that other people can understand.

The more you change the climate, the less you can be sure that the models are capturing it correctly.

Tipping points are really hard to predict, we can see that they might be there, but making predictions about exactly when they would occur is really hard.

It might be counter-productive…to put a date on climate change such as a 5 window to take action…because as the end of that window approaches you undermine your entire message, because people take from that “5 years and then disaster occurs, we’ve got to 5 years and where’s the disaster?”…the right message is climate change is already with us, and it’s causing all sorts of chaos around the world, it’s just not evenly distributed.

Specific windows are a bad idea…specific goals as well, 2 degrees of warming, we’re approaching that now, or at least we’re approaching the point where we are locked into two degrees of warming…as we get closer and closer to the point of no return, what’s the message about that? well we were wrong about 2 degrees, maybe we can go to 2 and a half, maybe 3…and you are completely undermining the message about consequences when you set these thresholds -it’s an incremental change, it will occur and it is occurring at different rates and different severities around the world.

Climate change is an incremental problem with a huge degree of inertia, we have to act now to affect what the world is going to be like in fifty years time, that’s really hard for people to comprehend, on the other hand, if we talk to people about making our cities cleaner, making the air cleaner, that’s a very easy message and where there are immediate impacts, so one of the things we can do around climate change is work on solutions that have those immediate benefits, but that also contribute towards the longer term problem.

Climate change is the elephant in the room, no matter what we achieve in terms of sustainability, if we don’t tackle climate change then it’s going to be serious, it’s going to undermine our other efforts, but on the other hand you could turn that around, and say why don’t we build a network of sustainability initiatives that together add up to more than the sum of the parts, that add up to a solution to climate change, even though if you pick them apart and attempt to measure them…they don’t appear to add up. And that’s important because we can’t get them to add up…if you look at what the IPCC says we need to stay below 2 degrees of warming, it looks like it’s impossible. Because if you don’t start somewhere and if you don’t start building efforts that get people engaged then you won’t achieve anything so it becomes self defeating.

The more I’ve worked with climate change and thinking about solutions, the more I’m tending to thinking about sustainability in it’s broader sense as opposed to direct action on climate change.

Even if people don’t really understand (the science) then give them things they can do as individuals and communities

Get people thinking about change first, and doing things that are new, getting used to the idea that change is necessary.

A farmers market gets people talking… in terms of carbon accounting it might look like nothing, but in terms of getting people changing what they do and thinking about what other changes are needed, I think it’s massive.

Resources
Climate Science Rapid Response Team

Joel Pett’s “What if it’s all a hoax and we create a better world for nothing” cartoon.

More SustainableLens on the work of climatologists and climate models: Naomi Oreskes, Andrew Tait.

Categories
climate change politics psychology

Increasing IQs but bewildered in a complex world

Jim Flynn

Despite our increasing IQ, the bombardment of conflicting information combined with a paucity of training in critical thought renders us bewildered cynics, unable to manage our increasing complex world


Emeritus Professor of Political Studies at the University of Otago James (Jim) Flynn researches intelligence and is well known for his discovery of the Flynn effect, the continued year-after-year increase of IQ scores.  His research interests include humane ideals and ideological debate, classics of political philosophy, and race, class and IQ.   His books combine political and moral philosophy with psychology to examine problems such as justifying humane ideals and whether it makes sense to rank races and classes by merit.  Flynn campaigns passionately for left-wing causes, and became an initiating member of both the NewLabour Party and of the Alliance.   He is currently working on a book on climate change.

Our fundamental question to Prof Flynn is if people are getting smarter, how come we’re making such a mess?

Talking points:

We are seeing a gain in ability to solve cognitively challenging problems in an increasingly complex world around them.

Universities are failing to train critical thought.

I intended studying maths, but I realised it was too much like chess – an interesting diversion.  To engage in real problems that mattered, the hard ethical problems I moved to political philosophy.

Young people are being bombarded with information, without the tools to manage this they are turning off, becoming cynics – less politically active, less informed.

Young people today are no more liberated than a medieval serf.  A medieval serf didn’t have the equipment to think beyond what society told him, these young people may be cynics, but they don’t have the conceptual skills and the information and the historical depth to their thinking to really counter the modern world.

It’s a very bewildering world if you cant find any guideposts to find your way through it.

Universities aren’t giving a critical toolset – you know a lot about spanish literature, or geography or torts, but then you are let loose on the world without a trained mind to analyse it.

One of the chief confusions among students is they are being given conflicting information on climate change – perhaps the greatest issue of our time.

Today with globalisation, climate change we have infinitely more complex issues in the past…today we are menaced by problems that we weren’t in the past

Many things disillusion you when you study climate change,  I have always preached against materialism – that is defining yourself by your possessions, and I continue to do so, because every one of them that doesn’t want a 10,000 sq foot house and a new car every year and wants to serve people, be humane, every one votes with their feet, the more of those people there are, the better of we’ll be. On the other hand, climate change may well derail the world in terms of industrial productivity.

If only I could turn everyone into a humanist…

If you reconcile yourself to the fact that the first world is not going to share with the third world, and the only way that people are going to come out of poverty is that industrialisation keeps marching on and some of it manages to filter its way into the third world, you’re in the ludicrous position of saying that I want the world’s gross national production to continue to increase over the rest of this century. It’s not my ideal but its the only way I can see…we need to get nations in Africa/SE Asia to adopt middle class aspirations…or else we’re going to breed ourselves out of space.  So despite my anti-materialism, I want the industrial machine of the world not to fall apart.  I would prefer that there is industrial progress, that filters into Africa,and gives them the aspirations that means we won’t have this terrible population explosion.

Everyone wants a growth economy, no one wants to see their standard of living diminish.  The only way you can have a growth economy is to freeze temperature at its present level through climate engineering, to stop emissions increasing over the next 50 years, and then at about the 50 year point(because we won’t be able to hold it forever), and make sure that by then we have moved to a more…cleaner and more equitable society.

You can’t exploit the earth forever.

Am I optimistic? No.  I feel there’s a chance.  I’m presenting a third way that means you could at least write scenario that would get us out of this mess.  Clean energy by 2050, do away with carb0n based fuels by 2100,  hold the temperature down in the meantime with climate engineering, thanks to industrial progress in the meantime that has set Africa on the way to middle class aspirations to peak our population.  There are a lot of ifs in there aren’t there!  But at least it’s coherent and better than what we’re doing.  What we are doing is just crazy – there’s no chance at all of this working.

You can’t work for an ideal until you know what is possible.

 

 

 

Categories
conservation biology marine mammals ocean

Saving whale habitats

Sarah Courbis

Not so much about saving the animal as the ecosystem where they live – habitat destruction is the biggest threat to almost every animal on the planet


Dr Sarah Courbis is a Research Associate at Portland State University, specialising in whales and mammals in Hawaii.

This is the fifth in the Sustainable Lens #whaleofasummer series recorded during the Biennial Conference of the Marine Mammals Society. Sarah’s attendance at the conference was provided by the Conservation Council of Hawaii and Honua (Hoe-New-ah) Consulting.

We don’t need to anthropomorphise to make them interesting

They are really amazing social animals with lots of cool behaviours and intricate relationships

(Am I an activist?). I wouldn’t say that. I do have opinions. But as a scientist it is really important for me to go into a situation and do my research without having a desired outcome – I just want to see what’s true. Whether or not that supports my opinion, maybe I’ll need to change my opinion. I don’t think activist is a good way to describe my approach to things, but I would say I am an environmentalist, and I do think that it is important that we do understand and take care of our environment – and I’m hoping to do my little part to help that.