Global Sustainability – A Nobel Cause

Global Sustainability

In late 2007 I kidded myself that I was present at a gathering of Nobel Laureates as I spent some hours watching a website video record of their proceedings. They had assembled with a variety of other distinguished experts for a three-day symposium on global sustainability. I can remember being very impressed, particularly by some of the developments in energy technology which were reported to the gathering, but also more generally by the wide intellectual compass demonstrated by the participants. Climate change and energy generation figured strongly in the symposium. It concluded with a strongly expressed Memorandum which I assumed would by now have been consigned to the archive of such declarations, only to be seen by those with an interest in fossicking through the unheeded warnings of the past. Not yet. The Potsdam Institute, organiser of the symposium, has in the intervening time been gathering essays from the contributors and has now published them in a substantial book Global Sustainability – A Nobel Cause.

It isn’t possible to report on all 33 essays, but I’ll mention a few. Murray Gell-Mann, the discoverer of the building blocks he called quarks, was awarded the Nobel prize for physics in 1969. Now 80 years old he’s still working at the Santa Fe Institute he helped to found. He describes it as a place where it is the rule rather than the exception to have transdisciplinary problems studied by self-organized teams of people originally trained in many different specialties. In the opening essay to this volume he writes of the importance of what he calls a “crude look at the whole”, and of supplementing specialized studies of policy problems with serious attempts to unite them, albeit with an inevitable degree of simplification. He wants to use the term sustainable in an inclusive way, not restricted to environmental, demographic and economic matters, but referring also to political, military, diplomatic, social and institutional or governance issues. He indicates a wide range of interlinked transitions which will be required if the world is to switch to greater sustainability: demographic, to a stable human population; technological, to supply human needs with lower environmental impact; economic, to quality taking the place of quantity (other than for the alleviation of poverty); social, to a society with less inequality; institutional, to better cope with conflict and the management of the biosphere;  informational, to the readier acquisition and dissemination of knowledge and understanding; ideological, to a combination of localised loyalties with a ‘planetary consciousness’.

The section of the volume which carries essays on technological innovation and energy security includes two from Nobel laureates.  Walter Kohn won the 1998 prize for chemistry. He straightforwardly outlines the necessity and practicality of solar and wind energy which he sees overtaking oil and natural gas by 2021.  Alan Heeger who won the 2000 prize for chemistry describes the exciting work on low-cost plastic solar cells in large quantities using ‘photovoltaic inks’ and printing technology to produce flexible plastic sheets of the cells.  The section includes illuminating essays on how new super grids and smart grids can work to enhance the feasibility of renewable energy generation on a large scale. Another essay of interest looks at possible paths to carbon-negative energy systems, focusing on the hydro-thermal carbonisation of biomass which could be done in small dispersed operations on much less than industrial scale.

Throughout the book there is frequent acknowledgement of the necessity of tackling poverty eradication at the same time as climate change. Nitin Desai of India puts it clearly: “The two challenges are now so connected that coping with one requires that we cope also with the other. That is what sustainable development is all about – how poverty eradication and environmental protection can be mutually supportive.”

In a section on a global contract between science and society John Sulston, joint winner of the 2002 Nobel prize for physiology/medicine, argues that the hyper-competitive stance that has been the norm in international relations will be disastrous for the problems now facing us. By sharing and acting upon our knowledge we have the opportunity to mitigate climate change. The great danger is that each of us tends to betray the group by striving for advantages over others, and if we persist on this course we and our planet will suffer dire consequences.

The Memorandum adopted by the symposium gathers up the themes explored by the many contributors. “We are standing at a moment in history when a Great Transformation is needed to respond to the immense threat to our planet. This transformation must begin immediately and is strongly supported by all present at the Potsdam Nobel Laureate Symposium.”  Climate protection ambitions appear to be on a collision course with the predominant growth paradigm that disconnects human welfare from the capacity of the planet to sustain growth. Yet the development needs of the poorer countries must be met. The great transformation is a thorough re-invention of our industrial metabolism. An awesome challenge, the memorandum  acknowledges, but to meet it we now have an incredibly advanced system of knowledge production that can be harnessed, in principle, to co-generate that transformation.

After listing key elements for climate stabilisation and energy security, the memorandum concludes with a plea for a new global contract between science and society, highlighting the need for a multi-national innovation programme that surpasses the national crash programmes of the past such as the Manhattan or Apollo projects. It calls for better global communication about natural or social sustainability crises and for a global initiative on the advancement of sustainability science, education and training. “The best young minds, especially those of women, need to be motivated to engage in interdisciplinary problem-solving, based on ever enhanced disciplinary excellence.”

The trenchant final chapter of the book written by Klaus Töpfer, a former Federal Minister of the Environment under Chancellor Helmut Kohl, places the memorandum in the context of the dramatic economic crisis that began shortly after the symposium.

“More than ever before, the relationship between economic development and stability, and the integrity of the ecosystems in our world are becoming evident. This global economic crisis is a declaration of bankruptcy of the ‘short-term world’…It is also a declaration of bankruptcy by a society that subsidizes its ‘wealth’ by externalizing the main part of the costs linked to production and consumption, imposing them on coming generations, on human beings living far away, and on nature’s capital.”

Against this background he hails the Potsdam Memorandum as an historical document of continuing significance, focused on the dramatically destabilized economic and ecological world of today. “It not only describes the problems and formulates the challenges; this memorandum also suggests the solutions. The utmost must be done to apply these recommendations to day-to-day decisions in this crisis-stricken world.”

Note: The book is available for free download.

176 thoughts on “Global Sustainability – A Nobel Cause”

  1. To summarise:

    The usual ‘pie in the sky’ dreams of an utopian future dressed up in well meaning and high sounding verbage but which has little substance behind it beyond some interesting ideas on alternative energy sources.

    I must admit I had a chuckle when I read the following nonsense:

    “The great transformation is a thorough re-invention of our industrial metabolism. An awesome challenge, the memorandum acknowledges, but to meet it we now have an incredibly advanced system of knowledge production that can be harnessed, in principle, to co-generate that transformation. ”

    Wow!!! Whatever the ‘great transformation’ is it certainly sounds impressive especially if advanced systems of knowledge production can be harnessed to co-generate (WTF!) that transformation.

    English is obviously a second, (or third) language choice for the group behind this.

    LOL!!!!

  2. You can play an interesting word game with that book.

    I call it the Unneccessary verbage translator.

    “After listing key elements for climate stabilisation and energy security, the memorandum concludes with a plea for a new global contract between science and society, highlighting the need for a multi-national innovation programme that surpasses the national crash programmes of the past such as the Manhattan or Apollo projects.”

    Unneccessary verbage translation:

    ‘We want several truck loads of taxpayers money.’

    “It calls for better global communication about natural or social sustainability crises and for a global initiative on the advancement of sustainability science, education and training. “The best young minds, especially those of women, need to be motivated to engage in interdisciplinary problem-solving, based on ever enhanced disciplinary excellence.””

    Unneccessary verbage translation:

    ‘We want to ‘re-educate’ the population to think like us’

  3. So have you got a problem with sustainability Gosman? Perhaps you would prefer unsustainable development, perhaps you believe this earth has infinite resources.

    Or is it just the language you don’t like…the language of some of the greatest human thinkers (albeit that many of them will have English as a second language)….versus……Gosman!

    1. Nice resort to a logical fallacy there, and it only took you two paragraphs.

      It is irrelevant if these are some of ‘the greatest human thinkers’, (I didn’t realise you had evidence there were any other kind BTW), they still penned an absolute clunker if Bryan’s review is anything to go by.

      But perhaps this is just my ‘Industrial Metabolism’ acting up. Maybe I need to take some ‘Industrial paracetomol’ How’s you ‘Industrial Metabolism’ going?

      1. logical fallacy yourself.. you seem to suggest I made an appeal to authority. I did not.

        I simply asked you two questions…neither of which were answered.

        1. If you didn’t make an appeal to authority then what was your point in bringing up your opinion they are “some of ‘the greatest human thinkers’”?

          If that is not an appeal to authority I don’t know what is.

          As for your question about sustainable development, I don’t have a problem with the term. I’m not sure why you think I would. What it means is something else entirely though.

          1. If I said they are correct because they are Nobel laureates then I would be guilty of the said logical fallacy. If I prefer their opinions to those that are expressed by you then that is just sensible thinking on my part…with no appeals to anyone.

            If you don’t have a problem with sustainable development, or AGW (as revealed lower down) or indeed climate change mitigation then your only problem seems to be with the language being used to frame the issues…….not much of a contribution to the discussion, is it?

            1. You implied that my view on their choice of language was incorrect because they were ‘some of the greatest human thinkers’ and I was not. How is this not an appeal to authority?

              If you disagree with my opinions on this perhaps you could explain why you think their choice of language was useful. We already have an example of a poster here not understanding the point of one of the passages. Don’t you think it would be helpful in getting their ideas across if they wrote in a plainer and less verbose style?

              My other problem is that they haven’t got much substance behind what they write. They seem to substitute words for ideas.

      1. How old are you nommopilot? Five or six years old I’m guessing if you find that sort of thing humourous. I suppose you laugh at your own farts as well?

        1. No I find it humorous because it is punny and expresses in one word exactly the persona you display on the internet: resistant to information that challenges your way of thinking about the world, despite that information coming from humanity’s most credible sources on the topic.

    1. My comment about people blatantly lying applies equally to you Rob Taylor. If you want to keep this disucssion civil I suggest you either back up your allegations with evidence or desist from making them.

        1. You are entitled to think whatever cute internet term you have discovered applies to me. It still doesn’t take away from the fact you have no evidence backing you up at all.

  4. “I call it the Unneccessary verbage translator”

    Everything I’ve heard out of you is unnecessary verbage, Gosman.

    “The usual ‘pie in the sky’ dreams of an utopian future ”

    Actually it’s more about avoiding a severe dystopian future for our children. Your comprehension skills are clearly atrophied by too much time spent reading and regurgitating denialist rubbish. It seems you will not be involved with the production of any knowledge – just more methane.

    1. Again with this blantant lie that I have in any way shape of form denied the current Scientific consensus around AGW.

      I must assume it is a blantant lie rather than an understandable mistake because when asked for supporting evidence for this allegation noone can provide a single shred of something I have written that supports this baseless claim.

      It would be like me calling you a Communist with totalitarian tendancies and a desire to wipe out every Capitalist on the planet. You may very well be this type of person but unless I provide some sort of evidence then it doesn’t make it a fact no matter how many times I repeat it.

      1. Oh, I see, you accept “the current Scientific consensus around AGW” but believe it is impossible to do anything to avert it? How about you declare it now then:

        Are humanity’s industrial emissions and deforestation changing the climate?

        Can we make changes to avert or mitigate this?

        The reason I refer to you as a denier is that every comment you make is dismissive of scientific articles on the topic and generally seems designed to distract from constructive dinscussion. You are a laughing stock.

        1. “Are humanity’s industrial emissions and deforestation changing the climate?”

          Highly probably given the scientific evidence. What is unclear at this stage is the extent of that impact.

          “Can we make changes to avert or mitigate this?” Avert, no considering that it is already happening. Mitigate, of course. That is a no brainer.

          The reason I make comments about articles such as Bryan’s review of this book is because many people involved in the great climate change debate see it as an opportunity to ‘re-mould’ society in some fuzzy non-specific manner but which I see as fraught with a multitude of negative unintended consequences. I make no apologies for that stance.

          If you only want Climate Change Activist clones having a say in this debate I suggest you need to move somewhere where differing opinions are discouraged, perhaps North Korea might be more amenable.

          1. “as an opportunity to ‘re-mould’ society in some fuzzy non-specific manner”

            Society will be re-molded for us in a very specific manner. Your arguments never seem to suggest how you think we can avoid making changes to society and yet somehow change the outcomes of what we’ve brought upon ourselves.

            “Climate Change Activist clones having a say in this debate”

            That derogatory description does a huge disservice to the many diverse and very often conflicting views taking place amongst those who accept the warnings of science. You keep saying debate but I only ever find you tearing other people’s ideas down not suggesting your own. Go ahead, tell us how we can mitigate against AGW without re-molding society.

            1. I suggest you haven’t read my replies very carefully at all then nommopilot as I have suggested a number of different Climate change mitigating policies.

            2. Lay them on me, my friend. I haven’t the time to re-read old threads. I’ve only ever encountered you talking down the ideas of others.

            3. “I have suggested a number of different Climate change mitigating policies.”

              Oh so you are one of these activist clones trying to enforce your policies (ie. political directives) upon the rest of humanity. How annoying it must be to be you.

  5. Gosman:
    “But perhaps this is just my ‘Industrial Metabolism’ acting up.”

    I thought it was an interesting metaphor, one which I hadn’t struck before, and seemed entirely apposite. Would you care to explain what it is about it that deserves your scorn?

    1. My problem with this term, as well as with the other passages I highlighted, is that it is the literary equivalent of speaking in Latin at a Dinner party. All very ‘look at how clever I am’ but overall rather pointless in terms of the overall discussion.

      Please tell me who uses terms like ‘Industrial metabolism’ in normal discourse? It certainly doesn’t help clarify anything because I can only hazard a guess at what exactly they mean by this.

      Management consultants have mastered this art of using terms such as ‘Synergy’, ‘Paradigm shift’, and ‘Downsizing’ to make rather basic ideas and concepts sound a lot more intellectual and complicated than they actually are. They have been accused of doing so to dress up tired old policies as if they were brand spanking new ones. Numerous people have rightly derided, (in my opinion), them for doing so.

      Those sections of the book you quoted read exactly like that sort of thing. If you think this is fine then I look forward to synergising your next paradigm shift.

      BTW would you please advise some of your posters to desist from throwing basesless allegations around as a debating tactic? It will just make this site ugly very rapidly.

      1. “speaking in Latin at a Dinner party”

        nothing wrong with that if the other people at the party understand latin.

        Are you saying you want these highly regarded Nobel Laureates to dumb it down to your level? Because I thought you were so clever you could translate their words for them.

        As Bryan said the metabolism is an excellent analogy. A civilisation requiring infinite growth is like a body requiring an infinitely increasing heart rate and dietary intake. Nature will put limits on it.

        1. I would suggest you don’t understand the concept of economic growth if you think of it purely in terms of increased resource use.

          Please tell me if you think an Ipod or a Walkman uses more resources to make and use?

          1. Several hundred-million ipods use a lot more resources than tens of millions of walkmen.

            I understand your point though – economic growth can occur without resource depletion. To achieve this however, society will need to be re-molded considerably to steer our economic growth down a path that does not involve increased resource use. How are you suggesting this great transformation be realised?

            1. I thought the “market” had just shown us it’s inability to manage “squat”?
              Why not go the other way:
              Higher price=reduced demand=more demand for substitutes.
              In other words make the “market” pay the real cost of the materials they use, not just the cost of extraction…

            2. The market has never failed because it has never been allowed to operate. All nations in the world are mixed market economies with elements of both capitalist driven and planned investment.

              What is the real cost of emissions?

            3. Where has the “market” just shown us it’s inability to manage “squat”?

              I must have missed that piece of news.

            4. The market is simply people coming freely together to transact goods and services at agreed prices.

              If the seller of a good or service receives high enough prices for it due to the demand then it is highly probable that this will encourage him to sell more of it next time (if possible). It will also encourage others people to enter the market as sellers if they can do so. If proces are set too high then buyers are likely to seek alternatives.

              Market distortions can occur for a number of reasons many of them related to Government intervention such as Price controls. However there can be natural Market distortions occuring such as when there is a high barrier of entry into a particular market or where collusion between sellers of necessities leas to monopolistic situations.

              The market mechanism is generally regarded as the most efficient means of allocating scarse resource, (much better than say rationing by Governments). However some externalities of goods and services traded are not costed at the time of sale.

              This a good enough description for you?

            5. Well a market exists where supply and demand determine quantity and price. In New Zealand we do not currently have a market for money as price is under pinned by the reserve bank OCR. This has flow on effects throughout the economy in terms of investment decisions and flows of capital. Therefore we are not a capitalist economy in the pure sense but a mixed market and planned economy.

  6. Gosman:
    ‘We want to ‘re-educate’ the population to think like us’

    I don’t think for a moment that your verbiage reduction (ad absurdum) is justified, but I can’t say I’d object to being able to think like people who do it so ably.

    1. Well perhaps you can try and translate for me Bryan

      “The best young minds, especially those of women, need to be motivated to engage in interdisciplinary problem-solving, based on ever enhanced disciplinary excellence.””

      1. “The best young minds, especially those of women, need to be motivated to engage in interdisciplinary problem-solving, based on ever enhanced disciplinary excellence.”

        It’s actually a pretty straight-forward statement Gosman. Perhaps you’re just out of your depth in this debate. Basically he’s saying that we need to encourage specialised scientists to collaborate across disciplines in order to better understand and mitigate against the huge changes our species & biosphere is facing.

        Buy a dictionary.

            1. I asked you the question so you provide your answer first. I thought you stated it was pretty clear what was being discussed in that particular passage.

            2. And my comment stands. The reference to women probably refers to the imbalance of genders in the scientific community but is by no means the substantive part of the comment.

            3. So you don’t know why they added the ‘especially women’ then?

              As to whether or not it is substative, I think it is a lot more substative than you realise. that is why they used the term ‘especially’.

            4. “So you don’t know why they added the ‘especially women’ then?”

              No. I didn’t write those words, which in the context of the article seem pretty innocuous unless you’re developing some kind of conspiracy theory. Can’t wait to hear it. Please share.

            5. If the comment was as you state, all about pushing for more specialised Scientists to collaborate in a better way to tackle the challenges, then it would be irrelevant what sex these particular scientists were. Some people may desire that more women were working in the Science area issue but that is not related to the outcomes of that science.

              What having more woman engaged in this area would be helpful for is if you wanted to influence the wider public policy debate on this subject by educating them about the subject. Women are key public opinion makers in society and one group in which the Science community has little sway at the moment. Hence why they were mentioned specifically as a group in that passage.

              Now there is nothing at all wrong with wanting to influence peoples opinions on this subject. I would be surprised if they didn’t want to increase the rather poor influence of Science amongst sections of the wider community. I think there would be many good things that would come out of doing so. However there is a danger if the thinking is that we can sort problems out just by ‘educating’ people to think the way we want them to think. That is the sort of thinking that totalitarian regimes have used and continue to do so.

              I am surprised you didn’t pick up on this considering you claimed that the passage was quite straight-forward.

            6. I was joking when I asked for a conspiracy theory. I didn’t realise you actually had one. Do you have any other evidence for this evil genius master plan than that?

              “I am surprised you didn’t pick up on this considering you claimed that the passage was quite straight-forward.”

              Yes, quite. I think the problem is I lack your paranoia.

            7. This ability to translate that you have is pretty hilarious in the light of your complaints above about people saying you said things you didn’t say. You don’t like it when people call you are a denier but you are quite happy to play fast and loose with the english language when interpreting the statements of others.

            8. ummmmmm….. it isn’t a conspiracy and I never implied that it was.

              As I stated it is a perfectly sensible and sound suggestion if you wish to influence the wider public policy debate in this area.

              Whereas your view seems to be that they just want more women in Science because they just want more women in Science – Bizarre logic there.

            9. A couple of simple questions for you nommopilot,

              Do you think Science is gender specific, i.e. there is Female orientated Climate Science and then there is Male orientated Climate Science?

              If so how can you tell the difference between the two of them, e.g. do they have different outcomes when analysing the same set of data?

            10. “Do you think Science is gender specific, i.e. there is Female orientated Climate Science and then there is Male orientated Climate Science?”

              No. But every individual has a different perspective and one’s gender informs this. Women are under-represented at many levels of politics and science so while there is no specific female way of thinking there would be a lot of value in facilitating a greater degree of input from female perspectives. Your second question does not apply.

              “it isn’t a conspiracy and I never implied that it was. ”

              Yes you did. That is exactly what you implied. From the two words “especially” and “women” you’ve extrapolated a scheme based on using female’s special feminine abilities as “key public opinion makers” to influence public policy towards their own ends. This is clearly a theory you’ve concocted about a conspiracy.

              Are you joking or are you really this batty?

            11. “No. But every individual has a different perspective and one’s gender informs this. Women are under-represented at many levels of politics and science so while there is no specific female way of thinking there would be a lot of value in facilitating a greater degree of input from female perspectives.”

              LOL!!!

              First off you state that there is no such thing as male and female perspectives on Science as they are all individual and then you go on to contradict yourself by claiming there will be some benefit in getting the female perspective.

              I would prefer that Science is performed to the best of someones ability within the standard scientific framework. I don’t care whether it is done by a Man, woman, or Transexual.

              Regardless of your confused view over whether or not females have some unique ability when it comes to Scientific investigation you miss the context in which they brought gender into the discussion.

              The preceding sentence stated the following.
              “It calls for better global communication about natural or social sustainability crises and for a global initiative on the advancement of sustainability science, education and training.”

              This is all about communicating information around the Climate change debate out into the wider society and ensuring people understand the issue. It is then followed up by the comment about increasing the number of people working together on this, ESPECIALLY WOMEN.

              If you fail to understand that they are wanting to attract more women in this area so as to increase the level of understanding about the issue amongst the wider society then I truly dispair for your comprehension skills.

            12. “First off you state that there is no such thing as male and female perspectives on Science as they are all individual and then you go on to contradict yourself by claiming there will be some benefit in getting the female perspective.”

              I didn’t say there were no male or female perspectives on science, just that there is no singular male perspective or singular female perspective. Your view of AGW science is influenced by your gender as is mine. The contradiction is one you have constructed through your extraordinary ability to rephrase what other people say to suit yourself. I don’t want “the” female perspective but I think more female perspectives would be valuable.

              Science is not a mechanical process. It requires insight, intuition and the ability to form hypotheses based on what is known. In this sense the more diverse the range of perspectives being brought to bear the better chance we have of gaining a thorough understanding of the science.

              And I certainly think my interpretation is more rational than yours. Tell me what you mean by “Women are key public opinion makers in society”. Are you talking about Oprah’s book club?

            13. LOL!!!!

              You really provide me with a great deal of enjoyment reading your attempts to wriggle out of the logical deadend you got yourself into nommopilot.

              Your argument would carry far more weight if the memorandum was arguing for increased participation of people in Climate science from less developed nations. This would at least likely lead to more research from areas of the globe that would be impacted the most by Climate change and where currently research is weak.

              However the line you have taken is that they just want to have different perspectives on Science. As if that somehow makes the Science better. If that was the case they may as well have put forward a desire for more one legged hermaphrodite Inuit people or perhaps just stated they wanted a greater diverstity of views.

              However that is not what they meant. To kill off this debate line once and for all let’s just go to the source material and see what the passage in question actually states.

              The section from the memorandum we are talking about is all about the global contract between science and society that needs to be put in place to tackle the issues of Climate change, (according to the authors anyway).

              They state there are three elements that are critically important to this the third of which is descibed as below:

              ‘A global initiative on the advancement of sustainability science, education and training. ‘

              The above sentence is basically stating that they want a world wide increase in education and training in sustainability science. I’m not sure what ‘sustainability science’ is exactly but it isn’t the same as Climate Science .

              ‘The best young minds, especially those of women, need to be motivated to engage in interdisciplinary problem-solving, based on ever enhanced disciplinary excellence. ‘

              If we remove all the fluff words from that it basically boils down to wanting to attract more people into this area of ‘sustainability science’ , especially women.

              ‘The ambition is to win over the next generation for laying the cognitive foundations for the well-being of the generations further down the line.’

              And now we have the clincher. The point of doing the actions they detailed above is to influence the wider public policy decision making process by winning over the next generation to their ideas.

              As for your rather naiive question about why women are key public opinion makers in society,
              – Which group in society has one of the biggest opportunities to influence the next generation of people, especially during their formative years?

              – I’ll give you a clue, it is usually the primary care-giver of children.

              Now is that straight-forward enough for you nommopilot?

  7. Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms Gosman

    Regarding this “…the great climate change debate see it as an opportunity to ‘re-mould’ society in some fuzzy non-specific manner but which I see as fraught with a multitude of negative unintended consequences. ”

    Is this what you mean when you say “…mitigate, of course”? If so, could you please use plainer language?

    Phrases such as “A multitude of negative unintended consequences” are a bit hard for me to follow – almost like they’re written in Latin.

    Thanks

    1. Just for you Whoops I’ll make it simpler.

      Some people are using the Climate change debate to push a particular view of politics. They argue that there is only one possible solution and if everybody would just agree with them then the world will be happy and the planet would get better. I disagree with that and can see that what they are pushing might mean bad things happen to people.

      1. “Some people are using the Climate change debate to push a particular view of politics.”

        Everyone involved is. Only the scientists are debating science (and this is taking place in very specific fora under well-developed rules). Everyone else including yourself is talking politics.

        1. My point is that one particular view of politics is being pushed as the ONLY solution to the challenges of Climate change. I thought I had made that point pretty clear in previous posts on the topic.

          1. “My point is that one particular view of politics is being pushed as the ONLY solution to the challenges of Climate change”

            That is not true. There are all sorts of suggestions from all kinds of people. That is what the debate is and should be about. Your attempts to silence these suggestions because they are political is exactly what you are accusing “them” of.

            1. I am not attempting to silence them. I am attempting to counter them. There is a big difference and one I expected you to be able to grasp.

  8. “They argue that there is only one possible solution and if everybody would just agree with them then the world will be happy and the planet would get better”

    Sorry, who argues this? The clones? Maybe the clone army of straw men you’re imagining…

    1. People like you nommopilot everytime you mention the urgent need to start ‘re-molding society’ (Whatever that actually means because it is never spelt out).

      I happen to think that the best and easiest way of tackling the challenges around climate change is to work with what we’ve got rather than some pipe dream about changing our fundamental nature.

      1. And you fail to make the case whereby we can do anything about mitigating the effects of AGW without some fundamental change to society.

        If our fundamental nature is to despoil the planet, why has it only begun in the last three hundred years?

        Or do you think AGW is all inevitable?

        1. ‘If our fundamental nature is to despoil the planet, why has it only begun in the last three hundred years?’

          Because we have only developed the means to have a global impact on the planet in the past three hundred years. Our fundamental nature hasn’t changed much since we first developed Urban civilisation. Some of us may have become a little more knowledgable about how things hang together and we have better understanding of global structures than ever before but that doesn’t mean our society is that much different at a base level.

          ‘Or do you think AGW is all inevitable?’

          I thought the argument was that it was already occurring and we are just talking about managing and mitigating it’s effects with a view to stabilising the situation. Is this not the basis of the mainstream debate around this?

          1. “Our fundamental nature hasn’t changed much since we first developed Urban civilisation.”

            Yes but the development of urban civilisation is still a relatively recent event in human development.

            Even now, in the space age, there are still a few human populations living in harmony with nature that haven’t yet been extinguished by deforestation, desertification, and the progress of modern man. In fact our fundamental nature is to live in this way.

            Our drive to consume excessively is a much more recent development which I do not personally believe is fundamental at all. But don’t tell our corporate overlords I said that…

            1. “Even now, in the space age, there are still a few human populations living in harmony with nature that haven’t yet been extinguished by deforestation, desertification, and the progress of modern man. In fact our fundamental nature is to live in this way.”

              The tired old ‘Noble savage’ argument.

              ‘Primitive’ human cultures are more than capable of having quite large negative impacts on their environment. Just have a look at the impact the Maori had on NZ flora and fauna. Huge tracts of forests and bush were cleared, especially in the South Island. The Moa was hunted to extinction.

              The reason that ‘primitive’ cultures don’t cause more damage is that they usually lack the means to do so and that they will die out if they attempted it. The fact they have small population densities is because the land cannot support anything larger in the way they live.

            2. “Primitive’ human cultures are more than capable of having quite large negative impacts on their environment.”

              That wasn’t my point. I am saying that the need to excessively consume is not fundamental to our species and nor is it something that has been present throughout our evolution. There are plenty of human societies who understood the limitations of their environment and lived within them naturally.

              Although most of these cultures were killed and displaced by supposedly less ‘primitive’ cultures they are certainly clear evidence that we can live without ipods and jumbo jets.

            3. “and that they will die out if they attempted it”

              Gee, there’s something about this statement that’s ringing a little bell for me. What could it be?

  9. Thanks. I appreciate you dumbing things down for me.

    Your statement seems to make sense from both sides of the debate, but
    I’m still a little confused (low IQ you see… I’m trying to keep up).

    Is this all about change vs status quo?

    I note your implicit acceptance of AGW above, and I note your clarification of ‘extent’ … but it would seem on balance of probabilities and a sensible risk management approach that the status quo (BAU etc etc) does not seem to work so well.

    If that is the case, then change would appear to be required?

    If that is correct, then are you against change for the sake of being against something, or against change driven by ideology with which you disagree?

    (noted that change is not required if ‘extent’ issue turns out to reflect minimal or no impact of AGW)

    Thanks

    1. The issue is that some people seem to think the only solution to the problem is a radical change to the status quo.

      I am far more of a gradualist who, while agreeing that steps should be taken to discourage activity which contributes to AGW, thinks that we will have to deal with the result of a certain amount of change at some stage in the future and we shouldn’t be afraid of facing up to this.

      Human beings are the most adaptable creatures on the planet. I see no reason why we can’t adapt successfully in the short term and look to successfully resolve issues thrown up by Climate change using existing structures.

      In short I don’t think it is time to panic, although I do think we need to seriously look at options now.

      1. Ok – cheers.

        I agree panic is not useful (very rarely is). I would add, however that given the scientific community has been noting concerns over this issue for quite a while now with little apparent *real* change… there is a question over whether gradualism and our tendency to procrastinate will allow us to identify those risks and then adapt sufficiently well enough.

        I’d rather err on the side of acting faster, though do note the unintended consequences issues (especially relevant to the geo-engineering conversation).

        Another observation; you may be wrong. There may indeed only be time for the, as you say, radical action called for by the more chicken little commentators.

        In any case, the longer inaction through polarised debate continues (a.k.a. shouting at each other in blogs, domestic politics, or international fora) the less time there will be to act to allow us to;
        a) mitigate to avoid the need for major adaptation
        b) prepare to adapt (assuming we’re not prepared already – including the where-with-all to allow adaptation to unknown eventualities).

        So to summarise; if we’re agreed there is need for change, then it’s all about rates change, and which changes?

        Thanks

      2. “I am far more of a gradualist who, while agreeing that steps should be taken to discourage activity which contributes to AGW”

        As long as society doesn’t have to change in any way, right? We’ll just wait and see and then our kids can do all the hard work of dealing “with the result of a certain amount of change at some stage in the future”.

        Hang on aren’t you complaining about a lack of specific suggestions for action in this book. What’s specific about “a certain amount of change at some stage in the future”? Just what are you facing up to?

  10. Hey gosman,

    people in glass houses shouldn’t be throwing stones like English is obviously a second, (or third) language choice when they go mispell a serious word in their comments second line.

    Yep, go check for yourself and quit expecting folks do everything for you first.

  11. Don’t be a dick tomfarmer, this is an internet blog not an English exam.

    Are you going to actually engage in any debate or just ad hominem attacks?

    BTW did I spell ‘ad hominem’ right, considering you are now my very own private spell checker?

  12. Gosman

    Let me take a wild guess. You are not elderly, or very young. Nor are you poor.

    Its a reasonably hot day where I am today and I’ve just been in an ambulance with an elderly person overcome with the heat. God help us if this becomes a general problem, in the next decade.

    Please explain what “seriously look at options now” means for the elderly, children and the poor.

    Tom

  13. How do the elderly, children, and the poor cope in much hotter places in the World than N.Z. like Saudi Arabia or Australia?

    Your example is nonsensical because people have always had to deal with weather extremes. I could equally argue that they won’t have to put up with as many extremely cold winters as they do now but that would be equally irrelevant to the discussion.

  14. Don’t be a dick tomfarmer is not an attack..?

    Yep, I know the truth hurts, especially when so apparent. How many times did you mispell the word..?

    Suffer a spell-checker of your own. Like I said earlier.

    1. Of course it is an attack. I never stated it wasn’t.

      I respond like for like. You engaged in a pointless ad hominem attack on myself and I called you a dick for acting as if this blog comment section was some sort of competitive spelling bee.

      Wouldn’t you prefer that we keep this discussion civil?

  15. bennion,
    a word in political parlance that fits one uncaring of the circumstances around the folks you have expressed a concern for would be sociopath

    I came across it today at a site set on examining advocates and perpetrators of gosman’s pov. In the absence of adequate clarity for themselves one might try understanding them elsewhere.

    My excuse.. for wot.

  16. The most interesting thing I noted in Bryan’s article was this statement…
    “The two challenges are now so connected that coping with one requires that we cope also with the other. That is what sustainable development is all about – how poverty eradication and environmental protection can be mutually supportive.”
    A contrast with the likes of Lomborg and his Copenhagen Consensus, which (to paraphrase) suggests that money spent on climate mitigation will only increase the suffering in the third world.

  17. All these “denialosphere” inhabitants sound the same in essence – any one of them may as well be Treadgold in disguise. Same tired old discredited rubbish. Go and spout on another forum Gosman, such as Farrar’s or Espiner’s. They have a much lower standards of logic and reasoning there, let alone spelling. Who’s next up in the tag team?

      1. Your views have been competently discredited by others here already. You have nothing new to say, which is why I refer to “tag teams”. My remarks are a very mild anticipation of the utter contempt later generations will have for the concerted attempt by a powerful and corrupt grouping that sees itself as having much to lose if any climate mitigation or prevention policies are adopted – and that contempt will also be for the “useful idiots” who busy themselves parroting the former’s propaganda wherever they are tolerated.
        You are one in a long line of such people – the unlamented Roger Dewhurst and Peter Bickle are two typical examples of such on this forum, fortunately no longer on display here. And that idiot Garth George won’t last much longer, even given the Herald’s low standards.

  18. Gosman:
    “My point is that one particular view of politics is being pushed as the ONLY solution to the challenges of Climate change.”

    Interesting to see that Angela Merkel provided the foreword to the book. It’s not long if you want to have a look at it. Pretty standard stuff I’d have thought, just as likely to have been said by Gordon Brown or Kevin Rudd. You may also like to read the final chapter (also quite short) provided by another CDU former politician. I quoted a short passage from it in my review. I found it a most striking statement. Here’s another sentence from it: “More than ever before, we require a new paradigm for economic and political action.”

    In Europe they seem to be recognising climate change as a crisis problem across a wide range of the political spectrum and finding some commonality in approaching it. Your suspicions are hardly borne out there. What do you make of that?

    1. The European Center Right parties are far more left leaning than in Anglo-Saxon cultures. Just as the US left leaning party is far more right wing in economic outlook than the Europeans. Your references just confirms that view.

    2. I also note you haven’t addressed my criticism that, apart from some interesting ideas on alternative energy sources, there isn’t much substance in that book. There is the usual ‘We must radically reorientate our society to save ourselves’ but the actual detail of what they mean by this seems to be missing.

  19. Gosman, if the European conservatives are too left-leaning for your taste, just who, then, remains to provide what you would regard as a satisfactory solution to climate change? US Republicans, many of whom still deny the phenomenon? Or are you happy just for the brakes to go on anything that is seriously advanced on the grounds that it comes from the left?

    I’m sorry if you find nothing of substance in the book. Admittedly many of the discussions tend to the abstract and theoretical, designedly so because that is how thinking proceeds. If you don’t see how this translates for the working of society I’m not sure that I can help you. I would have thought that for instance that the implications for action arising out of the first article by Murray Gell-Mann, which I tried to summarise in more detail, are pretty clear. Not nitty-gritty, but there’s no doubting the direction he points in. This kind of writing is often not immediately engaging, but if a reader patiently thinks through what is being proposed its relevance becomes apparent. Wangari Maathai’s chapter on African forestation may sound theoretical, but it’s theory which is conjoined with her remarkable activism in the Green Belt Movement and the serious threats she encountered during Moi’s presidency.

    1. That is exactly my problem with the book Bryan. It is far too theoretical and full of generalities of good intentions and not enough detail of how these grand ideas are meant to be implented and work in the real world.

      It would be similar to a group of academics coming out and saying that the solution to acheiving World peace would be to strengthen international diplomacy and encourage inter-country co-operation through multi-national organisations. Oh and we also need a truck load of cash as well. A little light on detail wouldn’t you agree?

      What do they actually mean when they mention an urgent need for a paradigm shift? What is the paradigm they are proposing. It can’t just be planting more trees in Africa or spending more money on Research into Climate change mitigation as that isn’t a paradigm shift. It’s not even replacing fossil fuels with other forms of energy as the basic stuctures can stay the same for that. Your review of the book never mentions what it is they are proposing beyond vague generalities.

      1. There is not much point in this group making specific policy proposals since as Copenhagen showed there is little chance that the political and economic powers that be will agree to them. Their best hope is to bring change about by generating enough political pressure from the public through better knowledge of the issue. This is how things are done in a democracy, though you insist on calling it totalitarian.

        When the political will to engage seriously with the issue gets stronger then meetings like Copenhagen might start to be a bit more successful at finding an implementing solutions. The scary thing is that this may not occur in time because of the huge weight of misinformation generated by those with vested interests and deep pockets. It may just be too gradual.

        1. Their tactics aren’t very successful then as I have yet to see any serious groundswell of opinion supporting these fuzzy ideals. Perhaps this is a long term plan for them.

          1. There is plenty of support for them and it is growing but there are a lot of people profiting from the current status quo who are doing all they can do slow things down to a crawl. Some call themselves ‘gradualists’. (“We’re accelerating toward a cliff – better gradually lift our foot off the accelerator”).

            Can you suggest a better tactic that is still democratic?

            1. Really???

              This doesn’t seem to be reflected in any opinion poll I have seen.

              In N.Z ,for example, the party most associated with supporting radical action on Climate change The Greens has been flatlining or trending dowards over the past few months.

              Copenhagen happened almost three months ago. What sort of action has occured since then that gives you hope that moves are afoot in this area?

            2. Awareness of this issue has risen greatly over the past twenty years. It is a positive sign. Looking at things over the timeframe of a few months is similar to confusing climate with weather.

              There has of course been a negative reaction to this, largely driven by those who profit from the emission of lots and lots of CO2.

    1. What specific things do you actually see in that kind of writing then?

      I read the chapter on forestation in Africa and there didn’t seem to be much detail in that other than a desire to see her work continue and expand and some vague comment about helping developing countries with technology transfers but nothing around the mechanisms that would achieve this.

  20. I don’t see specifics. It’s not that kind of writing. But I see the underlying principles on which specifics can be built, and on which she herself has built plenty. I recently reviewed her book on the Celsias website, but even that you may find too general.

  21. Andrew H,

    Excuse me but Lomborg and his Copenhagen Consensus has me more than a little curious.

    Would you know if this CC was the same as the one put together by John Bolton right after President Bush put him into his US Rep role at the UN? As I recall the original notion for its creation was to build the US vote (one nation one vote never did ride for the Bush administrations, so why not build its clout, they argued, by harnessing hapless and poor nations via USAID. Last I recall Bolton had appointed Lombord to oversee certain aspects of what might be termed US foreign policy at the time. )

    Now, given last December @ Copenhagen one wonders whether the G.W. decision amounts to something more than prescient. Would you know the member nations of the aforementioned Consensus?

    1. Hi Tom

      I don’t really know…but a quick bit of googling doesn’t throw up a link and would seem to suggest they are unrelated. The CC (first one in 2004) I am thinking of pre-dating Bolton’s UN appointment.

      I perhaps should more correctly have attributed Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist (2001) as the original(?) source of this line of thinking.

      Strangely, the consensus panel came up with a similar conclusion.

      1. The Copenhagen Consensus is an exercise started by Lomborg, which attempts to ranks the world’s problems in order of importance/cost effectiveness to put right. Every time it’s done, dealing with climate change comes somewhere near the bottom of the list. Given Lomborg’s starting position, no-one is surprised by this… Wikipedia has more.

  22. AndrewH, and Gareth,

    Sayeth Lomborg: “Our history shows that we solve more problems than we create,” [July 2006]

    Another way of saying don’t recognise a/the problem to those inclined to accept. Interesting in that particular article was the Dane’s keenness at slamming Al Gore and his movie. (“overblown” he said without even seeing it.. thus enabling us see how open he was to others’ suggestion/s).

    You appear to have gathered my own skepticism at this fellow’s prioritizing.. economic ahead of global warming even tho he himself says that the world is not run by economists.

    Inclined to accept..?

    As to which came first I retain a nagging suspicion that Lomborg was brought to Bolton’s attention at the UN by Bolton or his supporters prior to the UN meeting (of 8 ambassadors was it). That is to say the meeting staged Lomborg’s message at UN level.

    Whereby the ‘no problem’ could get ticked off in an earlier beat up aka trickery to ‘hide the decline’ now infamously overused already by deniosaurus. Trickery being a form listing boxed questions and the decline ranking all else above climate change. Add the salt of poor nation, pepper of possibly corruptible ambassadors and sauce of a $50*bn spend… and yep you’ve got it, ignorance and gluttony wins out. Again.

    Old wine new bottle.

    * There’s no way known Lomborg was for real with that figure. Someone else mebbe, some others.. buying votes [ you’ll mebbe know the joke: Look, I’m in business to make money and buy my friends.]

    So, where are we?

    Still looking for whether last December @ Copenhagen had a preplanned outcome. And faith-based good or bad and thugly.

    1. Well Tom, I’ve read that post a couple of times and I’m still confused…

      But the bit I can understand includes the quote from Lomborg about our history and our problems.

      You don’t have to think about this for too long to see that the ongoing existence of problems in the world means this can’t be true.

  23. Re-reading that section on what steps need to be undertaken it seems I have misunderstood a key phrase. This is completely understandable given the whoolly language used.

    Where it states the need for the following – ‘A global initiative on the advancement of sustainability science, education and training.’ I intitially thought it was meaning increasing knowledge about Climate Science. It isn’t at all. What they mean by ‘sustainability science’ is some sort of new social science.

    As with other social sciences, such as economics, this is not science in it’s pure sense. It would bear little resemblence to traditional Sciences. It is equivalent to the authorities in the Soviet Union claiming that Marxist-Lenism was a ‘Scientific philosophy’.

  24. Gosman, you don’t seem to understand what people like Murray Gell-Mann are saying. His nobel prize is in physics. He’s a scientist through and through and a very notable one at that. His sustainability science straddles a very wide spectrum, taking in disciplines in the sciences and humanities. You may not have read his chapter, but I’ll add to what I have written in my review the following extract:

    “The Santa Fe Institute, which I helped to found more than twenty years ago, and where I now work, is a place where it is the rule rather than the exception to have transdisciplinary problems studied by self-organized teams of people originally trained in many different specialties. These teams recognize and exploit similarities and connections between topics in very different fields. Similarly, the participants of the Potsdam Nobel Laureate Symposium may have started out as specialists in very different fields – in the physical sciences, the life sciences, the social and behavioural sciences, or history – but they convened at the symposium to discuss a common concern for the future.”

    In your mind the variety of human disciplines may be firmly corralled in their separate domains. Gell-Mann wants to move beyond that and see what they can do when they work together. He’s not leaving the realm of ‘traditional’ science to go over to the social science that you so dislike. He’s trying to break new ground.

    1. Bryan, Gosman believes in the social sciences: Particularly the most unscientific of them all – classical economics with its firm belief in unlimited growth, its complete denial of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, and its unethical definitions of property and ownership, to name but a few of its problems

        1. Why is that funny exactly?

          Would it be just as funny if we reversed that and stated that Macro believes in the most unscientific of them all – Marxist economics with it’s firm belief in the supremacy of the workers, it’s complete denial of innate ability differences, and it’s unethical definitions of profit and ownership, to name but a few of its problems?

          1. But Gosman I don’t believe in Marxist economics! (Although I do find the definitions of ownership and profit far more appealing from a utilitarian ethical point of view than the greed based definitions of capitalism!)
            And while we are at it why should meritocracy ratios be as high as 1 to 500 or more (for every dollar you earn I earn 500)? Is innate ability THAT different?
            But its all either/or for you isn’t? It’s either all this – or it’s all that!
            And yes marxist economics is just as unscientific as classical and neo capitalism, because they all are founded upon unsubstantiated and unsound assumptions of unlimited resources, uncosted costs, a complete disregard of the laws of entropy (As Sir Arthur Eddington, once said “If your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics, there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation”), and an unwillingness to recognise that humans are but a small part of a very large ecosystem and we are well on the way to stuffing it up.

  25. Regardless of how you phrase it Bryan ‘Sustainability science’ is a Social science, NOT Natural or Applied science like Physics, Chemistry, or Biology.

    It may have aspects of the other sciences contained as part of it’s particular discipline, but then again so do the other social sciences such as Economics and Sociology. As I have already pointed out Marxist’s used to be very big on pushing the supposed ‘Scientific’ nature of their chosen theory.

    You could have every Natural or Applied Scientist in the World claiming that the difference between the Social sciences and Natural/Applied sciences no longer applies. It wouldn’t make it right. Your argument here reeks of an ‘Appeal to authority’ logical fallacy.

    Essentially one of the key things the Memorandum calls for is for society to be indoctrinated into their particular brand of social science. I’m not a big fan of attempting to indoctrinate people with essentially a socio-political philosophy. I prefer people make up their own minds after they have voluntarily looked at as wide a view of differing views as possible. I like diversity of opinion, how about you?

  26. Sorry Gosman, I find your accusation of indoctrination slightly barmy. The people who put this statement together are as far away from that mind-set as you can get. They include some whose free-ranging intellects have come up with remarkable scientific discoveries. But I don’t think there’s much point in our having further exchange on the subject. You reject my explanations. I’ll leave it at that. It will only become repetitive if we continue.

    1. Once again you are arguing the ‘Appeal to authority’ logical fallacy.

      The whole ‘holistic approach’ suggested reminds me of people who argue that we need to take into account CAM in our Public health systems. Are you one of the people who also thinks we need to take a ‘Holistic approach’ to health Bryan?

      1. Are you one of the people who also thinks we need to take a ‘Holistic approach’ to health Bryan?

        Oh no Gosman we should never think of humans as whole beings. They are just parts stuck together.

        1. I am meaning here the oft made claim by proponents of Alternative Medicine that their particular brand of Woo should be integrated in to mainstream medicine to ensure a ‘holistic’ approach to health.

          The desire to meld Natural and Applied with a Social Science to some how create a new way of approaching particular topics is similar to this.

          I am also reminded of Tony Blair and New Labours infamous ‘Third way’ which was nothing more than a Social Democratic Market economy dressed up by PR people.

  27. I’m not going to try and guess what Gell-Mann is meaning, but I would think of sustainability science as applied science – application of any of the sciences to the problems of reducing both consumption of limited resource inputs and to problem of reducing impact on environmental sinks at the other end. I am guessing that Gosman has no problem with this definition so long as it includes only the physical sciences? Physical scientist have a some issues with accepting that social science (eg “political science”) IS a science at all. I do accept that psychology (at least in some of its practise) is a science and a very very tough one at that. Socialogy? Well convince me…

    1. If ‘Sustainability Science’ was, as you descibed, an Applied Science then you are quite correct. I would have no problem with it or it’s promotion. However my view is that it is far more a Social Science in that it deals with Societal structure and interaction. If this is the case I have no problem with it being taught. I just don’t think it should be promoted in the way suggested in that book.

      1. “If this is the case I have no problem with it being taught. I just don’t think it should be promoted in the way suggested in that book.”

        Why? because it will anger the dark lord? because it will suddenly convert everyone to communism? How can collaboration between really smart people applying themselves to a global challenge be a bad thing?

        Just what are you afraid of?

        1. Because it is basically social engineering, especially the way it is put forward in that book.

          Anything like this should not be taken lightly as it impacts on some individual freedoms like freedom to decide what political philosophy you support.

          By all means promote any ideas you wish but don’t expect society as a whole to be obliged to promote only one above all else.

    2. “Physical scientist have some issues with accepting that social science (eg “political science”) IS a science at all”

      That’s OK. Gotta uphold the hierachy: We study the important stuff those guys just make it up as they go along.

      Sociologists (you could at least spell it right) study extremely complex systems that are by definition highly relevant to we social creatures. Sure, they’re highly chaotic systems that don’t reduce to simple mechanistic laws but that doesn’t mean sociology can’t provide useful insights (especially if you believe that mitigation of AGW will require great social change). Climate Science is confronted by similar issues.

      [Disclaimer: I am not a sociologist but did take a general 1st year paper in it a decade or so ago, so obviously I know what I’m talking about]

  28. Gosman: The issue here is that while the Natural/Applied sciences are how we have become aware of AGW (and how our understanding of it may be enhanced in the future), any solution is going to have to be realised across a very broad range of approaches. Are you saying that political science can play no part in the formulation of mitigation strategies because of how it fits into your system of classification? To meet this challenge the human race will be required to utilise it’s best understanding of our place from every school of study.

    What is this “particular brand of social science” you rail against?
    Because this book doesn’t call for a particular anything. More like a broad, collaborative multi-disciplinary approach. The specifics and particulars will come from the process of bringing scientists together from a range of backgrounds.

    What is your alternative?

  29. Phil, I think I probably take a similar position to that outlined by nommopilot. I have known and read some highly intelligent sociologists who are clearly trying to understand in an empirical fashion how societies cohere or fail to cohere, and I wouldn’t want to deny them the title of science though we all understand that what they are dealing with is not susceptible to all of the methods of the physical sciences. It is very apparent in the case of climate science that the insights of social scientists are very much needed when it comes to impacts, adaptation and mitigation. Economist Nicholas Stern has played a pivotal role in this field. He works fully within the framework set by the physical science.

  30. Okay guys, you are convincing me. I have had very limited contact with sociologists (trying to get the spelling right). I agree that, like psychology, that their topic of interest is extremely complex and very difficult to create models that can be validated by empirical means. Its just that my limited contacts have not been productive, finding it very hard to even communicate ideas with, and those that I have tried to make sense with regarded scientific method as just another value, used by some people, with which to construct personal realities. To damn an entire field, on which I have read nothing, on basis of this contact is too extreme.

  31. While you were talking:

    http://climateprogress.org/2010/03/04/science-nsf-tundra-permafrost-methane-east-siberian-arctic-shelf-venting/

    Isnt the bigger issue here the risk of massive social engineering forced on us by dramatic climate change. Ie a small amount of sustainability education now (horrors!) will prevent future massive intrusions into private rights? As a lawyer (who also teaches sustainability!) that has been a driving concern for me.

    A good example of that would be the recent work on future land use in England – the end of small farms, massive central planning etc. See:
    http://sd.defra.gov.uk/2010/03/future-uk-land-use-management/

    PS: Gosman, I think you will find that the social engineering train left the stations years ago – think RMA with its reference to sustainable management, and check out the posters, notices, and teaching programmes at your local primary school. You will be horrified.

    Tom

  32. I’m not adverse to a bit of social engineering at all. In fact I see benefits in encouraging a greater understanding of Science and the impact of human activity has on the planet. I regard this as very similar to health education programmes that are currently carried out on topics such as smoking and exercise.

    However there are limits to what this sort of activity can achieve. Very rapidly you hit the area of diminishing returns for every dollar spent. Certainly I doubt you will achieve as much as they hope for if the sort of massive programme suggested in the memorandum is actually implemented.

    On top of this is the fact that what the memorandum mentions as being a key component in a strategy to tackle the challenges of AGW is incredible fuzzy. This whole idea of ‘Sustainability Science’ is something that needs a lot more definition before any plan to promote it as some sort of societal panacea is implemented. Which is essentially my major criticism of that book. It is far too vague and full of buzz words without real substance behind it.

    One further point, it is interesting to note that you agree that the authors of that passage in the memorandum were meaning social engineering or ‘re-education’, to put it another way. I wonder if nommopilot now accepts that his view that it was all about encouraging people to study Science was a little off the mark. Any comments nommopilot?

    1. “I wonder if nommopilot now accepts that his view that it was all about encouraging people to study Science was a little off the mark. Any comments nommopilot?”

      Look Gosman, you clearly take whatever you read to mean whatever you want it to mean, so knock yourself out…

      I think this paper is all about Nobel Laureates bent on world domination trying to kill babies by socially engineering them to be scientifically sustainable and also use women to take over the world. it’s obvious.

      1. I think it is pretty obvious to most people no that the passage in question was all about getting the fundamentals of ‘sustainability science’ accepted by the wider community by attracting and training key opinion makers so they can influence the next generation. In other words social re-enginneering via education.

        There is no shame admitting your original interpretation of the passage was wide of the mark nommopilot. That was one of my original points I made. The language used in constructing that memorandum was confusing and pointless. If someone like you had trouble understanding the points made how are people with less intellectual ability able to grasp them?

  33. AndrewH @ 98,

    what can I say. Thought I’d been thoughtful… deft..

    when in your reality (possibly others also) I had came over daft..

    Do I need start over..?

    As written not really thread specific, more informational backstory.. yes? But insofar corporate democracy is nowadays determining what things get done I’d figured sourcing the actual Copenhagen outcome last December was worthwhile.. for all concerned.

      1. part response that it was, Andrew, you had it correct anyway. Reality showed the guy little more than a jumper to conclusions. [ there’s an old saw: don’t waste words jump to conclusions ]. Most of us laugh, shrug it off, but guys like this ran the political blinders around most things and everybody else.

        At the time as I recall it had been termed the politics of irony. Bolton was an exponent of this, stipulating (was he a dogmatic basket on occasion!) almost the exact opposite of what was intended. And IMO Lomborg played to him. That is to say prior to playing for him at the UN.

        This irony I’d tried to convey in that post. Mebbe next time I’ll try harder.

  34. A good long thread of abuse and counter abuse, jolly helpful no doubt (from a cerebral cleanse viewpoint). I also enjoyed the actual contributions from both sides, when they came.
    I wonder perhaps if the discussion as to whether Sustainability could be a science really leads us to the Arts via technolgy. I know a fair bit about that road, having arrived at sustainability, after art, after technology, after science, myself.
    Let’s look at it: we need applied science (technology) to be used in a sociologically appropriate manner (art) to give us sustainable development (which incorpoprates “time”, a crucial and usually ignored, requirement for sustainability, and art, to exist).
    Thoughts?

    1. Actually “sustainability science” has been around for at least ten years, and there was a workshop about it yesterday in Wellington. I learned this today at a Science Media Centre briefing (with Prof Ian Lowe and Dr Karen Cronin – details and audio here). I may post about at some point – but one key point is that we have to look for “sociologically appropriate” response to the problems under study. You have to go beyond finding out what the problem is, to finding means to address it. Interesting stuff

      1. I do beleive that’s a point I’ve made here several times already Gareth. It’s an issue I’ve been deep and dirty in for several years and it’s not an easy one.
        I think the problem is one step nastier than you outline too. We need to be developing “sociologically appropriate” concepts with which (after implementation) we will arrive at a position where the potentially desired solutions will be “sociologically appropriate” for actioning.
        Not sure those against social engineering will go for that one but frankly “seeing and appreciating your own culture is extremely difficult”…

  35. What the heck does “sociologically appropriate” actually mean?!?

    How can you expect to influence the public policy debate on this topic when you use such obtuse terminology?

    1. Does that mean that policies that could be deemed harmful by some ,(e.g. disriminating against minorities), can be “sociologically appropriate”?

      If so then does that mean activities such as what happened in Bosnia and Rwanda in the early 1990’s be classified as “sociologically appropriate”?

      1. Try thinking about it this way Gosman, rather than instantly trying to think of the most extreme example and pretend that what is being discussed is something like genocide.

        What is needed is for a very broad section of society to agree on a course of action. This won’t come about by one minority group (whether it be Nobel Laureates, politicians or whatever) prescribing specific social engineering projects. Such things will need to be negotiated and arrived at by an organic process that begins with ‘fuzzy’ expressions of direction and works toward specific outcomes.

        Your debating tactic of ‘sustainable science? doesn’t that mean killing babies?’ is not useful or clever.

        Our society has already been highly engineered – have you noticed how everyone drives cars and works from 9 to 5?

        1. You miss my point. The use of the term “sociologically appropriate” is meaningless if it can encompass such a diverse range of policy options as genocide as well as recycling. It is another example of the choice of abstract words over actual simple easy to understand and follow concepts. It is as if they expect people to think the underlying ideas must be great because they are framed in such an ‘intellectual’ way. In short it is BS.

          1. Actually it’s quite the opposite. Fair enough it’s a broad term with little exactitude but you’ve elucidated two good examples, one “appropriate” and one “not appropriate” (you decide…). That’s the point nommopilot clarified nicely above, start with the broad and find the most common ground in the largest possible picture. This builds consensus and facilitates communication, a good place to start.

            1. Whether something is deemed inappropriate by society doesn’t necessarily mean it is something that shouldn’t be persued and vice versa, if somethiing is socially appropriate doesn’t mean it is necessarily a good policy. Slavery was once deemed socially appropriate in the Western world yet people worked vigourously against banning it even though it went against the societal grain.

            2. My point (well) above exactly!
              “I think the problem is one step nastier than you outline too. We need to be developing “sociologically appropriate” concepts with which (after implementation) we will arrive at a position where the potentially desired solutions will be “sociologically appropriate” for actioning.”
              There are layers required and picking up on your point further it would matter not if we traded “morality”, “legality”, “spirituality” or any other “word” for “sociologically appropriate”, same result and same argument if you wish to pick it up. No point though since I suspect you understand the position.

          2. “The use of the term “sociologically appropriate” is meaningless”

            so is the term “social engineering” you love to trumpet every chance you get. You complain about abstract words but your arguments are riddled with them.

            “they expect people to think the underlying ideas must be great because they are framed in such an ‘intellectual’ way”

            It’s as if they’re intellectuals who have put forward some interesting insights based on their own considerable experiences and made some suggestions about how a problem may be approached.

            Here Gosman I got rid of some fluff words from your post:
            “You miss my point.””In short it is BS.”

            1. Bravo nommopilot. Still smarting from your misinterpretation of the memorandums position on social engineering are you?

              I use the term social engineering because that is the easiest term to descibe what it is. I suppose I could use the phrase ‘re-educating the general population’ but that seems far more clumsy.

              The use of “Sociologically appropriate” is pointless because it is like stating that you want to try and implement policies that will be able to be accepted by people. I kind of thought that most people wanted to implement policies that would be acceptable by others.

            2. “I use the term social engineering because that is the easiest term to descibe what it is.”

              Or you could substitute the word governing, which has slightly different connotations. Social engineering is what our leaders are supposed to do: Provide society with appropriate structures to support it’s needs. If you build a bridge do you let the market design it? or just order the materials at random and assemble them at random?

              If our current social structures do not provide for individuals to become aware and concerned about long-term threats and engineer, (yes), sociologically, (yes), appropriate (yes) structures to do so.

              The social structures we have allowed the market to engineer for us have failed us on many levels and maybe it’s time we let the smart people instead of the rich ones come up with some ideas for engineering a sustainable society.

            3. “Or you could substitute the word governing, which has slightly different connotations. Social engineering is what our leaders are supposed to do”

              Quite incorrect. Social engineering implies attempting to alter the social norms that prevail within a society.

              For example you might have a society where smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol is acceptable behaviour by the vast majority of people. Social engineering would be to attempt to alter people’s views on those activities.

              You can have a perfectly good policy of governing which seeks to maintain the social status quo. In fact many of the biggest political debates in the past have been different groups of people arguing over exactly that.

            4. “Quite incorrect. Social engineering implies attempting to alter the social norms that prevail within a society. ”

              Quite incorrect. Engineering is about creating a structure which will retain it’s integrity against the forces of change. A bridge is engineered not to change in the face of physical onslaughts.

              Attempting to maintain social norms in the face of natural societal shifts of thinking in response to scientific discovery is absolutely a feat of social engineering.

              The social norms you champion are merely the result of previous social engineering. Our laws are just an adaptation of britain’s laws. Is it not social engineering that we eat fish and chips? Do you think the industrial revolution just gave us ipods?

            5. LOL!!!

              I do so love reading your logic nommopilot.

              So let me get this straight, you believe a policy of maintaining the current societal norms qualifies as social engineering, is that correct?

              Do you also think that Black is White and that Off is actually the same as On?

              Social engineering is all about change not maintenance. You might have a case for strengthening but it is a weak one.

            6. What is a social norm, Gosman? Are they your norms or mine? Are they naturally changing through generations? Is burning barrels and barrels of oil a social norm? traffic jams?

              Take smoking, your example above. You claim that a campaign to discourage smoking is social engineering, fair enough. You ignore that the reason people were smoking, your “social norm”, was the result of a huge campaign to encourage smoking by those who profited from it, ie. social engineering. In light of the discovery of adverse health effects from smoking the engineering of a change in the social norms around smoking (ie. let’s not smoke on planes) was positive for society. The point is those who tried to deny the health effects were equally indulging in social engineering by trying to maintain the status quo in the face of new scientific information which made that social norm highly irrational (ie. paying someone to kill you slowly).

              What you call social norms are the direct result of how our society has already been engineered. And a lot of those norms are the reason our emissions and consumption are so out of control.

            7. “So let me get this straight, you believe a policy of maintaining the current societal norms qualifies as social engineering, is that correct?”

              Yes. Building a causeway to make the water go the way you want it to is engineering. Maintaining that causeway so that the water continues to go the way you want it to go is also a matter of engineering.

              Your argument is that our current way of thinking is the way we think and therefore is the right way to think. And you think this because you’ve been engineered to think this way.

            8. A policy of doing nothing is not social engineering though. The government may not be picking up on societal changes that are going on naturally. It may very well be putting forward policies which are no longer part of the mainstream. Unless there is an active intention to alter societies values in some major way, I would argue, it does not qualify as social engineering.

              I will concede to you the point that strenuous efforts to reverse changes to societal norms can be social engineering. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that actions to counter other social engineering efforts would qualify though.

            9. “A policy of doing nothing is not social engineering though.”

              What government has a policy of doing nothing? Why would anyone want one that did?

              People generally want society engineered to their benefit and social norms are the result of those with power engineering a social state where they maintain that power. Then they maintain that state by engineering against forces of change which also takes engineering.

              And as I said some of those ‘social norms’ such as consuming, driving and flying everywhere and buying all our food in tons and tons of plastic packaging are the direct cause of some of our greatest problems. So they HAVE TO CHANGE.

  36. Do contributors such as Gareth, Bandersad and NommoPilot think that governments (not just NZ) should include sustainability science in all levels of school curriculum and also spend money on advertising campaigns to educate the people about sustainability issues?

      1. Yeah I guess those are good examples of where the state ‘educates’ people at a young age.

        For me I can accept that the role of school in modern society is not to simply teach academic learning but also social learning. I just hope that where issues are controversial teachers have the expertise to allow students to form their own opinions on the matters. And where students are being taught social issues parents should be well informed of the course material and retain the ability to remove their children from the lessons in question.

    1. I do think that providing “public information” is a valid role for government. We do it with some success for public health and other issues, and I have no problem with sustainability in its broadest sense being treated in the same way. In fact it is already, to a certain extent, through groups such as the Sustainable Living Education Trust.
      I think its important that we should build the widest possible consensus on both the need for action, and the kinds of action that should be taken. Doing that is the hard part, because our political structures are not really designed to do that.

        1. Our economies and political systems evolved to deal with geographical expansion and population growth. They have never needed (for the most part) to worry about hitting limits (see Dennis Meadows on the front page for an idea of where I’m coming from/going).

          Democratic political structures also tend to be adversarial — with parties defining themselves in terms of what the other lot are/aren’t. You make policy by winning a majority, but not necessarily building a consensus. You could argue that political parties that seek to govern do try to adopt policies with wide appeal, but they do that informally (and via market research) rather than explicitly. MMP broadens the process somewhat in comparison with FPP systems, but encourages parties to differentiate to survive.

          Finally, we’re asking turkeys to vote for Christmas. Sustainability and climate change are multi-generational challenges that require action now for future benefits that may not be seen for decades. Politicians that need regular re-election find it much easier to deal with the here and now.

  37. While not disagreeing with much of what you wrote about I must admit I am reminded of the argument that people in places like Africa and China make about why Social Democracy on the Western model is inappropriate for their particular countries. I believe it was Winston Churchil who stated that Western Democracy is the worst form of Government apart from all the others.

    1. I’m certainly not advocating any dilution of democracy. The system we have in NZ is not perfect, and we can argue about how it might be tweaked, but building a consensus for action is not inconsistent with the structures we currently have. We just need the political will and leadership to make things happen. I’ve said before that it might be possible to start a process involving all parts of civil society, all interest groups and parties, to get people onto the same page. They did it in France, it could be done here, but it will require the government to take a lead — and there’s not much sign of that happening.

  38. Yes, but if the general population only cared about today why do they not support governments that operate large budget deficits? (OK in some countries namely the current and previous USA governments this occurs, but generally people vote for sensible long term economic policy)

    I think it is a cop out to say that people don’t vote for green issues because they only care about the present. They just don’t agree with the policy and logic.

    By saying people are not capable of voting for the ‘right’ policies you are treating people as stupid. If this is your attitude to other people it is no wonder you do not support democratic governance.

      1. “Finally, we’re asking turkeys to vote for Christmas. Sustainability and climate change are multi-generational challenges that require action now for future benefits that may not be seen for decades. Politicians that need regular re-election find it much easier to deal with the here and now.”

        1. that’s not anti-democratic hate speech c3, it’s a very rational criticism of why our particular democratic system fails to include – and therefore to represent – the interests of future generations.

          I think you owe Gareth an apology…

          1. But in all other issues the system does include the interests of future generations.

            For example the current Government has a stated goal of catching up to Australia economically by 2025.

            The problem is that the general public do not agree with you on your policy preferences, so you disregard it as a fault of THEIR preference for short term policy over your noble preference for long term policy.

            The truth is they simply do not agree with your logic and conclusions.

            But you can not accept this and disregard the lack of climate policy as due to a fault of the stystem, when actually it is due to the strength of the system.

            1. Another day and another series of non-arguments:
              1. Systems don’t include interests, people may or may not.
              2. People will be motivated by those things that are brought to their attention and resonate with them.
              3. People will find the greatest resonance with things that they have the ability to “feel”.
              4. It’s not easy to feel for things farthest away from now (back or forward).
              5. It’s even less easy to deal with the distant when you’re ill-equiped to understand the arguments.
              6. Conversely dinner on the table tomorrow night is easy for the opposite of the two reasons above.
              7. People will build,use and develop expectations of systems that serve their interests.
              8. So we’ve got what we’ve got, it’s not strong or weak, right or wrong, it’s what we deserve and need to work with.
              9. There are going to be those who find it easier to explore issues farther from the now and with more complexity than the average person is likely to have the means of dealing with. ie we can’t all be great historians…
              10. Back to developing tools and structures to bring the understanding and importance of the issues (or otherwise for some) to the fore in order for the “system” to function as it can.
              Simplistic no doubt but better than endless arguing over points we’re almost certainly not in great disagreement over surely?

  39. What a topsy-turvy world you present C3Po. Nicholas Stern calls climate change the greatest market failure the world has seen. You see ignoring this failure as a sign of the strength of the system?

    1. I guess I don’t understand where you lot are all coming from. On one hand you lot say people don’t vote the policies they should because they are ‘ill-equip[p]ed to understand the arguments’, and that therefore democracy is ill-equipped to deal with climate change.

      But then you also say you aren’t anti-democratic, even though you claim democracy is not equipped to deal with climate change.

      And you all repeatedly claim the only reason governments dont implement the draconian policies you support is because they are forced to think short term, but then ignore all the other example of long term policy (such as expenditure on education, balancing the budget, economic growth policies).

      So, given that democracies in the USA, Australia and New Zealand are not adopting the policies you say are required to save the world, what do you think, if anything, is needed to be done?

      After all Nicholas Stern can say whatever he wants but until he is supreme dictator it is the opinion of the people that matters.

      1. Good points all. I wonder though if the same argument would hold if democratically elected governments had had to deal with climate change and sustainability issues for 2,000 years as they have with, as you say, expenditure on education, balancing the budget and economic growth policies?
        Perhaps we’re getting back to “time”, as I’ve mentioned previously.

      2. “But then you also say you aren’t anti-democratic, even though you claim democracy is not equipped to deal with climate change.”

        We don’t live in THE democracy we live in A democracy – a particular system amongst a plethora of possible democratic systems. Talking about the limitations of this particular system is in no way anti-democratic.

        The limitations of our democratic system include that politicians tend to work on issues that reward them within the timeframe of immediate political cycles and beyond that just emit aspirational goals they will not be accountable for.

        Voters are not too stupid to understand they are just not receiving sufficiently clear signals of the danger. Their opinion is being shaped by a campaign to obscure and confuse the science.

        “it is the opinion of the people that matters.”

        If the people are inclined to mistrust the scienctific process which is how humanity has reached it’s current state of knowledge – axiom by axiom – then this is another step towards failure of the system to react to it’s environmental realities. Just because we’re a democracy doesn’t mean we can’t fail.

        And sorry is just a word C3 but it would be sociologically appropriate for you to use it.

  40. Two answers

    Dr Woodwell:

    “The climatic disruption is not a theory open to a belief system any more than the solar system is a theory, or gravity, or the oceanic tides, or evolution. This approach is uncompromising, partisan in the sense of selected for the purpose. It is not a lecture to undergraduates; nor is it ecology 101. It is a clear statement of what is required for government to do its job in protecting the public welfare.”

    AND

    Transition 10 in Australia: http://www.safeclimateaustralia.org/support-safe-climate-australia/collaboration-and-partnerships/

    This means relentless politics for the next 5 years. Al Gore and Joe Romm have the right formula. Relentless messaging and no talk with pseudoskeptics/deniers. Sorry, we just dont have time.

    BTW Scotland now has a law requiring 80% cut in emissions by 2050. Can we be fast followers now?

    Tom

  41. Agreed, that is where lots of renewables and possibly nuclear power come into play for China. The sustainable development discussion has talked about technology/cash transfers of that sort since the 1980s.

    But the study is only concerned with only part of peoples annual emissions:

    “Per person, about 2.5 tons of carbon dioxide are consumed in the U.S. but produced somewhere else. For Europeans, the figure can exceed four tons per person.”

    So capping emissions at the stack of every fossil fuel thermal power station in Europe is still necessary.

    More generally, these debates should be had, but the perfect should not be the enemy of the good.

    By way of example, I am reading conditions for a resource consent right now re sediment monitoring in a stream. The conditions are light years better than what would have been thought of in 1991 when the RMA first came into effect. But those current conditions only come from experience of earlier ones.

    In other words, you gotta start somewhere. Because we have very limited time to act, its important to get things as right as possible and not to make big mistakes, but any country signing up to 42% reduction by 2020, against any sort of reasonable baseline, is pointing in the right direction in my book.

    You can test it this way. If the Scottish legislation was passed in NZ today, would it be significant, and a step change in NZ thinking? The howls of protest from certain industry sectors would say yes.

    http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Environment/climatechange/scotlands-action/climatechangeact

    Tom

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