Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Climate Change

Excellent writing by John Sterman of MIT and comments about how systems work.

Here is link to NOAA study mentioned on the web site.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Meanings of Modern Science

When new science is made, we are also made new.  We have a sense of connection with our own time and others living in this age of scientific discoveries.  If new discoveries are possible then anything is possible.  As new science is applied to everyday life in the form of new technology, our awareness of what makes us human opens up new possibilities.  Just as the internal combustion engine transformed us in the 1900s, how we use the Internet is transforming humanity in the 21st Century.  Applied science is exposing the complexity and irrational nature of humans.

When confronted with new science applied to benefit the human condition many can’t understand why the consequences aren’t all bad.  They see government conspiracies and corporate profits.  Their belief in the weather clouds their judgment about the climate.  Their belief in seeds poisons their acceptance of genetically modified crops.  Confronted with something we don’t like and don’t understand, we can’t believe in a future when new science is applied to benefit humans.  Our identity as humans is challenged by daily science discoveries that are applied to redefine what being human means.

The Information Age has brought 24/7 sound bites focused on crisis after crisis that increases anxiety over time like getting shot at every day in a war zone.  The Great Recession has threatened every person in this country with losing their home to foreclosure or not being able to move because their house is worth less than they owe.  The news on the Internet, on TV or on talk radio brings daily attacks on our senses in the form of crisis after crisis.

We ought to be having a good time but we aren’t.  As individuals we are anxious about our personal lives and as a society we are anxious about how business and government are dealing with daily assaults on long held beliefs because of new science applied in new ways changing the speed that humans communicate and connect with one another.  We used to measure the speed humans progressed from walking, to riding, to cars, to planes and finally space ships.  Now human progress is measured in the speed of our Internet connection, the doubling of the number of Facebook members, the sales of the first iPhone compared to the new iPhone or iPad.  The Information Age is no longer tethered by a wire, we’ve gone mobile with everything wireless.

Climate change is an example of how our anxiety about a crisis freezes us into inaction.  We are unable to react to the changes in the climate because the consequences of increasing CO2 in the atmosphere are distant in space and time from the coal plant smoke stack or vehicle exhaust.  Also, the science depends on understanding atmospheric physics equations, chemistry in the ocean and building computer models.  Why should everyone take action based on geeks playing games on a computer simulating the future in 2100?

Modern science means new technology applied to our daily lives that enables us to renew ourselves and overcome our anxiety about our future as individuals and as a country.  Investing in science and applying the technology to control and reverse climate change will not be a waste of money. Productivity will increase, energy efficiency will improve, unemployment will go down and society will benefit in the increased confidence to tackle other threats.  How do I know this to be an accurate forecast of the future?

We successfully responded to potential threats in the past with the same result: rebuilding Europe after WWII, putting a man on the moon and ending the Cold War to name a few.  Extreme investments were needed to get these results. There was a belief in the ability of modern science and engineering to deliver results for the benefit of society.  These investments put people to work and remade us as humans by giving us a sense of direction and pride in our contribution helping others succeed.  Investing in climate change is the way out of our collective state of anxiety.