Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Planet under Pressure: Challenges to Progress (day 3)

Planet under Pressure: Challenges to Progress.
Awoken by the hotel fire alarm (picture), I missed the first two presentations while standing outside in "casual wear". No fire and not the nicest way to get up. However, I made the presentation by Laurence Tabiana, who offered a levelheaded assessment of global governance.  She nicely situated the failed Copenhagen conference as the end of old world thinking, and expecting little future progress in international collaboration. We are in a stage of state-based thinking, which limits the willingness for international cooperation.
The panel echoed this and also emphasized that we remain in a world that measures national progress by GDP. New measures are needed that include natural capital. Also, a new thinking about values is needed to convince citizenry of our place on this planet.  Is a catastrophe needed to jolt us into action, much like the Great Depression and World War II?  Hope it does not have to come to this.
A break-out on green economies proved disappointing, ins pite of moderator Nisha Pillai efforts.  High-level folks (including Aussie minister, OECD rep, WTO rep, etc) gave mostly platitudes.  The Aussie politicians did offer a very astute observation that  consumers do not drive all decisions.  We often do not know what the upstream connections are (for example, where did the electricity come from in food production, or the source of battery parts in our Prius).  A second break-out on hazards showed the UK's attempt at integrating all its agencies into one alert system.  I asked about upscaling to larger, less homogeneous societies, and cheekily added less rule-obeying people than the Brits.  Won't be easy, especially in developing economies, where government agencies compete instead of collaborate (say, Brazil).  I am developing my own view of environmental risk assessment, which revolves around an individual's willingness to accept risk.  Give the info and any alerts, but let citizens decide on tolerable risk (perhaps with their insurance companies).
Final day tomorrow is on planetary stewardship and run up to Rio+20 (named after the 1992 Rio conference, 20y later).  I doubt that Rio+20 will achieve much, based on what I've learned here, and limited apatite for agreements among developed nations.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Planet under Pressure: Options and Opportunities (Day 2)

Planet under Pressure: Options and Opportunities. 
Serious stuff today, mostly about what needs to be done.  Perspectives on economics, food&water and other sustenance issues.  The positive role that women play was well articulated by Bina Agarwal (both impacts on their lives and governance roles) and Dutch economist de Boer emphasized the need for a new dialogue with decision makers.  The panel, again with many UKers (although sometimes masked by affiliations with Euro-mainland institutions), picked up on this focus on human behavior and human values.  We need to go beyond describing the processes and issues, and try to touch the heart of the global citizenry.  Moreover, positive arguments about our collective future are a lot more useful than scare scenarios.
A Research and Action Agenda break-out session did not deliver much of an action agenda.  A pattern that is emerging across the conference thus far.  Steps in the right direction were explored, however, focusing on the "what" instead of the "how" of issues that are before us.  I am ready to hear more.
I then attended a nerdy break-out session on Geo-engineering that was science-heavy (mineral reactions, atmospheric particles, yield calculations, etc) and quite illuminating.  It seems that such CO2 removal processes may not be terribly effective, so geo-engineering offers little hope in the short run (but would create lots, lots of jobs).  Whereas there are processes that can reduce CO2, scaling it to the 30Gt of CO2 that humanity adds each year seems impossible.  Perhaps returning areas to natural vegetation is the best, short-term CO2 capture scenario, meaning that we reduce domesticated grasslands/pastures and return them to more C-intensive vegetation without need for nutrient fertilization.  This should appeal to the vegetarians among us, as croplands could be unaffected.  Frankly, they have point.  Like so many, I too enjoy my meat, but agree that average intake can easily be reduced.
An early evening informational session on a new global initiative, "Future Earth", illustrates the genuine desire of the community to see change, but also the lack of a convincing socio-political strategy towards change.  More on that likely to come in the days ahead.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Planet under Pressure: State of the Planet (Day 1)

Planet under Pressure: State of the Planet.
The first day of the conference focused on general descriptions and views of the planet from a human perspective. Clearly, the conference is more about "People under Pressure" than "Planet under Pressure", based on these presentations. An annoyingly large number of UK speakers and panelists were featured at this aspiringly global conference. Many of them had the same message, "time to act", a decade ago, emphasizing the stalemate we are in and our inability to create actionable knowledge.
The sciency talks were good.  I especially liked the biodiversity presentation by Sandra Diaz and Steffen gave his informative Anthropocene graphs talk (both non-english accents).  A famous economics guy, Tony Giddens (he was called Lord several times), offered nothing insightful, but was, of course, selected in the UK news for his message (that is, we need change).  Panels are now the standard mode of these type of meetings, with panelists talking for 5 min about their thoughts on their topic of choice, and sometimes answers to (tweeted) questions.  A seemingly bored UK Chief Scientific Advisor, John Beddington, did not hide his effort to prefer prepared words (he was called Sir John each time, which makes me think of A Knight's Tale, not science guy).  The moderator, a former? BBC-WN anchor, was the most energetic of the morning.
The afternoon breakout that I attended on the Anthropocene was more engaging.  This was one of 10 or so break-out sessions.  The Anthropocene was loosely defined as the epoch when humans are the main surface processes driver.  I'd agree that we might be seeing the bottom of a new epoch or it is just a brief geologic event (like the consequences of an impact).  Too soon to claim the end of the Holocene (which is already over-tuning the record) with little geologic evidence that a new identifiable human-centric epoch will be lasting 1000s of years.  On the other hand, unless something dramatic happens soon in today's world, these surface processes may be noticeably preserved in the geologic record.  The jury is out on the Anthropocene, but it makes a great discussion starter about human impacts, regardless.
Good day overall.
Monday, March 26, 2012.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Planet under Pressure: Getting There (Day 0)

Planet under Pressure: Getting There.
Hoping for an oversold plane and a bump to business, I only got bumped by turbulence.  Heathrow is completely on the opposite side of London from the Excel conference center, so serious tubing was needed to get there.  The London Underground is wonderful on Sunday.  Not busy and perfectly on time.  It still took 1:30 h to get to the new Aloft hotel that is conveniently attached to the conference center (thank you, Expedia).  Early check-in available, so at 10:30a in my room.  The conference is one of those modern contraptions that are airy, but otherwise have little character; see picture 1.  Apparently an Abu Dhabie company owns it and Elsevier is the organizing company of PuP here, so corporate sustainability is already well represented (..). 
The conference center is in a former London docks area, which is being developed for suburban living and public other uses.  Lots of new glass buildings and several others under construction.  The hotel is also brand new and shows only as a sandlot on Google; it apparently only opened last November.  Have a nice city view from my "loft" room; parking, canal and London outskirts (2nd picture). 
Nothing on science or policy today, but we did have a reception supported by the folks who give the Blue Planet prize.  Lots of young people and many of the older crowd looks like me (variably grey-haired men).  Stay tuned for actual content (I'd say beef, but many here are likely vegetarians).
Planet under Pressure website is at
Sunday, March 25, 2012.