Monday, November 26, 2007

Water, Water, Water: The three secrets of climate change

The physical-systemic dimensions of human-generated global warming are increasingly well understood by natural science, but other aspects of anthropogenic warming are much more difficult to characterize, including LL quadrant issues, for instances, issues having to do with intersubjective, developmentally-differentiated cultural attitudes that both promote enormous carbon fuel use and discourage people from taking seriously the consequences of burning so much carbon fuel.
Currently, I am a member of a small committee seeking to understand what the business community wants and needs from scientists in terms of mitigating global warming and adapting to such change. Eventually, the committee—funded by a national science center located in Boulder--will organize a major meeting at which scientists and business people will focus on a particular climate change issue.
Business is an all-quadrant affair. That is, a businessperson contemplating the introduction of a new product must take into account not only socio-economic perspectives (LR quadrant), but cultural (LL) perspectives as well. Natural science methods, in contrast, uses perspectives belonging exclusively to the right hand quadrants, which take an objective, third-person attitude toward phenomena under investigation. One scientist, who taught a climate change course for science students and business students at a major Midwestern university reported that when it came both to understanding and devising solutions to global warming, science students were much more reductionistic (right-hand quad oriented), whereas business students used multiple perspectives (including value considerations drawn from the LL quadraqnt).
During our discussion, a well-known climate scientist opined that just as the three secrets of real estate are "location, location, location," the three secrets of climate change are "water, water, water." I knew there was a relationship between climate change and water, but had never heard it identified so starkly.
We began discussing the possibility of hosting a conference focusing on climate change and water, the latter being a very big concern to the Colorado business community, which is dependent on water for recreational industries (especially skiing), agriculture, power generation, and real estate development, among others. The science center that would sponsor the major business/climate change meeting happens to be doing research on the consequences of climate change on water, so the potential for a useful dialogue between science and the business community exists with regard to this issue.
Two issues emerged in connection with the water focus. First, by focusing on how to cope with how climate alters water (weather in terms of drought, storms, flooding, smaller snow accumulation in the Rockies, and so on), we would turn the conversation away from mitigation (that is, retrofitting global economies, so that we release far less carbon into the atmosphere) and toward adaptation (that is, finding ways to deal with climate-changing problems, some of which may already be appearing). Mitigation is a much more challenging issue, not only because it demands so many technological developments and so much capital investment, but also because the business community and the political establishment have a time horizon that typically extends only a few years into the future. The relatively distant future—fifty years or a century—is heavily discounted, that is, business focuses on near-term investments and profits, rather than on investing for possible profits that might (or might not) be harvested long after most current investors are dead.
The second issue that arose in connection with the water-focused conference was this: Could the water focus be a way of significantly heightening the importance of climate change in the general public’s ranking of issues of the day. In Break Through, Nordhaus and Shellenberger note that public opinion polls show that—despite Academy Awards and Nobel Prizes—climate change remains a low priority item for most respondents. If it could be demonstrated, however, that pocketbook issues and national defense--usually high priority items for the public—will be and perhaps already are being affected by climate change, members of the public will value more highly steps taken to adapt to climate change, and may also take more seriously the intergenerational moral issues related to continued profligate use of carbon fuel.


Stuart Davis said...

I'm trying to contact you in order to interview you for a new TV series we're filming this fall. Please contact me ASAP, Stuart Davis

Thomas said...

Most American cities dump treated sewage effluent directly into water bodies and waterways including our streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans.

What a waste -- especially for our Western cities and municipalities that do this given the unique challenges that water resource acquisition presents for them!

I am not aware of a single instance
of any American city which stores treated effluent in reservoirs or other holding facilities and pipes the precious water back to residences to use in a separate gray-water system for indoor use and on lawns and horticultural landscaping.

Any thoughts on this?

Smith said...

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