Archive for March, 2008
On thursday Jakob von UexkÃ¼ll was awarded the Georg Fromm Preis 2008. The ceremonies, including a speech given by UexkÃ¼ll took place in Stuttgart, and I had the opportunity to take part. Last year the price was awarded to Eugen Drewermann and Konstantin Wecker, which was very inspiring, so I was looking forward to the ceremony this year. You will hopefully see after you’re done reading that there is a link to planetwater!
It seems to me that UexkÃ¼ll did two important things in his life:
- Initiated the World Future Council, an illustrious group of people with the goal to leave the planet earth at least in a state comparable to the state they found the planet in.
- Initiated the â€œRight Livelihood Foundationâ€ who awards the â€œRight Livelihood Awardâ€. This award is thought to be not a replacement of the Nobel Price, but an addition. People who advance human kind but can not be awarded a Nobel Price, because they work for example in not-traditional medicine (because they are member of a first nation), or in a field that is not recognized with a Nobel Price (ecology, f.ex). UexkÃ¼ll mentioned that it is important to him that now a member of the Nobel family now talks at the award ceremony for the Right Livelihood Award.
UexkÃ¼ll accomplished neither of the two things because of traits he learned at a school or at an university. But he had enough charisma, nuts, stamina, and he could convince enough people of the importance of these two organizations, so that he realized them. This fact alone is fascinating.
He is not a scientist by trait, but he deals a lot with science, recently with the science of global and climate change. Not so much because he is interested in the underlying processes of climate change, but because he sees that things are changing, and lead to a negative impact and hence he is alert and want to change things, so that future generations do not have to suffer because of his actions.
Things Can Change Quickly
UexkÃ¼ll explained by example how quickly the climate changes. One of the first recipients of the Right Livelihood Award in the early 1980s was a member of a first nation in Australia who described how species that inhabited his homeland changed due to changing climate, and how he experiences that on a daily basis. UexkÃ¼ll pointed out that back then nobody cared too much about this, and especially nobody really saw the global aspect of this problem. He also gave other examples for how quickly things can change: – It was a matter of a few months only after which the â€œiron curtainâ€ broke down. Some people couldnâ€™t adapt fast enough, and their leaders were no leaders anymore within a few days. – Environmental Change: There is evidence that icebergs melt way faster than we think.
The issue that anything can move forward into any direction after a certain threshold is exceeded is described in great fascinating detail in a book by Malcom Gladwell entitled “The Tipping Point“.
Society needs to change
The bigger picture is, that society needs to change in order for climate change not to occur in a destructive way. UexkÃ¼ll has a rather philosophical approach to ideas how society can change. For me as an engineer this seems like a very interesting approach — I would rather look into technologies that can improve things.
According to UexkÃ¼ll there are two main philosophical and ethical problems. One is that more consumption is not a good strategy: A city in Sweden decided that there should be no advertisement in public transport. And, another major city in the world, Sao Paolo, decided last fall that public advertisement is a form of pollution. For me, this seems dramatic! It goes back to Erich Fromm, his view on the importance on media, and how he described in his view of the 1950s general public in the US, that they take-in media, that any person, with the slightest degree of thought in it, would not be willing to accept. And where are we todayâ€¦ Anyways. The second problem is that there is a major rift between the values that our society still has and the way of life of most of society, especially western society.
Why is the general public not (yet) willing to change things dramatically? There is no more doubt in the scientific community that the climate is changing. How do you get society to change? Scientific proof obviously is not enough. Tradition very obviously is not enough, because in the last few generations so many things changed, and not in an environmentally friendly way. Religionâ€¦ well, Religion has been a driver for societal change in the past. The Vatican has recently created a new sin, environmental pollution, but is that going to change anything? The Media? Is is a fact that US newspapers publish about 1/3 the amount of European newspapers on environmental issues in the broadest sense. So how is this going to change? How is any media that lives on the number of viewers or papers sold going to change a society towards a better and more environmentally friendly way? Politics? There are some good paths being walked along, some laws implemented in Germany for supporting energy efficiency in houses is one example. There are also bad examples, for example the endless discussion in Germany if we really should shut down atomic energy power plants after we had decided to do soâ€¦ Markets? This is rather interesting too, and Iâ€™m not an economist. My feeling and observation in Germany over the last year or so is, that the less oil there is, the more expensive it gets. At least it seems as if oil is getting scarceâ€¦ as a geologist Iâ€™m sure thereâ€™s more places that we could mine for more oilâ€¦ right now a huge part of Alberta, Canada is being destroyed for that, and it seems as if Alaska is next. Right now the price increase in gas is also not enough yet to change any of my personal habits. And as long as national flights within Germany are cheaper than the railway, why would I use the slower railway?
One problem why change is not occurring is that there need to be real options (â€œalternativesâ€ sounds in german a bit like tree-huggers). What other options do I have to go skiing than using a car? Not manyâ€¦ Now you might say, skiing might be over in the Alps in a couple of years, because winters will be too warm for snow. So what other option do I have than to drive to my hockey rink? What, do you say, you play hockey, and waste all that energy to make ice? Well, the option right now is that I go swimming and running. Well, maybe this is true, but then my argument is, that our society got so used to skiing, icehockey, associated with a lot of nature-destruction and car-usage, that we canâ€™t stop really quicklyâ€¦ I guess not until we reach the tipping-point.
All speeches from the ceremony can be downloaded (pdfs, in German):
National Geographic has a pretty cool video showing how the extent of the Columbia Glacier (Alaska) varies between May and September 2007
The “Scientific Activist” has an interesting post on the role of youTube/goolge during times of crisis. Since nothing seems to be possible without google anymore, this is a pressing issue. Update: 2008-03-18, 3:21pm: More on this issue at macworld.uk, as well as a youTube search for “Amdo2007”
Here are some more links to planetwater related issues I found in the last little while:
Water and Sky Pollution
Here’s an article written in quite alarming words on high PCB levels in the Rhone River
Years of unchecked pollution in Franceâ€™s Rhone River have taken their toll with the recent discovery of PCB levels at 10-12 times the safe limit in the riverâ€™s fish.
PCB is a well known contaminant in the environment. There are a lot of contaminants transported by water both in the subsurface and in rivers that until very recently have not gotten much attention. That’s why they are sometimes called “emerging contaminants”. Examples for emerging contaminants are medical drugs. Weird has recently published an overview article on that topic. Update 2008-03-18, 3:31pm: Weird also reports that there is some drive to test water more often and more carefully for emerging contaminants.
Like water, the sky is not a sterile environment. Some research indicates that bacteria serve as “nucleators”, little particles that help water to freeze in higher regions of the atmosphere. The frozen water melts as it falls towards the earth’s surface where it then can appear as rain.
This Report, entitled
“Impacts of Climate Change and Variability on Transportation Systems and Infrastructure: Gulf Coast Study”, analyzes how Gulf Coast roads and highways, transit services, oil and gas pipelines, freight handling ports, transcontinental railroad networks, waterway systems, and airports are likely to be harmed by heat waves, extreme precipitation events, sea level rise, increased hurricane intensity, and storm surge damage associated with climate change. The report outlines why changes must be incorporated in transportation planning now in order to avoid serious future problems.
According to this post, the first pieces of evidence based on bugs adapting to genetically engineered plants are available demonstrating that genetic evolution faster than technology
The Grand Canyon has been flooded recently for the third time since 1996. Der Spiegel has a series of articles on the preparation, the process of the flooding, and the aftermath. Some environmentalists claim that the interval between man-made floods is too big to simulate the flooding intervals that occurred naturally, before the Colorado River was dammed (see also this previous blog post on planetwater). Besides bringing water to land on higher elevation, the natural floods lead to a completely different sediment scheme in the Colorado River. The major reservoirs retain a big part of the naturally occurring sediment load.
As a side-note to the topic “Grand Canyon”: Carl Zimmer recently had an article on weird commenting on how creationists try to prove that Noah’s Arc was very much related to the Grand Canyon, only a couple of 1000 years ago…
The magazine Science published an editorial titled “Science 2.0“. One key point of the author, Ben Shneiderman, is that online collaboration is going to shift focus of science, towards the social sciences. “Online collaboration” inspired the title, since online collaboration was a key new possibility offered by web-based communities since the technology (CSS, Ajax, XHTML, weblogs) has been available, and titled “web 2.0” after a conference hosted by O’Reilly Media. Along the same lines, O’Reilley offers a “where 2.0” (in 2004 and one coming up in May 2008) conference, geared towards location based digital / online services.
There is a commentary on “Science 2.0” at wired.com, with interesting comments. The key point for me though seems to be that funding is going to be granted to collaborators:
Science 1.0 remains vital, but this ambitious vision of Science 2.0 will affect research funding, educational practices, and evaluation of research outcomes. Science funding agencies will face resistance as they promote a transformation that seeks to make a safe space for Science 2.0. Scientific journal editorial boards and conference program committees are already shifting their attention to new topics and opening their doors to new scientific research methods. Pioneering educators have begun changing their curricula, focusing on collaboration strategies and teaching new research methods. The innovators are courageously taking on new challenges, but they should be ready for the resistance to novel ideas that has always been part of science. In that way, Science 2.0 is part of a great tradition.
I’m not sure how the effectiveness and quality of your collaborations are going to be measured. Also I think of critical importance will be to stay on top of Science 1.0 while collaborating!
What do you think about all this? Are you using “Web 2.0” “technologies”? And if so, mostly privately or also for your business?
People, this collection of wickedly awesome chemistry clips has not toooooo much to do with the general theme of planetwater.org. But, of course, with science and the fun of experimenting.
It’s also this time of the year where in the chemistry lab above my office the 1st year environmental engineering students have their inorganic chemistry labs… which reminds me of the times when I took it, and the fun we had… with conversations like “Hey Claus, do you think it’s normal that there’s smoke coming out of the sink after I poured this liquid down the sink?” 😉