Planet under pressure / ‘Get out of the nerd loop’–NYT environmental reporter

Andrew Revkin

Environmental journalist Andrew Revkin (photo on Flickr by AKM Adam).

Andrew Revkin, environmental reporter for the New York Times, spoke this afternoon on day two of the Planet Under Pressure conference in London this week.

The formal title of this session, ‘The digital age and tipping points in social networks: Opportunities for planetary stewardship’, was in keeping with the elevated ambitions of the global change community meeting here.

‘Human beings are really bad at solving this kind of (planetary) problem’, Revkin opined in his opening statement (opining being his professional business).

He recalled world interest in ‘Noosphere’, a kind of planetary intelligence coined by Teilhard de Chardin to refer to the third stage of planetary development, coming after ‘geosphere’ (inanimate development) and ‘biosphere’ (biological life).

Just as the emergence of life fundamentally transformed the geosphere, the emergence of human cognition fundamentally transforms the biosphere. In contrast to the conceptions of Gaia theorists, or the promoters of cyberspace . . . noosphere emerges at the point where humankind, through the mastery of nuclear processes, begins to create resources through the transmutation of elements.’ — Wikipedia

Revkin noted Darwin’s remark in 1881 that we are all tribal—and that the reason we are all tribal is that we don’t know each other yet. That, of course, is changing dramatically with social media, he said.

‘We have a new set of tools for sharing ourselves. And I see great potential for its enhancing (sustainable) progress on our planet’, the New York Times journalist said.

‘Although the last thing the world needs is a new word’, continued Revkin, I offer “knowosphere”—a network of schools, libraries and so on making up a great global classroom. In this virtual classroom, students in Scotland and Ghana are conferring with each other right now on the topic of the rising waters of the Atlantic.’

Can we then expect a world of ‘scientists without borders’? Revkin asks, and then, answering himself, remarked, ‘It’s still early days’.

The hash tag, Revkin concluded, was invented by a guy at Mozilla as the San Diego fires were burning; he wanted to track talk of the fires. And that was the beginning of our ‘focussed discussions’ online.

‘It’s open season across time and space’, Revkin concluded. Time to ‘get out of the nerd loop’, he advised his (nerdy) audience.

Environmental scientist Amy Luers
Amy Luers, an environmental scientist formerly at and now at the Skoll Global Threats Fund, spoke next, promoting ‘boundary networks’ and ‘boundary spanning mechanisms’ linking formal and informal science and cross-cultural and societal norms.

She referred to ‘citizen science’, saying we’re at a tipping point.

‘Earth systems science needs to be more integrated into societies management and policy decisions’, Luer argued. ‘The digital age creates both opportunities and challenges in addressing this need.’

A remarkable 600 million people now have cell phones, she said. So it’s not about starting conversations but rather about joining conversations. ‘Much of the global change community has been reluctant to cross this line between telling a story and joining a conversation’, Luer warned.

Scientists are engaging in the social web, but the challenges remain, she said. ‘I sit in the non-acadmeic world now but work in the field of sustainability, and nobody I know had heard about this (Planet Under Pressure) conference!’

Luer ended with an interesting (perhaps irrelevant, certainly provocative) statistic:

Less than 20 per cent of Americans actually know a scientist—most scientists live in college towns, and only 9 per cent are Republicans!


Read more about the Planet Under Pressure conference on the ILRI News Blog
Planet under pressure / Livestock under the radar, 26 Mar 2012.

Planet under pressure / A numbers game–but which numbers are the numbers that matter?, 26 Mar 2012.

Planet under pressure / Food security policy brief, 27 Mar 2012.



Bringing climate change down to earth

Livestock graze on an island in the Niger

The New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman addresses an interesting ‘disconnect’ in America in his column this week (Want the good news first?, 27 July 2010).

”The [US] Senate’s failure to act [on climate change] is a result of many factors, but one is that the climate-energy policy debate got disconnected from average people. We need less talk about “climate” and more about how conservation saves money, renewable energy creates jobs, restoring the gulf’s marshes sustains fishermen and preserving the rainforest helps poor people. Said Glenn Prickett, vice president at the Nature Conservancy: “We have to take climate change out of the atmosphere, bring it down to earth and show how it matters in people’s everyday lives.”

Some of those working to help farmers and herders in poor countries build sustainable agricultural systems and adapt to climate change have a similar message.

Funding for climate change research in developing countries, which are expected to be hit hardest by global warming, has increased dramatically in recent years, while funding for much traditional agricultural research for development has remained stagnant. Even so, scientists working at the cross-section of agricultural development and climate change say that there is not a lot in their research portfolios that is new because of the injection of new climate change funding. Rather, much of the new funding is allowing them to expand and refine decades of research on sustainable development of smallholder agriculture.

The two billion small-scale farmers and herders these agricultural scientists serve are, after all, already among the world’s foremost experts in climate change. They and their farming ancestors have managed to wrest food and livelihoods from changing tropical landscapes since the dawn of agriculture. No one has to tell them how climate change ‘matters in people’s everyday lives’.

Conserving rainforests, wetlands and other natural resources; restoring rangelands and farmlands into productive use; exploiting renewable energy, saving money and creating jobs; helping people build livelihoods that are sustainable over the long term–these are not new ideas. People have been working in these areas for decades. The hope of many agricultural research-for-development scientists is that the intellectual as well as financial spillovers from the current world focus interest on climate change will allow them to pursue these topics more vigorously; to connect to more, and more diverse, experts; to get more refined data on developing-countries; to make faster advances in their disciplines; and to help more people escape poverty, hunger and environmental degradation.

More . . . (New York TimesWant the good news first?, 27 July 2010)