Posts Tagged ‘climateinteractive’

One of our clients, Sustainability Institute, who’s project Climate Interactive (CI) we have supported over the last year with strategizing and building an open source community around climate models for accelerating learning.The goal is get meaningful action on climate change by aggressively accelerating learning around climate.

If you haven’t been following the understanding about change needed, basically we are talking 80% reduction in global emissions by 2050 to be able to stabalize climate on planet Earth and ensure the survival of our species as we know it (and that of many others).That is major – a change on a scale that most people can scarcely imagine.

One of the models CI has developed has an interface called C-ROADS that makes it possible to understand the impacts of climate action commitments. Say India commits to 25% reduction in 10 years, Europe and the US to 50% reduction in 25 years, and China to 30% reduction in 15 years…plug the numbers into the model and give fast output on the overall impact. The simulation fills a niche that is greatly needed, to illuminate decision making in real time.

That useful role got the CI team invited to Poland for the UN conference on post-Kyoto negotiations (leading up to Copenhagen in Deember of ’09). The three person team participated in a number of side events during the conference, and presented at the invitation of the EU’s environmental protection agency. They now have more demand for their model and facilitating it than they can currently handle…

But this is vital time in more than one way. In the negotiating process, basically, the time window to influence the negotiations in now till summer 2009.That gives us about 6-7 short months to give negotiators the capacity to work towards what the world needs.

Besides understanding the issue, one of the key challenges is: How do we get this back to be a “head of state” issue instead of an “environmental minister” issue? The negotiations affect everything from economic development, quality of life, and energy to water, health care, and food security. It isn’t viable if approached from single departments. We need a global dialog and commitment to work towards solutions.

I live daily on the facts about climate change and the importance of the actions of our generation – we have recognized this as the single biggest threat we will have to deal with in our life. Looking into the future, it is clear that one scenario it extremely frightening, full of mysery and what I pray that we do not condemn our children’s fate to. But we are also the most powerful species, with the greatest resources available to us, will a population full of brilliant people who can help us create and implement the solutions that will improve the outlook of our future. I still remain optimistic, because I know we can do it. We just have to choose to do so. Will you join in being part of the solution?

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Last week, I was in San Francisco and had the pleasure to visit the new California Academy of Sciences. The museum, located in the heart of Golden Gate Park, just underwent a massive renovation which involved installing an impressive green roof and new exhibits, including a 4-story rainforest and a large, all-digital planetarium. Though impressive overall in its history and the modern technology in the exhibits, what struck me most about the Academy was something that doesn’t even get mentioned on its web site – its interactive exhibit on climate change. Before diving into the games we got to play, some background on why this is so important to me.

Dear God, I pray we aren’t screwed

Climate change is the largest threat to all of humanity we have ever faced and we have a very narrow window of time within which to deal with it. As climate change and carbon enter the mainstream awareness, one thing is still painfully clear – the vast majority of people don’t understand climate systems or what it means to fix the problem. Surprisingly, that doesn’t correlate with education, rank, wealth, or environmental awareness. We just don’t get it, as humans. MIT professor John Sterman has been observing this phenomenon for years, often using students as MIT as the test subjects. In his recent article in Science, Sterman makes the case for one root of lack of action on climate being the misunderstanding about climate dynamics (read a summary on the Climate Interactive blog or this article on Time.com).

Climate change forces us to think about large scale systems, something we aren’t used to (and even are discouraged from by our dominant modes of communication, television and other media, our education systems, etc). So in human evolution, we aren’t very prepared for what lies ahead.

In particular, what does it mean to cut our emissions enough to save our civilization? Scientific consensus emerged around 80% reduction in emissions so that we can stabilize our climate with 350 ppm of carbon in the atmosphere. This involves such drastic changes that we are forced beyond seeking a “silver bullet” to save us and instead need to combine all of the best solutions. We need to massively overhaul our energy sector (coal is so done…), transportation, agriculture systems, and so much more – including all the things we can do as individuals. But the first step in the journey to fixing the problem is understanding the system.

Innovations in Learning

As Peter Senge said years ago at a Systems Thinking in Action conference, the biggest challenge to humanity is whether or not we can learn fast enough to deal with the problems we face. To gain momentum up the learning curve, we need all the learning tools we can get.That was one reason I was so excited to see the interactive exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences. The exhibit welcomed visitors with wood panels with bold messages engraved. As you turn the corner around the first maze-like walls, you are draw into a series of stations that are easy to engage. Here is a glimpse of what we found inside.

Measuring Your Carbon Footprint

One highlight was a giant lever, with a solid metal Earth at one end in the other direction, a series of weights that could be moved along the lever’s length. Each weight was labeled for the different ways we create carbon emissions in our daily life – car transport, public transit, air travel, home energy consumption. As you moved the weights out past 1,000 to 10,000 miles of air travel, you see the balance shifting and the Earth rising as the lever sinks towards the ground. Once you have your impacts dialed in, you can set “offset” amounts (on the same side as the Earth) to try to restore the balance. The lever pointed to your “category” as an emitter, anything from “conscientious” to a “major emitter”.

The Carbon Cafe

Another very engaging station is the Carbon Cafe. The cafe has a series of plates, divided up by meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) laid out. Each meal has a pull card that you can slide out from underneath the plate or rotate around to read the carbon impact associated with different meals. The cards gave each meal a rating from 0 to 5 in terms of carbon impact and also gave information about why it scored where it did. For example, a beef burrito may score a 4, but if you eliminate the cheese (mostly from industrial, water-intensive operations) you lower that by one. Eliminate the beef and lower it by 2 (out of 5!).

The display was wide enough that it allowed several people at a time to be engaged and even in conversation.

Other goodies

Also worth mentioning in the exhibit were:

  • An e-action station, where you could send a message to elected officials on the spot.
  • An idea board, where anyone could write their suggestion on a tag and hang it on a wall for all to see.
  • The exhibit was also right next to the Academy’s “green building” education area, which seemed an appropriate placement.

Take Aways from CAC Exhibit

I love the easy-to-engage exhibit that put climate into basic terms. I think it got a lot more people playing even if only briefly.I could see ideas churning as people read the Carbon Cafe placards (“what if I skipped the butter on my next order of pancakes?” or “maybe I should by the organic carrots”). It illuminated the impact of daily decisions.

The carbon footprint, was a bit different. It seemed almost more of a game to those interacting. I was there while a pair of kids started climbing on it and just about turned it into a seesaw. Then a pair of adults came by, and I overheard, “See, even with offsets it doesn’t fix the problem”. There engagement was so quick that they didn’t question how the system was working and what it would really take to fix the situation. This exhibit needed a bit more context, a bit more “why should you care”, and help in having people debrief (ie here’s what it means that you have a “heavy footprint” and what you can do about it.

The challenge with education of this type is actually changing people’s mental models. The filters we run the world through that keep us stuck in our same interpretations of things (like the man who said “See,…it doesn’t fix the problem”) are very hard to change. Casually walking by an exhibit, thinking “oh yeah, I know about that” without finding its real lessons keeps us stuck in our current pattern of behavior.

It often takes a jarring experience, some dissonance between perception of reality and reality itself, to open up to a new interpretation and thus, real learning. If we don’t act within the next decade to massively change society’s carbon footprint, we are going to get a very ugly wakeup call and lots of learning. I pray that instead we create a new Age of Enlightenment, where we base our understanding on systems thinking rather than rationalist reductionism. Where we equip all global citizens with the understanding of systems necessary to manage life in a complex and changing world.

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