It all depends on what the choices are

Posted June 22nd, 2007 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Living in Post-Normal Times

I take most opinion polls I hear about with a grain of salt because what people think usually depends on how you frame the question and what the choices are, and can change as people learn more about the problem. Just now, a new opinion poll on global warming came up on the RSS reader that actually presents the respondents with policy options and cost estimates and shows that the majority of Americans still support taking action on global warming even when presented with costs. It was conducted by the New Scientist with a polling team from Stanford and with some cost estimates and analysis provided by Resources for the Future – and is worth a read. It is also expected to provide a springboard for debate about how best to tackle global warming, which will undoubtedly lead to more learning and possibly to more options…

Root causes

Posted June 20th, 2007 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Living in Post-Normal Times

Dani Rodrik – an economist who is esteemed for his work on global trade issues to which he brings an institutional perspective, and who is refreshingly candid about blindspots in his own field, is looking for the benefits of changes in the global financial system that have occurred over the past 25 years or so, and can’t find any. For a list of the risks, see this article he links to, by Martin Wolf in the Financial Times, who does a good job of describing some of the mechanics of the “financial engineering” that has occurred. Wolf hasn’t quite figured out if this is good or bad:

Our brave new capitalist world has many similarities to that of the early 1900s. But, in many ways, it has gone far beyond it. It brings exciting opportunities. But it is also largely untested. It is creating new elites. This modern mutation of capitalism has loyal friends and fierce foes. But both can agree that its emergence is among the most significant events or our time.

but promises Rodrik an answer in next week’s column. What his article suggests to me is that novelties in the global financial system have unleashed risks and uncertainties as unprecedented and possibly as uncontrollable as those in the climate. If there is indeed a “triumph of the trader in assets over the long-term producer” and if “capital is flowing in the wrong direction, from poor to rich nations” – what does that say about approaches being taken to protect the production functions of ecosystems so as to insure the flow of services, like water and climate regulation, and to alleviate poverty and promote sustainable development? Rodrik concludes:

I am among those who see the future risks as being substantial. I think there is a fundamental incompatibility between unfettered global finance and a fragmented system of political sovereignty at the national level. I am also not convinced that this new international financial capitalism has actually lived up to its promise: it has on the whole not been beneficial to developing nations, and it has created great inequality in the rich countries (as Wolf acknowledges). So we need a substantial rethink.

All the potential Keynes’s out there: we need your ideas!

I don’t think the answers will all come from economics or that we will find any Keynesian silver bullets but I will eventually flesh out a post about the notion of a “Post-Cold War Reconstruction” as a framework for a substantial rethink and for redefining the whole concept of security, which would answer the question Frank Luntz asked in the Frontline interview: “you tell me where global warming fits in [on the more immediate issues]” Iraq, Iran, terrorism, health care, prescription drugs, education…”. There is some good stuff out there – now if we could just get somebody intelligent elected for president who isn’t intimidated by complexity or delusional voters…. (Come on Al!)

On the cultural and environmental philosophy of coffee cups

Posted May 17th, 2007 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Living in Post-Normal Times

Sylvia's coffee cup

David Ng shares some thoughts about his coffee cup and asks:

1. Can you show us your coffee cup?
2. Can you comment on it? Do you think it reflects on your personality?
3. Do you have any interesting anecdotes resulting from coffee cup commentary?
3. Can you try to get others to comment on it?

So here is one of mine – a souvenir from attending working group meetings of the Millennium Ecosystem Asessment. The full text on it reads: “Coffee, freshwhater, sugar… in f act everything we use is provided by the ecosystems we are part of. How much longer will they be able to provide these services? When I finish this cup I am going to look into it…” Inside at the bottom of the cup, as a reminder, is the link to the MA website. My other cup says “Oysters are habitat forming.” And now I have a paper to finish about protecting ecosystem services provided by soil so I can keep drinking this stuff, and so the oysters in the Chesapeake Bay don’t have their filtering mechanisms overwhelmed.

The Pro-Glacier agenda

Posted May 16th, 2007 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Living in Post-Normal Times


I have real work to finish but, in the wee hours of the morning, as I waited for more coffee to bubble up from my stovetop espresso pot, I turned on the TV  just in time to catch this clip of Stephen Colbert ranting about The Pro-Glacier Agenda.  He also reminds us that Ptolemy’s view, that the the sun revolves around the earth has been around 1400 years longer than the the notion that the earth revolves around the sun – but watch the video for more insight on mental rigidity and denialism. Then compare the above picture, taken by me on the Denali glacier sometime in the spring of 1988, with this one taken at the same location in June 2004, posted at wunderground by Steve Gregory. According to the pilot who flew him in, who could easily have been the same one that flew me in, “the out-cropping of rock in the background took all of just 3 years to become visible.”