Opinion: Five reasons climate change is the worst environmental problem the world has ever faced – Christopher Knittel

Christopher Knittel, George P. Schultz Professor and Professor of Applied Economics, MIT Sloan

From The Los Angeles Times

Even now that most of the world has acknowledged that climate change is real and caused by humans, combating it has proved daunting. Why? There are five features that combine to make global warming a more vexing environmental crisis than any we have faced before.

First, the pollutants that contribute to it are global pollutants, ones that do their damage no matter where on earth they are released. Past pollutants — such as sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain, or nitrogen oxides, which are a precursor to smog — are local pollutants, which do most of their damage near where they are released. Elected officials are much more likely to enact measures to curtail local pollutants, because the voters who elect them are directly affected by the pollution. With global pollutants, much of the damage is felt far away, and moreover, they may not be something an elected official can control through local action.


The second complicating feature of climate change pollutants is that much of their damage is in the future. The electorate and their public officials have less reason to pass measures that would cost money and cause inconvenience now, when the most severe damage will accrue to some distant and unknowable future.

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Greta, CEOs join Global GoalsCast to save the planet – John Sterman, Max Boykoff, Bradley Tusk, Laura Gitman, and Gillian Tett

John Sterman, Professor of Management and Director of MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan School of Management

From Global GoalsCast

Is the zeitgeist shifting toward action to curb global warming and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals? Veteran Financial Times journalist Gillian Tett joins Edie Lush and Claudia Romo Edelman to consider that question in the aftermath of the United Nation’s climate summit and General Assembly. While the actions of governments were disappointing, they see a new attitude among many businesses, who were far more engaged in UN activity this year. “The balance of risks in the eyes of many business executives have shifted,” says Tett. Many executives now think it is “riskier to stand on the sidelines and do nothing than to actually be involved in some of these social and climate change movements,” Tett reports. The challenge now is not whether to act but how. Edie completes her visit with Professor John Sterman at MIT, whose En-Roads computer model of the climate lets Edie identify policy actions that will hold contain heating of the atmosphere. “The conclusion here is it is, technically, still possible to limit expected warming to 1.5” degrees Celsius, Sterman concludes..

Listen to the full podcast at Global GoalsCast.

John D. Sterman is the Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management and a Professor in the MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society. He is also the Director of the MIT System Dynamics Group and the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative.

Maxwell T. Boykoff is an Associate Professor in the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Bradley Tusk is a venture capitalist and CEO and founder of Tusk Ventures.

Laura is a global expert on corporate sustainability, with two decades of experience in strategy consulting.

Gillian Tett is chair of the editorial board and editor-at-large, US of the Financial Times.

Vertical literacy: reimagining the 21st-century university – Otto Scharmer

MIT Sloan Sr. Lecturer Otto Scharmer

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Otto Scharmer

From Medium

The Fridays For Future (FFF) climate strike by high school students may well be one of the most important, yet hardly covered stories by the US media today. During the week of March 15th alone, 1.6 million strikers were counted across 125 countries. This environmental movement to reduce carbon emissions was started by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg in late 2018. In the meantime, a discussion has ensued among politicians in Germany about whether it is the right thing for students to take to the streets instead of the classroom on Fridays.

The principles below weigh in on this conversation from a bigger picture view: how to “update” the world’s educational system, particularly the university, to tackle the technological, environmental, and social disruptions of the 21st century. See figure 1.

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Advice on climate policy for the 2020 presidential candidates – Henry Jacoby, Richard Richels, and Gary Yohe

Henry D. Jacoby, Professor Emeritus, MIT Sloan School of Management

Gary Yohe, Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, Wesleyan University

Richard Richels, directed climate change research at the Electric Power Research Institute.

From The Hill

The Paris Agreement, with its goal of halting global warming short of 2 degree Celsius, conjures up an image of a temperature threshold which we dare not exceed, akin to Thelma and Louise knowingly and recklessly driving over a cliff to their ruin.

For that hapless couple, there may have been a sudden abyss that they chose to breach. But in the case of global warming, a better metaphor might be that of the can that gets kicked down a road that becomes increasingly treacherous with every mile travelled. Due to our past reluctance to apply the brakes, the can is now farther down the road, and it is going faster than we realize.

The science is clear. When we include the pent-up momentum of the climate system, we have already committed to warming of at least 1.5 degree C. Moreover, with the additional heating that will occur as we reduce emissions to zero, a 2-degree limit is also in doubt.

Have no illusions. The case for coordinated action both nationally and internationally is compelling, even if the articulated temperature targets turn out to be only aspirational. The intensity of the wildfires in the West, the unrelenting flooding in the midsection of the country and the fury of hurricanes striking our coastlines are but a preview of what’s to come—just like the recognition of increases in the frequency of heatwaves and the severity of droughts.

It doesn’t take a genius to see the absurdity of inaction in the face of these risks. Continuing to kick the can down the road will place an intolerable burden on future generations.

But all the news is not bad. Recent polls suggest that we may be entering a new era of public concern over climate change. The number of Americans witnessing the growing destruction has risen. Many see it out of their kitchen windows; all observe it on the evening news.

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Don’t let the ‘Green New Deal’ hijack the climate’s future – Henry Jacoby, Gary Yohe, Richard Richels

MIT Sloan Professor Emeritus, Henry D. Jacoby

From Hartford Courant

The Green New Deal calls for the country to meet a number of ambitious environmental targets while solving a host of other ills facing our country. Its near-term environmental goals, authored primarily by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., include “meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable and zero-emissions energy sources,” “building or upgrading energy-efficient, distributed and ‘smart’ power grids.” “working to ensure affordable access to electricity” and “overhauling transportation systems in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions … as much as technologically feasible.”

These goals are aspirational, but they are all issues that are worthy of serious and urgent consideration.

It is likely that the authors of the resolution and its co-sponsors thought that yoking climate change to their larger agenda would start conversations. But this version of the Green New Deal will impede continued progress on the climate front for years to come.

Does one have to support and defend all of the goals of the Green New Deal to push forward on climate change? If the answer is yes, then past experience teaches that political manipulation will doom climate change to artificial partisan firefights for years to come.

Around the turn of 2019, climate change had become a rising star in the national political galaxy. The connection of recent catastrophic wildfires to increased temperatures had become clearer. So had the link between warming temperatures and changing atmospheric currents to more severe hurricanes. The link to sea level rise had been solidified. Assessments released late last year brought attention to climate risks in 2030 — not 2100. Candidates for Congress had run on platforms that highlighted climate change as an existential issue — and won. Media coverage had begun to report that climate change would likely to play a significant role in the 2020 presidential campaign.

But now, we see calls for climate policy lumped together with calls for universal education, universal high-quality health care, guaranteed affordable and adequate housing, economic security and access to healthy and affordable food. Opponents can now label the entire collection of worthy social objectives as modern “socialism.”

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