Many news outlets are questioning how long Scott Pruitt will hold onto his job at the EPA as criticism of his spending continues. However, even if Pruitt loses his position, it’s likely that his views and positions will continue to live on at the EPA and elsewhere—especially if, as expected, his deputy director were to take over. This, of course, is cause for concern. It may therefore be worthwhile to consider the continued resistance to views on global warming.
For example, The Chicago Tribune recently reported that Pruitt has once again questioned the scientific consensus that rising levels of carbon dioxide from human-fueled activity are warming the planet.
But now, according to the Tribune, he’s also taking a different tack. Even if climate change is occurring, as the vast majority of scientists say it is, Pruitt is questioning whether a warmer atmosphere might not be bad for human beings. While it is unclear exactly why Pruitt thinks things won’t be so bad for humans, it’s worth considering his arguments.
Indeed there is evidence that some things may do better with global warming—as Pruitt has suggested —poleward areas where the growing season is short, would likely benefit from longer growing seasons and crops could benefit from higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. In general, CO2 enhances growth and can increase water use efficiency.
But low lying coastal areas, such as Florida and the Gulf coast will surely suffer from sea level rise. Amplified by likely stronger tropical storms—some low lying island nations are almost certainly destined to disappear even if we hold the temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees. With large populations centers on the US coasts and coasts around the world, its pretty clear that coastal damage will outweigh the benefit from longer growing seasons in poleward areas. In addition, crops toward the equator including southern areas of the U. S. would likely suffer.
If there ever was a problem that’s hard to solve, it’s climate change. It’s a complex challenge requiring more expertise than any one person can possess—in-depth knowledge of the physics of the upper atmosphere, a firm grasp on the economics of technological innovation, and a thorough understanding of the psychology of human behavior change. What’s more, top-down approaches that have been tried for decades—like efforts to pass national legislation and to negotiate international agreements—while important, haven’t yet produced the kind of change scientists say is needed to avert climate change’s potential consequences.
But there’s at least one reason for optimism. We now have a new—and potentially more effective—way of solving complex global challenges: online crowdsourcing.
Through a global survey conducted by MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group, we sought to determine where exactly sustainability sits on the management agendas of the more than 2,800 companies. It turns out that it’s prominent: more than two-thirds of companies have placed sustainability permanently on their management agenda.
Our study also found that two-thirds of companies see sustainability as necessary to being competitive in today’s marketplace, up from 55% a year earlier. In addition, two thirds of respondents said management attention to, and investment in, sustainability has increased in the last year.
At MIT’s recent Sustainability Summit, held on Earth Day, close to 250 students, faculty and practitioners gathered from as close as Cambridge and as far away as Morocco. With the theme, “Mens et Manus: Bridging Thought and Action,” our event covered a wide range of issues such as reviving New England’s fishing economy, the water cost curve, building a regional food system, and the economic case for sustainability.
Many people would say that one of the most important problems facing humanity today is global climate change. It is affected by all of our actions, and it will potentially affect every one of us. But even though many scientists, journalists, politicians, businesses, and consumers are talking about this problem, we aren’t even close to solving it.
Fortunately, at the same time that we have this potentially huge global problem, we also have the possibility of using a new kind of global problem solving approach. As examples like Wikipedia and Linux show, it’s now possible to harness the collective intelligence of thousands of people around the world to work closely together at a scale that was never possible before in human history.
In the Climate CoLab project, we’re applying this approach to climate change. An online community of people from all over the world is already creating, analyzing, and discussing detailed proposals for how to address global climate change. For instance, last fall we had a global competition for proposals addressing the question: What international climate agreements should the world community make? Read More »