Nicholas Stern: The state of the climate — and what we might do about it

Speaker

Lord Nicholas Stern studies the economics of climate change. He is a co-author of the position paper presented to the UN’s 2014 Climate Summit, called “The New Climate Economy.”, and author of “The Stern Review” on behalf of the British government.

Summary

25 years ago, Everyone in Beijing travelled by bicycle. It was a safe and easy way to get around. Nowadays the roads are clogged by vehicles and the air too polluted to breathe. Over that time Beijing’s population has doubled and China’s reliance on fossil fuels has increased dramatically. China now burns half of the world’s coal, and now recognises that its energy use is unsustainable.

In the next few decades, environmental pressure will increase more due to structural economic changes:  70% of people will live in cities by 2050, energy use will increase by 40% over the next 20 years, and pressure will increase on water, land and forest resources. If this change is managed poorly, there are immense risks to our quality of life and our climate. If greenhouse gases continue to increase at the rates projected, we will see temperatures over the next century which the earth hasn’t seen in tens of millions of years.

The economic changes will happen regardless, but people need to make a decision to deal with climate change. In the area of cities, we need to

  • build new cities in a compact way – to reduce travel time
  • for existing cities, we need to work out how to move people around efficiently.

As an example of improving a city – in 1952 London’s smog killed 4,000 people and reduced vehicle visibility. By regulating coal, smog decreased quickly. A recent congestion charge gave quick results – decreasing car usage in the CBD.

In energy – over the last 25 yrs, energy use has increased by 50% and 80% of the energy produced now comes from fossil fuels. Energy consumption is expected to increase by 40% again over the next 20 years, and we need to make sure it is used efficiently and produced cleanly. California is an example where this has been done well – renewables will contribute 33% of energy consumption within a few years, and greenhouse emissions will reduce back to 1990 levels (economic output has doubled over this time). Similarly, India is being proactive – aiming to install solar electricity to 400 million homes which currently have no electricity. Good decisions are giving quick results around the world.

Regarding forests: they hold valuable species, keep water in the soil and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But forests are being destroyed – over the past decade we’ve lost forested land the size of Portugal. However, in Brazil the rate of deforestation has reduced 70% by working with communities and enforcing the law more effectively. Ethiopia is also setting ambitious goals – it aims to be a middle economic power in 15 years and to be carbon neutral. Ethiopia is committed to doing this, and Nicholas believes it is a plausible goal.

Across the world, we do understand how to make change effectively. Technology is also moving quickly – better insulation, batteries, electric cars, smart houses. However the world as a whole is not moving quickly – we are not cutting emissions as we should, the depth of understanding in climate change and commitment to change is not there. If changes are managed effectively, the next 100 years will be the best humanity has experienced. If not, the coming century will be humanity’s worst.

My Thoughts

The talk was a call to action. Unfortunately, I’m not sure who the call is for – there wasn’t really a clear action we can take afterwards. It ended with an admonishment of the current political leadership, rather than a focus for the viewers.

Nonetheless, an interesting list of targets. I am particularly curious to see Ethiopia and India’s progress to advance economically and environmentally at the same time. It seems developing countries must tread this line carefully nowadays – and although it is possible it has not been achieved in the past by other countries (US, Western Europe, China all leapt forward economically before significant environmental goals).

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Sally Kohn: Don’t like clickbait? Don’t click

Speaker

Sally Kohn is a liberal political commentator, community organizer, and founder and chief education officer of the Movement Vision Lab, a grassroots think tank. Kohn was a contributor for the Fox News Channel.

Summary

The internet can be a nasty place, and has been shown to be much worse if you are gay, a woman, or a person of colour. Sally herself has found a fake twitter account which accuses her of being a bull dike, a man hater, and someone who only talks to spread her ‘perverse sexuality’.

However, if everyone hates this, we can change it by making a small sacrifice. People are no longer passive receivers of a media run by elites – no longer is the world divided into media creators and media consumers. By reading twitter or posting to a blog we are making a public act. We decide what gets attention by clicking on something – algorithms will decide that is what you need to see more of.

60% of Americans think America is becoming incivil, but they also click these the same ridiculously worded rumour-mongering articles. In an increasingly noisy media landscape, there are more incentives to make as much noise as possible. The tyranny of the loud encourages the nastiest comments. We need to change the incentives.

When you see someone abused, do something – drown out the negative with the positive. And don’t click on nasty and inane stories – it only encourages more of them. Clicking on them will force more stories of the same to appear.

My Thoughts

Good advice to all – however I disagree with her about ‘doing something’ to online trolls. By ‘being a hero’ and fighting nasty comments, you are giving them merit. By responding to a nasty article or a nasty person, you are triggering another incentive in both the article and the trolls. The articles are nasty because that generates controversy – by responding to an article you are feeding that controversy.

Beyond that – spread the word to others. Don’t click on garbage – it only encourages more garbage.

Hans Rosling and Osa Rosling: How not to be ignorant about the world

Speaker

Hans Rosling is a Swedish medical doctor, statistician and global health expert. Ola Rosling is the director and co-founder of the Gapminder Foundation (http://www.gapminder.org).

Summary

Hans starts his presentation on ignorance by conducting a quick poll of the Ted audience. He asks a few multiple choice questions about trends across history.

  1. How have deaths from natural disasters changed over the last century?
  2. How long has the average 30 year old woman spend in school?
  3. How did the percent of people living in extreme poverty change over the last 20 years

The actual deaths from natural disasters, for example, dropped from 0.5 million (1900) to 0.1 million (2000). But only 30% of the Ted audience and 12% of Swedish public were correct on this question. To further prove his point about ignorance, Hans presents the results from a third survey group: chimpanzees at the zoo. Simply by choosing at random (33%) they choose the correct answer more often than everyone else.  The polling results from the other two questions followed a similar pattern: the trend in education and impoverished people changed for the better while people assumed a negative change.

Hans introduces the Ignorance Project, cofounded by him and his son to investigate what the public knows about basic global patterns.  In their pilot project, they used these very same questions, along with some others, that were picked up by CNN.

CNN asked their readers, what percent of 1 year old children are vaccinated against measles?

The correct percentage is 80%, but predictably, the majority thought it was significantly lower. Only 17% of US public and 8% Swedish public were correct. But more surprisingly, 80% of the US media and 92% of the EU Media were wrong as well. The problem, he says, isn’t that people don’t listen to the media, it’s that the media don’t know themselves.

Hans son, Ola, comes out on to the stage to speak on the second half of their topic: Why are we so ignorant and what can we do about it?

A combination of personal bias (from different life experiences), outdated facts (from school books), and news bias (which exaggerates the unusual) all give people a skewed view of information. And because we rely on our views to generalize about facts, our intuition works against us, giving us an illusion of confidence.

Because people don’t have time to memorize facts every night, the shortcut to managing our ignorance is to turn our intuition back into a strength. To do this, Ola suggests being aware of some misconceptions you might have about how the world works.

  1. Most things get worse

– If you’re sitting with a question in front of you and you’re unsure, guess “improve.

  1. There is a duality of rich and poor

– The world has shifted to a larger middle class

  1. First people need to be rich and then they can do social good

-The majority of countries in the “middle class” send girls to school

  1. Sharks are dangerous

– If it makes you scared/feel afraid, assume you are going to exaggerate the problem

As part of the Ignorance project, Hans and Ola have created a Global Knowledge Certificate. They asked from organizations like Amnesty International and UNICEF what facts they thought the public didn’t know. Then they took that list and cross-referenced it with the facts people polled worst in. They want this shortlist to be used as a certificate, to show to a school or an employer that you are globally knowledgeable.

Ola concludes by reitierating the importance of winning the fight against ignorance. “If you have a fact based worldview of today, you might be able to understand the future. “