Several climate researchers I met at the Tipping Point conference on climate change at the Earth Institute Dec 7-8 had words of encouragement for the Windowfarms project. Climate scientists are increasingly taking an interest in social factors. New areas of climate-related research are emerging in the social sciences. Several of these researchers told me that they like the project for reasons beyond the obvious education for green house gas mitigation. They liked that the project focuses on solutions to very physical/material problems involved with climate change, crossed disciplines, targets a nexus within the issue, attracts new audiences other than the choir, provides an occasion for the public to experience the ambiguities as exciting line of inquiry rather than quick answers, is built to spread virally on an international scale, and sets the stage for mass collaboration around environmental problems.
Wally Broecker, touted as the grandfather of climate science, lamented in his opening speach that there is not enough focus on developing solutions to environmental problems. Jeffrey Sachs followed him up by reminding us that solutions must be much bigger than changing out lightbulbs.
Robert Chen, Director of the research unit at Columbia’s Earth Institute & manager of NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center, and I talked brainstormed about how we can immediately put the public to work on climate change-related issues via crowdsourcing and mass collaboration.
Ben Orlove, an anthropologist teaching Environmental Science Policy at UC Davis, and I talked about the importance of finding intersections with people’s everyday lives.
Sanjoy Banerjee, at the CUNY Energy Institute, and Stephen Pekar, at Queens College and Lamonte Observatory, are eager to better integrate their work with their communities.
My apprehension about demands for proof on the comparative carbon footprint of the system and accusations of greenwashing were entirely unwarranted. I was nervous coming in because I don’t have enough research done on the impacts of the system and was afraid I would meet with the dreaded challenge that we are effectively greenwashing until we prove ourselves to be “green.” To my surprise, I found that the scientists seemed to appreciate the fuzzy social parts of the project even more than the bottom line carbon footprint of the systems. Compared to business/investment world, where there is a rush to have these metrics already, there was an acknowledgement of the complexity and the time it takes to develop reasonable claims and develop an ideal solution. We all felt the pressure to counteract the 2-degree warming that Wally predicts is a short 30-50 years away, but there was also a sense of due course and a reluctance to create new crazes like ethanol.
I’m leaving with a renewed sense that we are on the right track, guys. There’s plenty of work left to do and we’ll get it done.