Sunday, 3 June 2012

Communicating science - more difficult that you might think

The thought experiment goes, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, has it made a sound?"

Similarly, if science achieves a breakthrough, but neither the public nor policy makers are able to understand or act on it; is there any real value in that body of work?

It is on this note that I wish to congratulate the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University and their 'Flame Challenge'. The aim was to describe a flame to an 11 year old. The original challenge is described here.

The winner is an American born Ben Ames who is currently studying for his PhD in Austria. His winning explanation, as judged by 6,000 11 year old students at 130 schools, may be found here.

Well done Ben and also to the CCS.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Are generation technologies equally considered?

I'm curious about your opinion. Please tick an answer in the poll to the right and share your thoughts below.

Are those who we trust to lead us properly considering the risk burden from spent nuclear fuel, unabated release of carbon dioxide, hydro station dam failure, and wind turbine installation and maintenance?

What about the risk of a nuclear accident vs. the failure of a fly ash storage pond?

Do those considerations justly and completely consider likelihood as well as consequence? Is this based on real events or estimates and calculations?

Sunday, 11 March 2012


Winston Churchill said, "If you're going through hell, keep going."

This applies to many Japanese over the past year, but - aside from those who lost family members or loved ones - none so much as the operators, management, technical staff and general support staff at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi and even Daini nuclear energy stations. If a conscious decision was made to ignore warnings of credible tsunami, if regulators were cajoled, or if any privileged deals were cut; employees at the plants would have had little knowledge, let alone direct involvement.

Yet, for the past year, following a series of events beyond their control, they endured incredible hardship with perseverance and demonstrated extreme loyalty to their profession and their communities.

My sincere thanks to them for demonstrating the core values, spirit and dedication of a nuclear energy station operator. And to their families who shared in the sacrifice and stress of navigating the unknown.

They are heroes. Over time, details depicting the magnitude of their endeavour will be better understood by the world.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

UN report on Sustainability

A final draft of Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A future worth choosing, a report of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability has been released.

First, statistics
20 per cent of the world’s population lack access to electricity
Water and sanitation
884 million people lack access to clean water
2.6 billion people are without access to basic sanitation [more than 1 in 3 people]
Some excerpts of interest:
As the global population grows from 7 billion to almost 9 billion by 2040, and the number of middle-class consumers increases by 3 billion over the next 20 years, the demand for resources will rise exponentially. By 2030, the world will need at least 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy and 30 per cent more water — all at a time when environmental boundaries are throwing up new limits to supply. This is true not least for climate change, which affects all aspects of human and planetary health.
It is critical that we embrace a new nexus between food, water and energy rather than treating them in different “silos”. All three need to be fully integrated, not treated separately if we are to deal with the global food security crisis. It is time to embrace a second green revolution — an “ever-green revolution” — that doubles yields but builds on sustainability principles;
Will this mark the start of an 'ever-green' movement? It's a US election year, I wager we'll hear this word a few times during 2012.
...the conjunction of a growing “global middle class” with unsustainable patterns of consumption threatens to push us inexorably towards the limits of natural resources and planetary life support systems — from food, water and energy resources to global systems such as the oceans, the climate and the nitrogen cycle. Without major changes, the planet’s capacity to support and sustain us will continue to degrade, with the potential for sudden shifts as key thresholds and tipping points are passed, and as social pressures for fairness increase.
Importantly, sustainable development is not a synonym for “environmental protection”. Instead, sustainable development is fundamentally about recognizing, understanding and acting on interconnections — above all those between the economy, society and the natural environment. Sustainable development is about seeing the whole picture — such as the critical links between food, water, land and energy. And it is about ensuring that our actions today are consistent with where we want to go tomorrow.
Similarly, resource scarcity — especially of energy, food, land, forests and water — has established itself firmly on Governments’ radar, and relates directly to the problem of unsustainable production and consumption patterns. Concerns about scarcity may recede at times if prices fall temporarily, but the underlying fundamentals — of rising demand for resources of all kinds, unsustainable use levels of both finite and renewable resources and inadequate (albeit growing) investment in systems for sustainable resource use — make it likely that scarcity and concerns over resource sustainability will once again move up the policy agenda before long.
There is an entire section on energy. The use of nuclear energy is not mentioned. No major complaints; I acknowledge the political reality in the wake of the accident in Japan. Many organizations worldwide are working to restore confidence in nuclear energy. A daunting task in a dire context.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

What's your point, what do you want?

I stumbled upon an interesting New York Times Dot Earth article by Andrew Revkin. The article describes communication strategies to affect change. The theme relates to a shift from the cerebral (no shortage of that in the blogosphere or elsewhere) to the visceral. Two presentations are linked from a recent WWF event. I've embedded them below.

I do not know the position of either on nuclear power and to be honest, I don't believe either is relevant. It is not their position I am advocating here, it's their method. Both speak from experience. Ideas that have been proven effective in the field deserve recognition and consideration going forward.

Intellectual appeals for reason - experience would suggest - are getting us nowhere fast.

The first is from Martin Palmer from the Aliance of Religions and Conservation. He advocates an approach that engages religious leaders worldwide as a means to affect real change.

The second is from Randy Olson - Wikipedia bio here. The short version is that he is a Harvard alumni with a PhD in Biology turned filmmaker. He speaks of the visceral and gives some good examples.