Why don’t scientists have more authority in government? | Robert Crease | TEDxCERN

There's a cartoon by Randall Munroe, the xkcd artist, that shows two people speaking and one says to the other, "That person over there believes silly things, like that fossils are fakes, and the world is only 6,000 years old." And the other person goes, "Not a problem, the Universe doesn't care what people believe." And the first person goes, "But that's our congressman." And the second person says, "OK, we have a problem." I love that joke because we do have a problem, we have congressmen who don't believe in things like fossils and evolution. But what's wrong with that? After all, they were elected. I'm going to say what's wrong with that, and what we can do about it, if anything. First of all, this is not what I thought 21st century politics was going to be like.

When I was a graduate student in the Humanities in the 1970s – the late 1970s – my professors thundered against what they called the coming technocratic state. "Politicians," they said, "would soon not care about human values but only about efficiency." "Politicians," they said, "would soon not listen to citizens but only to scientists and engineers. If only! Never before have there been so many issues that required so much scientific input to solve. Issues involving energy, the environment, infectious diseases, pollution, global warming, and so forth. But never before has the required scientific input been so sabotaged, misused, or ignored. Politicians sometimes even view scientists as the enemy. Is that over the top? Few years ago, a US Congressman, Paul Broun of Georgia, declared that evolution, embryology, and the Big Bang theory were lies straight from the pit of hell, and said that he knew the Universe was only a few thousand years old. And what is supposed to happen to him? He not only got reelected but he was put on the House Committee in charge of the United States' Science, [Space] and Technology Program.

How does science denial work? I'm fascinated by stories, both real and fictional, which illustrate the dynamics of the collision between science and social, economic, or religious values. And one of my favorites is in the movie Jaws. Has anyone seen it? Small seaside town that depends for its livelihood on tourism. The day before the first major holiday of the season, a woman's badly mangled body washes up onshore. A scientist from the Oceanographic Institute, played by the nerdy Richard Dreyfuss, says, "It's a shark!" The town's mayor, who is terrified at the prospect of closing the beaches, says, 'We have to be reasonable, we have to act in the town's best interest. It was probably a boating accident." And, by the way, isn't Richard Dreyfuss acting in his own self-interest? Isn't he really interested in getting into the pages of National Geographic? Now, we in the audience, we, watching the film, are in a special position. Unlike anyone in the film at the point, we have actually seen the shark.

So we know what's up, and we know whom to believe. But what about the people on film? What about the people in the town? To them, it seems like just a question of the judgment of one person, Richard Dreyfuss, versus the other, the town's mayor. Now, when science denial happens, it's really easy – whoops, I forgot to show you my picture of the shark – when science denial happens, it's really easy to try to find a villain to blame it on. The press, scientific illiteracy, maybe what sociologists call amoral calculators, or people who know what the right thing to do is but are swayed by political, economic, or religious factors. Or villains, people who know what the good is, but don't do it. But really, it's a question of authority. Why is the authority of science in government so low? Someone who thought about that an awful lot was Jack Marburger, the former US Presidential Science Adviser. And Marburger liked to tell the following story.

Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attack, – you might recall – someone sent letters containing deadly anthrax spores to a number of congressmen and to some news agencies; five people died and more were injured. And mail became piling up that might or might not contain anthrax. And Marburger was asked to come up with a method to neutralize the anthrax so that the letters could be read. He convened a team of scientists, they did some research, consulted the literature, and came up with the recommendation involving electron beam irradiation. He turned the method over to the government, and it looked like a triumph of the use of science for the public good. But a funny thing happened, when the method was first tried, it didn't work. It burned the mail to a crisp. And Marburger looked into it, and found that the government officials had second guessed the scientists.

They had reasoned that if the scientists had said that X was the right dose, wouldn't it be a lot safer to up the dose? To make it 5X or 10X. And when he had the dose scaled back, the method worked just fine. Marbuger called this a relatively benign instance of a potentially disastrous behavior. Namely, the tendency of government officials to ignore, or alter scientific advice. And he had more serious examples, such as the Bush administration's claim in 2002, that the Iraqi government was looking for a certain kind of aluminium tubes because they wanted to produce nuclear weapons, which scientists said was wrong. But after Marburger stepped down as science adviser, he began to investigate why is science such a weak force in government circles? He consulted the writings of Max Weber, a German sociologist and historian, who is well-known for his writings on the nature of authority, or the reasons why we obey commands that were issued by others. And Weber distinguished between three kinds of authority: traditional, legal-rational, and charismatic.

Traditional authority is the authority of age-old practices, it's the authority of the village elders. Legal-rational authority is grounded in the belief and the legitimacy of enacted rules; it is the authority of the law. Charismatic authority is grounded in the perception that certain individuals have exceptional powers or are able to do exceptional things that no one else could. And Weber said charismatic authority was irrational, but it is one of the few means that politicians have to take people on new paths. Think of Martin Luther King, or Mahatma Gandhi, or Winston Churchill. Which of these three is science? Not the first two; no society is traditionally scientific, and no country mandates that its laws be grounded in science. So Marbuger concluded that the authority of science in government circles was charismatic. That is, politicians consider scientists authoritative to the extent they perceive them as having special powers or being able to do special things; create new kinds of bombs that couldn't be done otherwise.

Scientists, and probably many of you, think that this is crazy. Isn't it because science is not grounded in charisma that we can rely on it? And isn't a scientific finding not someone's particular opinion but the product of a huge infrastructure, a collective set of institutions that involve a collective set of procedures like analysis, data, testing, and so forth? True, but Marbuger's point was that's the way it might look from the inside, but from the outside, it may look like one person's judgment against another. Richard Dreyfuss's opinion versus the town mayor's. I know what you're probably all thinking. You're thinking, 'Oh no, I'm about to say that the solution for the problem of the low authority science has in government is to make scientists more charismatic. Make them great performers, maybe bring in scientific star power, maybe we can get Beyoncé or Angelina Jolie to promote science. And doesn't this cheapen science?' I agree with you. Fortunately, there's a fourth kind of authority that Weber doesn't mention, and that is trust. Trust is a powerful force in politics, it's much more powerful than data.

And when we trust science, we aren't trusting one person's viewpoint, one person's opinion, we are trusting the entire scientific infrastructure. So the long range solution for the low authority that science has in government is to increase the trust that politicians have in the scientific infrastructure, and what happens in laboratories like this one. But that is not easy. And there are some very serious problems, one of which is that the infrastructure tends to withdraw into the background, it tends to become invisible. A few years ago, a US congressman said, "Why do we need Landsat satellites for when we have Google Earth?" (Laughter) It's easy to use the products of science, Google Earth, without even seeing the infrastructure the Landsat satellites that make it possible. And it's because the infrastructure tends to withdraw that leaves the vacuum for these other forces: social, political, and religious to come in.

There are other problems, too. Another is that scientific institutions can make mistakes. And people can seize on these mistakes, and exploit them in order to undermine trust in science. I call these people "social lagos," after Shakespeare's character in Othello, who advances his career by sowing distrust. And the third problem is simply time. Trust takes time to develop. And the speed of political decision making moves much quicker than the speed of trust development. OK so are there any little things we can do in the meantime? And there are a few, and they involve exposing how bad decision making tends to be if it doesn't trust the scientific infrastructure. And one method is humor. Here at CERN, you may recall The Daily Show episode a few years ago about the possibility that your accelerator, the LHC would produce a black hole that would destroy the Universe, anybody see that? The amazing thing about that episode was that even though it extensively took the threat seriously, a viewer came away, not only reassured but also with a pretty good idea just what was feeding the hype. Humor is a great way of exposing the magical thinking involved in shark denial.

A second method is to get nasty and aggressive. The next time a politician says they don't believe in evolution, let's demand that that politician take a pledge saying they will refuse, and will insist that their constituents refuse, any medical treatment whose development was based on evolutionary biology. The president of my university, whose specialty is infectious diseases likes to say that microbes and viruses are evolution in motion. In light of the Ebola plague, isn't any legislator who doesn't believe in evolution, and therefore, in the value of doing research into it, an urgent public health threat? Making these pledges, and you can concoct different kinds of pledges for different kinds of science denial, is a way of saying, "Science walks the walk, do you?" How strong are your other commitments? And a final thing we can do is tell parables. Parables are short stories, which are very accessible, with a built-in meaning. And parables tend to circulate and become part of the cultural common sense. Let's multiply the parables we have about how bad decision making is if it doesn't trust the scientific infrastructure.

The relatively benign parables, like the postal service story, or very serious ones, like the aluminium tubes equals the desire to produce nuclear weapons parable. Let's point to episodes like those in Jaws. Let's write and stage more plays like Ibsen's play "Enemy of the people," which is the granddad of the genre. And what these parables do is to point out how silly it is to try and to make the shark go away by magical thinking. If we do all of these things, all of the time, we might not change the mind of the politician in the xkcd cartoon, but I think we will begin to change the climate in which they get elected. And our challenge, in the long run, is to find ways to make more visible the scientific infrastructure, what happens in laboratories like this one, that make very explicit the source of its authority, and therefore, why it can be trusted. Thank you. (Applause).

Life is easy. Why do we make it so hard? | Jon Jandai | TEDxDoiSuthep

There is one phrase that I have always wanted to say to everyone in my life. That phrase is "Life is easy." It's so easy and fun. I never thought like that before. When I was in Bangkok, I felt like life is very hard, very complicated. I was born in a poor village on the Northeastern of Thailand And when I was a kid, everything was fun and easy, but when the TV came, many people came to the village, they said, "You are poor, you need to chase success in your life. You need to go to Bangkok to pursue success in your life." So I felt bad, I felt poor. So I needed to go to Bangkok. When I went to Bangkok, it was not very fun. You need to learn, study a lot and work very hard, and then you can get success. I worked very hard, eight hours per day at least, but all I could eat was just a bowl of noodles per meal, or some Tama dish of fried rice or something like that. And where I stayed was very bad, a small room where a lot of people slept.

It was very hot. I started to question a lot. When I work hard, why is my life so hard? It must be something wrong, because I produce a lot of things, but I cannot get enough. And I tried to learn, I tried to study. I tried to study in the university. It's very hard to learn in university, because it's very boring. (Laughter) And when I looked at subjects in the university, in every faculty, most of them had destructive knowledge. There's no productive knowledge in university for me. If you learn to be an architect or engineer, that means you ruin more. The more these people work, the mountain will be destroyed more. And a good land in Chao Praya Basin will be covered with concrete more and more. We destroy more. If we go to agriculture faculty or something like that, that means we learn how to poison, to poison the land, the water, and learn to destroy everything. I feel like everything we do is so complicated, so hard.

We just make everything hard. Life was so hard and I felt disappointed. I started to think about, why did I have to be in Bangkok? I thought about when I was a kid, nobody worked eight hours per day, everybody worked two hours, two months a year, planting rice one month and harvesting the rice another month. The rest is free time, ten months of free time. That's why people have so many festivals in Thailand, every month they have festival. (Laughter) Because they have so much free time. And then in the daytime, everyone even takes a nap. Even now in Laos, go to Laos if you can, people take a nap after lunch. And after they wake up, they just gossip, how's your son-in-law, how's your wife, daughter-in-law. People have a lot of time, but because they have a lot of time, they have time to be with themselves. And when they have time to be with themselves, they have time to understand themselves. When they understand themselves, they can see what they want in their life.

So, many people see that they want happiness, they want love, they want to enjoy their life. So, people see a lot of beauty in their life, so they express that beauty in many ways. Some people by carving the handle of their knife, very beautiful, they weave the baskets very nicely. But, now, nobody does that. Nobody can do something like that. People use plastic everywhere. So, I feel like it's something wrong in there, I cannot live this way I'm living. So, I decided to quit University, and went back home. When I went back home, I started to live like I remember, like when I was a kid. I started to work two months a year. I got four tons of rice. And the whole family, six people, we eat less than half a ton per year. So we can sell some rice. I took two ponds, two fish ponds. We have fish to eat all year round. And I started a small garden.

Less than half an acre. And I spend 15 minutes per day to take care of the garden. I have more than 30 varieties of vegetables in the garden. So, six people cannot eat all of it. We have a surplus to sell in the market. We can make some income, too. So, I feel like, it's easy, why did I have to be in Bangkok for seven years, working hard and then not have enough to eat, but here, only two months a year and 15 minutes per day I can feed six people. That's easy. And before I thought that stupid people like me who never got a good grade at school, cannot have a house. Because people who are cleverer than me, who are number one in the class every year, they get a good job, but they need to work more than 30 years to have a house. But me, who cannot finish university, how could I have a house? Hopeless for people who have low education, like me.

But, then I started to do earthly building, it's so easy. I spend two hours per day, from 5 o'clock in the morning, until 7 o'clock in the morning, two hours per day. And in three months, I got a house. And another friend who's the most clever in the class, he spent three months to build his house, too. But, he had to be in debt. He had to pay for his debt for 30 years. So, compared to him, I have 29 years and 10 months of free time. (Laughter) So, I feel that life is so easy. I never thought I could build a house as easy as that. And I keep building a house every year, at least one house every year. Now, I have no money, but I have many houses. (Laughter) My problem is in which house I will sleep tonight. (Laughter) So, a house is not a problem, anybody can build a house.

The kids, 13 years old, at the school, they make bricks together, they make a house. After one month, they have a library. The kids can make a house, a very old nun can build a hut for herself. Many people can build a house. So, it's easy. If you don't believe me, try it. If somebody wants to have a house. And then, the next thing is clothing. I felt like I'm poor, like I'm not handsome. I tried to dress like somebody else, like a movie star. To make myself look good, look better. I spent one month to save money to buy a pair of jeans. When I wore them, I turned left, I turned right, looked in the mirror. Every time I look, I am the same person. The most expensive pants cannot change my life. I felt like I'm so crazy, why did I have to buy them? Spend one month to have a pair of pants. It doesn't change me. I started to think more about that. Why do we need to follow fashion? Because, when we follow fashion, we never catch up with it, because we follow it.

So, don't follow it, just stay here. (Laughter) Use what you have. So, after that, until now, 20 years, I have never bought any clothes. All the clothes I have are leftovers from people. When people come to visit me, and when they leave, they leave a lot of clothes there. So, I have tons of clothes now. (Laughter) And when people see me wear very old clothes, they give me more clothes. (Laughter) So, my problem is, I need to give clothes to people very often. (Laughter) So, it's so easy. And when I stopped buying clothes, I felt like, it's not only clothes, it's about something else in my life, What I learned is that when I buy something, and I think about, I buy it because I like it, or I buy it because I need it. So, if I buy it because I like it, that means I'm wrong. So, I feel more free when I think like this. And the last thing is, when I get sick, what will I do? I really worried in the beginning, because then I had no money.

But, I started to contemplate more. Normally, sickness is a normal thing, it's not a bad thing. Sickness is something to remind us that we did something wrong in our lives, that's why we got sick. So, when I get sick, I need to stop and come back to myself. And think about it, what I did was wrong. So, I learned how to use water to heal myself, how to use earth to heal myself, I learned how to use basic knowledge to heal myself. So, now that I rely on myself in these four things, I feel like life is very easy, I feel something like freedom, I feel free. I feel like I don't worry about anything much, I have less fear, I can do whatever I want in my life. Before, I had a lot of fear, I could not do anything. But, now I feel very free, like I'm a unique person on this Earth, nobody like me, I don't need to make myself like anybody else. I'm the number one.

So, things like this make it easy, very light. And, after that, I started to think about that when I was in Bangkok, I felt very dark in my life. I started to think that many people maybe thought like me at the time. So, we started a place called "Pun Pun" in Chiang Mai. The main aim is just saving seed. To collect seed, because seed is food, food is life. If there is no seed, no life. No seed, no freedom. No seed, no happiness. Because your life depends on somebody else. Because you have no food. So, it's very important to save seed. That's why we focus on saving seed. That's the main thing in Pun Pun. And the second thing is it is the learning center. We want to have a center for ourselves to learn, learn how to make life easy. Because we were taught to make life complicated and hard all the time. How can we make it easy? It's easy, but we don't know how to make it easy anymore. Because we always make it complicated and now, we start to learn, and learn to be together.

Because, we were taught to disconnect ourselves from everything else, to be independent, so we can rely on the money only. We don't need to rely on each other. But now, to be happy, we need to come back, to connect to ourselves again, to connect to other people, to connect our mind and body together again. So, we can be happy. Life is easy. And from beginning until now, what I learned is the four basic needs: food, house, clothes and medicine must be cheap and easy for everybody, that's the civilization. But, if you make these four things hard and very hard for many people to get, that's uncivilized. So, now when we look at everywhere around us, everything is so hard to get. I feel like now is the most uncivilized era of humans on this Earth. We have so many people who finish university, have so many universities on the Earth, have so many clever people on this Earth. But, life is harder and harder. We make it hard for whom? We work hard for whom right now? I feel like it's wrong, it's not normal.

So, I just want to come back to normal. To be a normal person, to be equal to animals. The birds make a nest in one or two days. The rats dig a hole in one night. But, the clever humans like us spend 30 years to have a house, and many people can't believe that they can have a house in this life. So, that's wrong. Why do we destroy our spirit, why do we destroy our ability that much? So, I feel that it's enough for me, to live in the normal way, in the abnormal way. So, now I try to be normal. But, people look at me as the abnormal one. (Laughter) A crazy person. But, I don't care, because it's not my fault. It's their fault, they think like that. So, my life is easy and light now. That's enough for me. People can think whatever they want. I cannot manage anything outside myself. What I can do is change my mind, manage my mind. Now, my mind is light and easy, that's enough. If anybody wants to have a choice, you can have a choice.

The choice to be easy or to be hard, it depends on you. Thank you. (Applause).

Art made of the air we breathe | Emily Parsons-Lord

Translator: Camille Martínez Reviewer: Krystian Aparta If I asked you to picture the air, what do you imagine? Most people think about either empty space or clear blue sky or sometimes trees dancing in the wind. And then I remember my high school chemistry teacher with really long socks at the blackboard, drawing diagrams of bubbles connected to other bubbles, and describing how they vibrate and collide in a kind of frantic soup. But really, we tend not to think about the air that much at all. We notice it mostly when there's some kind of unpleasant sensory intrusion upon it, like a terrible smell or something visible like smoke or mist. But it's always there. It's touching all of us right now. It's even inside us. Our air is immediate, vital and intimate. And yet, it's so easily forgotten. So what is the air? It's the combination of the invisible gases that envelop the Earth, attracted by the Earth's gravitational pull. And even though I'm a visual artist, I'm interested in the invisibility of the air.

I'm interested in how we imagine it, how we experience it and how we all have an innate understanding of its materiality through breathing. All life on Earth changes the air through gas exchange, and we're all doing it right now. Actually, why don't we all right now together take one big, collective, deep breath in. Ready? In. (Inhales) And out. (Exhales) That air that you just exhaled, you enriched a hundred times in carbon dioxide. So roughly five liters of air per breath, 17 breaths per minute of the 525,600 minutes per year, comes to approximately 45 million liters of air, enriched 100 times in carbon dioxide, just for you. Now, that's equivalent to about 18 Olympic-sized swimming pools. For me, air is plural. It's simultaneously as small as our breathing and as big as the planet. And it's kind of hard to picture.

Maybe it's impossible, and maybe it doesn't matter. Through my visual arts practice, I try to make air, not so much picture it, but to make it visceral and tactile and haptic. I try to expand this notion of the aesthetic, how things look, so that it can include things like how it feels on your skin and in your lungs, and how your voice sounds as it passes through it. I explore the weight, density and smell, but most importantly, I think a lot about the stories we attach to different kinds of air. This is a work I made in 2014. It's called "Different Kinds of Air: A Plant's Diary," where I was recreating the air from different eras in Earth's evolution, and inviting the audience to come in and breathe them with me. And it's really surprising, so drastically different.

Now, I'm not a scientist, but atmospheric scientists will look for traces in the air chemistry in geology, a bit like how rocks can oxidize, and they'll extrapolate that information and aggregate it, such that they can pretty much form a recipe for the air at different times. Then I come in as the artist and take that recipe and recreate it using the component gases. I was particularly interested in moments of time that are examples of life changing the air, but also the air that can influence how life will evolve, like Carboniferous air. It's from about 300 to 350 million years ago. It's an era known as the time of the giants. So for the first time in the history of life, lignin evolves. That's the hard stuff that trees are made of. So trees effectively invent their own trunks at this time, and they get really big, bigger and bigger, and pepper the Earth, releasing oxygen, releasing oxygen, releasing oxygen, such that the oxygen levels are about twice as high as what they are today.

And this rich air supports massive insects — huge spiders and dragonflies with a wingspan of about 65 centimeters. To breathe, this air is really clean and really fresh. It doesn't so much have a flavor, but it does give your body a really subtle kind of boost of energy. It's really good for hangovers. (Laughter) Or there's the air of the Great Dying — that's about 252.5 million years ago, just before the dinosaurs evolve. It's a really short time period, geologically speaking, from about 20- to 200,000 years. Really quick. This is the greatest extinction event in Earth's history, even bigger than when the dinosaurs died out. Eighty-five to 95 percent of species at this time die out, and simultaneous to that is a huge, dramatic spike in carbon dioxide, that a lot of scientists agree comes from a simultaneous eruption of volcanoes and a runaway greenhouse effect. Oxygen levels at this time go to below half of what they are today, so about 10 percent.

So this air would definitely not support human life, but it's OK to just have a breath. And to breathe, it's oddly comforting. It's really calming, it's quite warm and it has a flavor a little bit like soda water. It has that kind of spritz, quite pleasant. So with all this thinking about air of the past, it's quite natural to start thinking about the air of the future. And instead of being speculative with air and just making up what I think might be the future air, I discovered this human-synthesized air. That means that it doesn't occur anywhere in nature, but it's made by humans in a laboratory for application in different industrial settings. Why is it future air? Well, this air is a really stable molecule that will literally be part of the air once it's released, for the next 300 to 400 years, before it's broken down. So that's about 12 to 16 generations.

And this future air has some very sensual qualities. It's very heavy. It's about eight times heavier than the air we're used to breathing. It's so heavy, in fact, that when you breathe it in, whatever words you speak are kind of literally heavy as well, so they dribble down your chin and drop to the floor and soak into the cracks. It's an air that operates quite a lot like a liquid. Now, this air comes with an ethical dimension as well. Humans made this air, but it's also the most potent greenhouse gas that has ever been tested. Its warming potential is 24,000 times that of carbon dioxide, and it has that longevity of 12 to 16 generations. So this ethical confrontation is really central to my work. (In a lowered voice) It has another quite surprising quality. It changes the sound of your voice quite dramatically. (Laughter) So when we start to think — ooh! It's still there a bit.

(Laughter) When we think about climate change, we probably don't think about giant insects and erupting volcanoes or funny voices. The images that more readily come to mind are things like retreating glaciers and polar bears adrift on icebergs. We think about pie charts and column graphs and endless politicians talking to scientists wearing cardigans. But perhaps it's time we start thinking about climate change on the same visceral level that we experience the air. Like air, climate change is simultaneously at the scale of the molecule, the breath and the planet. It's immediate, vital and intimate, as well as being amorphous and cumbersome. And yet, it's so easily forgotten. Climate change is the collective self-portrait of humanity. It reflects our decisions as individuals, as governments and as industries. And if there's anything I've learned from looking at air, it's that even though it's changing, it persists.

It may not support the kind of life that we'd recognize, but it will support something. And if we humans are such a vital part of that change, I think it's important that we can feel the discussion. Because even though it's invisible, humans are leaving a very vibrant trace in the air. Thank you. (Applause).

Climate change is simple: David Roberts at TEDxTheEvergreenStateCollege

Hi, this talk started out of a Twitter conversation. I haven’t decided whether to be embarrassed about that or not. But I was on Twitter one day and a relatively prominent left of centre pundit, piped up and said “You know, climate change seems like a really big deal, why are so few people talking about it? Why have so few thought leaders made it their signature issue?” And another reasonably prominent left of centre pundit piped up and said “Well, for my part, the reason I don’t talk about it is it seems really complicated, I don’t feel like I have a good grasp on all the science and so I just don’t feel qualified to go out and assert things publicly about it.” You know, anybody who has ever so much as mentioned climate change on television or on the internet will understand why this person thinks the way they do.

Any time you mention it, the hordes descend, bearing complicated stories about the medieval ice age, or sunspots, or water vapour, and, you know, there is a lot of myths about climate change borne by these climate sceptics but to debunk those myths you have to know, you know, you have to go online, and research, and read, and be able to respond to them in detail, and a lot of people just find that prospect dreary, and so they don’t bother. And this, of course, drives me crazy, so I piped up on Twitter and said “You know, climate change is not actually that complicated. What you need to know to be able to speak out publicly about it, just about the basic structure of the problem, is really not that complicated, I could explain it to you in 15 minutes” so, let this be a lesson to you: don’t go talk smack on Twitter, unless you are willing to back it up. So, one thing led to another, and here I am with 15 minutes to explain climate change to you.

So, let’s get started. Why is the Earth not a cold dead rock floating in space? The reason is that it is enveloped by this tiny, tiny thin layer of gases and chemicals that we call our atmosphere. So, the Sun’s energy, rather than just coming down and bouncing right back off, it comes down and is held close to the surface of the Earth for a while and then bounces off, and then this simple process is why we have evaporation, and precipitation, and photosynthesis, and life on our planet. So, scientists discovered, well over a hundred years ago, that the atmosphere and the systems on Earth are in this dynamic relationship and you can change the chemical composition of the atmosphere and hold more of the Sun’s energy for longer. The energy still has to escape, of course, but in the meantime it will cause changes in these biophysical systems of the Earth. And, you know, you often hear people say, “The Earth has always changed, the climate has always changed”, and that’s true, it has. This relationship between the atmosphere and the systems, they go through cycles, but these cycles have typically taken hundreds of thousand of years, millions of years.

The key thing to know first is that for the last 10,000 years on Earth, the climate has been relatively stable, unusually stable, and by stable I mean temperature has varied, it’s gone up and down, but it’s stayed on a fairly narrow band of about plus or minus 1 degree Celsius, and all of advanced human civilisation has taken place during these 10,000 years, the development of agriculture, the written word, the wheel, the iPhone, everything we know, everything we have built, we have done in this period of relative climate stability. So, what we have been doing for the last couple of hundred years is digging up carbon out of the earth, and throwing it up into the atmosphere, and changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere, like has happened in the past except for extremely faster. In geological time, the blink of an eye, we are substantially changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere and all of climate science has been about, “What’s going to happen? What is the Earth going to do in response to this?” And so, we’ve already seen that the process is underway, we have measured, we have witnessed, observed with our eyes and our thermometers about a 0.

8ºC rise in global average temperature since before the industrial age, since before we started digging all this carbon up. And this may not seem like a lot — less than 1ºC — but the thing to know about it is these greenhouse gases we throw up stay in the atmosphere for a very long time, there are very long time lags involved here so this 0.8º temperature rise is a response to what we were doing 50-100 years ago, and what we see in the first half of this century will be a response to what we’ve done in the last 50 years and what we’ll see in the latter half of this century will be a response to decisions we make today. So the question is, “Temperature’s rising, how high does it have to rise before we need to worry, before we’re in danger, before bad things start happening?” The typical answer to this question has been “2ºC.” Anyone who has followed climate change discussions knows that this 2º number has taken on a kind of iconic quality.

Typically, climate scientists who model impacts of what’s going to happen, model 2ºC rise, typically economists who try to model what it would cost to do something about climate change or what it’s worth or what various policies would cost, model 2º centigrade. So obviously, what counts as not dangerous vs dangerous, is not a hard scientific question, it’s a political question, and this was a political decision to take this 2C number, mainly made by European climate negotiators well over 10 years ago, and it’s just sort of stuck since then. All the countries involved in climate negotiations have basically signed on saying “Yes, this is what we want to avoid, 2ºC temperature rise.” The bad news on this 2C number is twofold: first of all, all the latest science done in the last 10-15 years has pointed to the conclusion that those impacts we thought were going to happen around 2ºC are in fact going to happen much earlier than that, the climate is more sensitive to these added greenhouse gases than we thought. So, if those were the impacts we were worried about, then the real threshold of safety ought to be something like 1.

5ºC. James Hansen is the climate scientist most famously known for raising these warnings, but it’s a growing scientific consensus that 2º is, in fact, dangerously high, which is bad, because we are almost certainly going to blow past 2ºC. There’s some reason to believe a recent study said that even if we stopped our carbon emissions tomorrow, we’re still going to get more than 3º this century just from momentum from the previous emissions. But stopping at 2º now would take a level of global coordination and ambition that is nowhere in evidence. So, a lot of climate scientists don’t really want to tell you this because they don’t want to depress you, but I am just a blogger, so I am happy to depress you: 2ºC is probably off the table. So, then the question becomes “Well, what would it look like if temperature goes higher than that? What would, say, 4ºC look like?” Oddly, there hadn’t really been a lot of concerted scientific attention to that question because climate scientists honestly thought we wouldn’t do that to ourselves, but we are doing it to ourselves.

So, in 2009, several climate change research groups in England drew together a group of scientists, commissioned some papers and had them really take a hard look for the first time. What would 4ºC look like? There are a lot of papers, a lot of equations, a lot of talk and complexity I have hopefully paraphrased here for you, to make it easier to grasp. 4ºC temperature rise would look ugly. Among other things, that would be the hottest the Earth has been in 30 million years. Sea-levels would rise at least 3-6 feet, and this excludes some really tail end possibilities, but 3-6 feet at least. And persistent drought would cover about 40% of the currently occupied land on Earth, which would wreak havoc on agriculture in East Asia, Africa, South America, Western US. Well this combined will produce hundreds of millions of people who have been driven from their homes either by their cities being swamped by sea-level rise or by hunger or by all the attended ills that come along with those things.

And, to boot, probably somewhere around half of the known species on Earth would go extinct. This question of pinning down the exact number of species is very difficult, this is very much an approximation, but some substantial chunk of life on Earth would be wiped out. The final bit of bad news… that’s not true, there’s more bad news to come, a middle bit of bad news is that, according to a recent paper by the International Energy Agency, we are currently on track — if we keep doing what we are now doing, if we go on with business as usual, as it’s called — we are now on track for 6ºC temperature rise this century; something, 5-7, these are obviously estimations. So, if 4º is hell on Earth, I’ll let your imaginations filling the blanks on 6º but, one danger that comes up when we contemplate going this high with our temperature is the possibility that climate change will become irreversable.

I think when people typically think about climate change, they think, “Oh, temperature is going to rise X amount, circumstances will change, some places will get warmer, some places will get wetter, we’ll adjust, we’ll move our farms around, people will migrate from one city to another, we’ll get resettled and we’ll go on with life. The really dangerous possibility is that what are called — the Earth has several of what are called positive feedback systems, so, for instance, in Siberia there is this permanent ice, the permafrost and it contains a bunch of methane in it. As it melts, it releases that methane, the methane causes more warming, which melts more ice, which releases more methane, it’s a self-sustaining process; or sea ice melts, ice is white, it reflects energy, when it melts becomes dark blue and absorbs more energy, which heats the oceans, which melts more ice, which creates more dark surfaces.

You see, there’s a number of these systems that are self-perpetuating, and the danger, the great danger of climate change, that towers above all these other more specific dangers, is that these positive feedback systems will take on a momentum of their own that becomes unstoppable, and human beings will lose any ability to control it at all, even if we’d stop all our climate emissions on a dime. Will that happen at 2º? Probably not though there is a real chance of it and there is a lot of debate about that; will it happen at 4º? Well, it looks a lot more likely at 4º. Will it happen at 6º? Almost certainly. So, if we continue on our present course, climate change will probably take on a life of its own, spiral out of control and, according to a recent paper, by 2300, we could see temperature rise of up to 12ºC.

Now if that happened, something like half the Earth’s currently inhabited land would become too hot to survive on; and when I say too hot to survive on I don’t mean it’s difficult to grow beans or air conditioning bills are inconveniently high, I mean if you go outside you die of hotness. I mean, places that were an average of 80ºF would be now an average of 170-180ºF, literally too hot for human beings to go outside and survive. So, will there still be human civilization under those circumstances? Who knows, I mean, maybe we’ll live in underground climate controlled caves, maybe we’ll grow food in test tubes, but that wouldn’t look anything like Earth as we now know it, it would look a lot more like Newt Gingrich’s moon colony, assuming any human beings, or at least enough to make a civilization survived in those circumstances. So, when I say “Climate change is simple.” — I know this has been bugging you, you are not used to thinking in Celsius, those strange European metric temperatures, so here is good American Fahrenheit, it’s just as ugly. So this is what I mean by climate change being simple: There are many complicated and fascinating discussions to be had about what to do about it, or about what effect our actions might have on the climate and when, or which policies are best based on cost benefit analyses.

There is complexity, plenty of complexity, for those of you who like complexity, but we now know to a fair degree of certainty that if we keep doing what we are now doing, we will face unthinkable catastrophe; that’s the bumper sticker, that’s the take home message, and that, you know, saying “I don’t want to talk about that because I don’t know the ins and outs” is like saying, “I don’t want to raise alarms about Hitler’s army being a hundred miles out, because I don’t know the thread count of their uniforms, or, I don’t know the average calorie intake of a German soldier.” You don’t need to know those things to be scared that the army’s on the march and to raise alarms about it.

Similarly, if we keep doing what we are now doing, we are screwed, this we know now. To stabilize temperature, and I don’t mean stabilize temperature at 2º, or 4º, or 6º, I mean to ever have a hope of ever again having a stable temperature, of any kind, global climate change emissions need to peak, stop growing, peak and start falling rapidly in the next 5-10 years. Every year we do not get started on this, we add, according to the International Energy Agency, an extra 500 billion, with a B, dollars to the price tag of what it is going to cost us to do this, eventually, every year we wait. That’s $500 billion down the drain. Now, you and I look around at current politics, particularly US politics, and massive coordinated intelligent ambitious action does not strike us as particularly plausible. In fact, it might strike us as impossible, but that is where we are, stuck between the impossible and the unthinkable.

So, your job, anyone who hears this, for the rest of your life, your job is to make the impossible possible. Thank you! (Applause).

TEDxCalgary – Donna Kennedy Glans – Volunteering: The Next Generation

In the last few years, we've learned a lot about the human brain, and scientists can even point to a so-called "compassion gene". But really, why and how do people move from thinking about me to thinking about we? There's no magic formula and there's no compassion supplement that you can take, although that would be great new space for energy drinks. There is just a lot we don't know about volunteering. But there is one certainty. We know that the community is where divisions between the self and the whole can be reconciled. So how can we do volunteering better to foster, even accelerate, this integration of all these MEs into WE? To explore this question, I want to look at volunteering past, present, and future. I want you to think about how your parents, and for some of you, your grandparents volunteered. I want to think about how we volunteer today and I want to extrapolate into the future.

And I want to do this by breaking volunteering down into easier, bite-size pieces. I want to talk about the WHAT we do, the HOW we do it and the WHY. And that's not a linear; that's a pulsing cycle. What do we do as volunteers? What sectors do we work in? How do we do this work? What values do we bring? And why? What motivates us? I grew up on a farm. My parents volunteered in our rural community. The church was the hub of their volunteer work. They'd organize church suppers, they'd look after the ill; they'd look after the building itself, they taught Sunday school. How did they do this work? Human to human. They were very low key, it was grass-roots, pure grass-roots. Why did they do it? They did it out of a sense of Christian duty. I heard the word "duty" a lot when I grew up.

They also had a sense of responsibility to embed those values in their children. So, fast forward to today. How do my husband and I raise three children and volunteer in the city of Calgary? Well, my husband coaches hockey, and I taught quite a few Sunday school classes. That sort of sounds familiar. And yet there are huge differences. Not only do my husband and I volunteer weekends and evenings, we also volunteer as part of our jobs. Lots of for-profit companies do this. This is a tube of toothpaste from Toms of Maine. And right here on the package it says: "What makes a product good? At Toms it includes how we make it. 5%, twelve days of employee time to volunteering." But that's not all that's changed. My parents volunteered in the geographic community that they were part of, in the small faith community that they lived in. Shared values were just assumed in that geographic space.

Today, volunteering has gone exponential, it's gone global. I worked in the international energy sector and I worked in a lot of countries. And one of those countries was a very poor, muslim majority country, Yemen. No doubt you've heard about Yemen in the news. Their Arab Spring is dragging on and on. A decade ago, this country's leaders were looking at constructive change and they were even looking at ways to integrate women into professions and bring them into a predominantly male workforce. And they invited people like me, outsiders, to support that work. I founded Bridges Social Development in 2002, to take Canadian Calgarians, nurses, doctors, midwives, teachers, lawyers, journalists to Yemen, to do that work. So that takes me to the HOW of volunteering.

Has the HOW of volunteering changed all that much? Well, one of the big changes that I've noticed is the expectation of professionalism and the focus on risk. When my father volunteered to coach my sister and I in softball, all he had to demonstrate was interest and availability. Today, to coach minor hockey, we're talking minor hockey in the city of Calgary, my husband has to demonstrate absolute knowledge of the game, the ability to coach. He has to stay abreast of issues like the correlation between body checking and concussions and he needs to subscribe rigidly to the harassment policy of the league. The other big change from my parents' generation: they were insiders, they worked with a community whose values they knew.

Today, when we do this work, we're often outsiders. Now look at that blond hair in there! We're visible outsiders in a place like Yemen. And when you're an outsider volunteering, it changes the HOW incredibly. You have to be invited. You HAVE TO be invited. You have to talk about values. And you have to collaborate. You just have no choice — even at minimum, with the local champions or whoever has invited you in. Over the years, Bridges has partnered with a variety of organizations, large for-profit companies, small NGOs, local community leaders, young and old, multilateral organizations like the UN, faith leaders, government partners. This picture here is from the island of Socotra. It's offshore Yemen. And our health care training team there was a little bit surprised by the prevalence of cesarean births and deliveries. We did a lot of work with in-child care. And we were surprised by this.

When we found out the reason — 12 and 13 year old girls were having babies, we were absolutely shocked. But as outsiders, our saying anything would probably have been a negative. So what we did instead was work with our partners and the Minister of Health – there in that blue shirt-, and encouraged him to have dialogues with the tribal and the faith leaders, to talk about the issue of early marriage and convince them that it was good physically, let alone emotionally, for girls to wait until they were 15 or 16 to have children. And navigating these partnerships can be tough. This is hard work. It's touchy, sensitive. In 2005, I met a young Yemeni journalist named Touaco Carmen. She's there in the green head scarf. And she was anomalous. She belonged to the Isla party, one of the most conservative strands of Islam in that country, and yet she was advocating for gender equality and freedom of the press. She had just launched an organization called "Women Journalists Without Chains." And she wanted to partner with our organization Bridges. It was a bit of a startling experience. Could we collaborate with Women Journalists Without Chains and not get co-opted into advocacy? We did capacity building.

We spent a lot of time talking about values, talking about roles, and we ended up with an incredible partnership. And then there are times as an outsider volunteering when you know you just have to go, you have to leave. In 2008, Al Qaeda hit Yemen and started to target westerners. That was us! In 2009, our board of directors put a moratorium on travel to Yemen and we haven't been back since. It was very, very difficult for us. We mourned, it was like a loss. But the resilience of our organization was incredible. We did three things in direct response to that situation. First thing we did, we went to the neighboring country of Oman and we negotiated with them to take these Yemeni doctors there, to conclude their training in pediatric life support and project management. We went open source with all of our materials. You want any training program that we've got, you just go to our website, download it, and take it, and please use it.

And the third thing we did was set up a youth social entrepreneurial program focused on diaspora communities and aboriginal youth right here in Alberta. It took a really jarring event for Bridges to make these choices. I'm proud of these choices, but I'm also aware that great ideas can sometimes die because we focus so much on our organizations and not enough on the idea itself. Oops, I hit the wrong button. These stories give you some sense of the HOW and the WHY. You probably understand a little bit about why I volunteer and why Bridges volunteers do this work. But really, have the reasons for volunteering changed all that much over the generations? Or are we just using a different language to say the same thing? My parents talked about Christian responsibility and duty, and I talk to my children about responsibility, compassion and global security. But what sustains us, generation after generation? I believe it's that emotional spark. It can be as simple as holding a baby in your arms, knowing that you've done something, maybe very small, to give confidence to the people responsible for delivering healthcare in a place like Vietnam or Calgary.

Or it can be as dramatic as hearing news that your partners have just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Either way, that feeling is the same. Volunteering neutralizes that space between self and the world, and it allows us to relate our self to the world in a positive emotion. So what about the future? I'm going to use an example from right here, in Alberta, to talk about the potential. Aboriginal youth in Alberta suffer. On a daily basis, they deal with drugs and violence and gangs and suicide, and I expect every one of us cares deeply, but we don't know what to do. So let's think about the WHAT. What is it that we do now? Right now we focus on top down. We do a lot of work talking about strategy and policy for aboriginal youth: what kind of youth education strategies work? And we give them a lot of guidance on transparency and governance. In the future, to be effective, I think we're going to have to go to the grass roots, and we're going to have to get to know these young people, not just as statistics but as people.

And we're going to have to wear every single hat we have: for-profit, not-for-profit, government, acting as individual, social entrepreneurs. HOW can we do this differently? I understand the issue of being an insider and an outsider and I understand why an aboriginal youth would look at me and say: "You're an outsider". I respect that. Aboriginal youth who live off reserve can be seen as outsiders. But I don't think it works. It just doesn't work anymore. And I know it's really hard to talk about the other and how we relate to the other, but I just think we can't avoid this conversation anymore. We need to talk more about who are insiders and who are outsiders and who owns these issues and who's responsible. That brings me to the final suggestion, that's about collaboration. To create a community of support for aboriginal youth, we need to partner with a wide range of organizations and individuals, even ones we really don't like.

We have to bring all the resources to the table that are possible: open source, capacity building, advocacy, top-down, bottom-up, global, local, doing whatever it takes to support these young people, with resilience, determination, and humility. And what is humility? It has nothing to do with down-passed eyes and misty voice and noble stories of volunteering. It has everything to do with getting ourselves and our organizations out of the way and doing what we can to support these young aboriginals. And believing that one day, an aboriginal youth from Alberta could indeed be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Thank you! (Applause).

Choosing a Life Without Trash | Sam McMullen | TEDxUofM

Eight months ago I decided to become "that guy". (Laughter) My sister Liddy and I committed to live trash-free for a year. Of course, no one can live completely trash-free, but we are pretty close. This is my trash and recycling for the past eight months. We did this initially because we wanted to feel like we were doing something about climate change. An issue that Lydia had spent her entire college career, a Fulbright Fellowship and all her time in the Natural Resources Defense Council working on. And I had spent countless minutes watching YouTube videos about. (Laughter) At first we were awful at it, we were so bad. Our first trash-free dinner sauce, eating out of a serving dish with chopsticks that I'd run back to the apartment to get because this is how our plates were given to us, wrapped in plastic.

We also had to improvise a take home container. See those stickers? That means I care about the environment. (Laughter) On the eighteen hour plane ride back from China, I didn't drink any water because they make me dump out my water bottle before boarding. And when I did get back the first thing I did, was create trash. I was out with a friend and before I knew it there was a drink in front of me with this napkin under it and this straw in it. Over the next few months my mistakes ranged from having to buy a packaged sandwich in an emergency room in York, Pennsylvania to literally forgetting that I was doing the whole waste-free thing and buying a brand-new chain tool to repair a bike. A lot of good that did me low because the bike is still in my basement – broken. So all of this led to me being introduced to you as an environmental activist. Now I thought that was kind of funny when I first read it, because I don't think of myself as much of an activist. What I started to realize was that by living without trash I had to enlist the help of everyone around me.

My professors had to agree to let me send them homework via email. My wait staff had to remember not to put the straw in the water. And at first I thought this would make me come off as total snob. But what I quickly realized was that if you just check your ego and understand and acknowledge that what you're asking for is a little bit ridiculous, it quickly becomes a team effort rather than an imposition of my values on someone else's life. The beautiful thing about this whole thing is that when once people have been an accomplice to an act of trashlessness they start to think about their own impact. Or you get texts weeks after having a meal with someone of someone is saying, "Hey, Sam, what do you do about toilet paper?" Or I'll get a snapshot of a napkin that someone didn't use. And by the way we still use toilet paper. Don't worry! (Laughter) This aspect of going zero waste that forces conversations about it is, I guess, a kind of activism. But why would we go zero waste and does it even make a difference? I'm sure we've all seen this graph of CO2 emissions. We've all had this picture come up on your timelines; we've all watched this video.

We all live in a world where these things are true, but we're not there, we're here and here is fine. We're confronted with this massive issue where cause and effect are completely separated. If you live in the developed world, like I do, you're probably never going to see the whole impact that your lifestyle actually has. That's probably because we are really good at exporting all the bad stuff and importing the finished product. 95% of a product's environmental impact happens before you even open the package. 95 percent – that's why we've included recycling in our trash because even though the product might be recycable, that 95% still applies. You just don't see it. If we're being honest with ourselves we know what the problem is, right? We know that we just use too much new stuff and use too many resources but the solution is scary. Not getting new stuff is really hard. It's the worst. Keeping that shirt for next year isn't that sexy, getting your phone off Craigslist rather than buying the newest model isn't that chic.

It doesn't feel quite right to turn down that piece of gum. But real action? The kind that addresses our biggest challenges is going to be just that: challenging. Cutting your dependency on trash is a little hard but hard is good in this case. In fact, hard is great. It forces us to notice what's happening and do something about it. Like saying, "Hey, any chance to get that coffee in a ceramic mug rather than in a paper cup?" So what we need is not the next easy fix, we need something manageably hard that has a real impact. That's where trash comes in super handy because for every piece of trash we throw away like this pizza box, it's a sort of representation of the upstream impacts like the transportation costs, the resources used to make it or the wrapping at the store or the extraction of those resources and the energy used to do all those things. For every pound of trash we create, seven pounds are created upstream. Now all of this is a real downer, I'm sorry, but it represents a choice, right? That's the flip side. With every wrapper, every bag, every new item we buy, we have a direct influence on all those systems and we can opt out. The fight against climate change is won and lost billions of times every single day in each of our choices.

This realization was crucial for my sister and me because even though we felt great about the fact that we're doing a zero waste year, in reality we weren't having that much of an impact, right? Because the two of us doing it for a year is about 20,000 pounds of waste which is great, but nowhere near enough. So over Christmas break at about 4 a.m. I shake Lydia awake and we have an idea that you can probably only have in the middle of the night. What if instead of some "now-jean-carrying", "same pair-of-jeans- since-August-of-07-having" or "shower-when-I'm-dead-environmentalist" doing this for months and years, what if everyone or a group of people from around the world did this for a day? Tried it. And then if they wanted to extend it for a week or a month, we'd be there to help them. So we got serious and started an organization called "Live Zero Waste".

With the goal of giving people resources and a community who are trying to live trash-free. Now what got us so excited about this idea was that even just trying for a day would at least give people a chance to audit their lives and realize that trash is a choice and maybe demonstrate to them that they can have a concrete and measurable impact on climate change. Yes, they could see what they were doing. They could see, yes, I can change something because what is so powerful about this way of life isn't necessarily the trash you avoid, it's the idea that the majority of our trash could be avoided by a simple increase in awareness and a little creativity. The average American wastes 4.4 pounds of trash per day, but going zero waste for a day is more than that 4.4 pounds; it's that and the thirty-plus pounds for the upstream impact. It's having a tangible representation of your environmental footprint. And it's the awareness that imparts on every single person you meet during your trash-free day or week or month or heck on a year. At this point I should sort of admit that going waste-free has been a little bit of a sacrifice in certain ways, but hugely rewarding in others.

Without even noticing it, it shifts your focus from stuff to relationships, from money spent on things to time spent on experiences. Going "Zero Waste" is an opportunity to take problems big, important, international problems and address them in our daily lives with our daily choices. So instead of asking, what will our government do to fix this? Or, why isn't this NGO doing more?, the questions become, can each of us separate individuals come together and make the choices we know we need to make to combat climate change? Can we be the bold ones to cut into what we thought of as necessities? Who's going to step up and be the exception that in time will define a whole new set of rules? And I think it's you. Now I'm just some college student but that's exactly the point. We're all just some college student or just some barista or just some CEO, but together we're incredible.

We now more than ever have the power to shape the environment we live in. We're the first generation to know beyond a shadow of a doubt what we've done to this planet but also what we can do to fix it. So I'll leave you with a promise and a request. My promise is to do everything I can to make living waste-free as accessible as possible and to build a community of people committed to taking concrete action against climate change. And my request, that each of you tomorrow whether you're in this auditorium or watching online give living zero waste a shot for one day. One of my best friends called me up the other day and she said, "I just can't imagine how I would do this, I don't know where to start how do you do it?" And if I thought this were some Herculean task, I'd feel the need to give you detailed instructions. But honestly what it comes down to is waking up tomorrow morning making a choice and sticking to it as best you can.

And if you mess up, put it in a bag or a pizza box. I think you'll be surprised by how much waste you can avoid, how many interesting conversations you'll have and how many of your own habits you can change by simply noticing, the napkin and the straw. Thank you. (Applause).