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).

How Your Phone Will Stop Climate Change (& Save The World) | Ian Monroe | TEDxHonolulu

What’s the most important thing that you do with your phone? Calls? Email? Facebook? Getting a higher score on Candy Crush? You know who you are. What if you could do something even more important? Like solve some of the world’s biggest problems. And if you could solve any of the world’s biggest problems, what would it be? For me, the problem that I’d solve is climate change. Why? Well, for starters, I’m a scientist at Stanford University and I’m compelled by the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence that says our current fossil fuel use is endangering every ecosystem and the existence of human civilization as we know it. But the deeper reason that I care about climate change is actually much more personal. I grew up on a small farm in California and I’ve seen the seasons become unpredictable first-hand. Record floods and record droughts have become the new normal. My family had seen summer heat so intense that it split ancient oak trees.

And we’ve seen our neighbors devastated by hundreds of wildfires. We’ve also lived through our own home burning to the ground, taking the lives of two fantastic dogs, a wonderful cat, and five generations of history with it. So I care about climate change because I love my family and I want to protect my home. And I care about climate change because there are literally billions of other homes and lives in danger. I’ve had the extraordinary opportunity to work around the world for 15 years, and I’ve made many great friends along the way. Friends, whose homes, lives, and livelihoods, are often in even greater danger than most of us here, because of the interconnections between climate, poverty, hunger, disease, crime, and violence. So how can we solve climate change? Well, for starters, for the rest of the world to live and thrive, the fossil fuel industry must die. And we also need to stop unsustainable manufacturing in food production.

These are monumental challenges to be sure, but the good news is we already have all the clean energy technologies and sustainability technologies we need to solve the problem. What’s missing is public engagement that’s sufficient to put these solutions in actions fast enough to avoid disaster. So the biggest missing piece of our climate puzzle is really you. And by you, I mean all of us, myself included. We like to blame corporations and governments on climate inaction. But their decisions all trace back to our votes, our lifestyle choices, and how we spend and invest our money. So the climate problem is really our problem. Most of us already know that climate change is a huge problem, but the big challenge is bridging the gap between how much we say we care about climate change and actually what we do on an everyday basis.

To do this, we need tools that put information and incentives in the right places to change our everyday actions. Fortunately, you guys already have an amazing device that can do this. Which brings me back to where I began. That’s right. You call this a phone, but it’s really a hyper-connected super computer that it can inform all your decisions and send advice to you to change, and connect you to pretty much anyone else anywhere in the world. I’m now working with an extraordinary team of scientists and engineers to launch a service that connects the power of this amazing device as a tool to solve climate change. We’ve launched a service called OROECO that makes it fun, easy, and rewarding for everyone to be part of a collective climate solution. We started with the goal to create the world’s most powerful carbon footprint calculator. Then we’ve added personalized tips for what you can do to improve your climate footprint while saving money at the same time.

And to encourage us all to move from saying we care about climate to actually doing something about it, we’ve added in points, prizes, and real-world rewards to swing the deal. OROECO’s climate number crunching has led us to some surprising conclusions. For one, we found that many people who really say they care about climate change, actually have a personal carbon footprint that’s substantially worse than average. This is definitely true for myself. And the reason for this is that a lot of us who care about climate change also tend to fly. We want be multicultural, and go around the world, and connect with our families, too. And just one cross-country flight could easily outweigh everything else we’re doing to be more sustainable.

Another surprise from many OROECO users is how big the carbon footprint is from our dietary choices – what we eat. And that is actually matters a whole lot more for climate change to eat less red meat than it matters to eat everything local or everything organic. Because it’s not just how we spend our money but also how we invest our money that makes a difference. We’ve started to use OROECO’s data to create low carbon investment products. And here we found an even bigger, and quite frankly, much better surprise. Investment funds that are fully divested from fossil fuels and only invested in climate leaders and other industries actually perform better. They make more money than conventional investment funds. We’re now working to launch this strategy into the market, which we think can mainstream low carbon investing, and really dispel this myth that we have that dirty energy companies are necessary for a healthy investment portfolio.

And of course, there are many of other great services out there, beyond OROECO that help us align our personal values with our everyday actions. There’s GoodGuide which makes it easy to see the sustainability footprint of virtually everything we can buy at the supermarket. There’s Buycott and BuyPartisan, which show us how our spending decisions connect to money and politics. There’s Slavery Footprint which shows us sobering information about how our lifestyle choices are connected to forced labor, modern day slavery. And of course, there is Fitbit and MyFitnessPal apps that are encouraging us all to lead healthier, happier lives. What these apps all have in common is they’re taking previously invisible information about our impacts, and making it both visible and actionable. And it’s not just about information. It’s about motivation. Our phones can be a tireless coach that’s always with us, giving us just the right information and incentives, and the motivation to act and change your everyday actions.

Also, when apps like OROECO connect up to services that connect us socially so we can compare with our friends and family in our social networks, they tap into something much more fundamental. We, as humans, one of the most powerful motivating forces we have is to earn respect from people we care about. And we all like to see that we’re doing at least as well as average. But of course, this is never actually possible for all of us to always be better than average. But that’s actually a good thing. Because when an app shows us we’re not actually better than average, it encourage us to improve. And when enough of us consistently try to be better than average, then the average improves creating a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement that benefits everyone. Last, but certainly not least, our phones can inspire us through the power of storytelling which is really what TED is all about. And we’ve already been talking about this today.

This is Chai Jing. She’s a Chinese journalist who just release a low-budget documentary on how air pollution is affecting her daughter’s health. Her story, thanks to the power of social networks and mobile apps, received over 200 million views in just 48 hours. That’s about one-third of China’s urban population in a weekend. Stories that are both inspirational and important can now race around the world at the pace of Twitter and Facebook, which is to say, at the speed of ‘like’. I care about climate change because of how it connects to my own story and my own loss. And I care about climate change because of how it connects to the stories of people and places I love around the world. I’m sure you all have your own climate stories to share stories that can inspire you and many others into action. And action is exactly what we need because climate change is a massive collective action problem that requires a collective action solution.

We now have the tool we need to act together. With this, we are empowered to reinvent our future and align it with our values. With this magic wand, we have the power to change our own lives, then spread that change to everyone around us; even changing companies and governments in the process. With this, we are no longer drops in a bucket but a connected ocean of potential. So how will you change the world? The power to shape the world that you want is now literally, in the palm of your hands. Use it with love, use it with passion, use it for a little bit more than Candy Crush. (Applause).

Turning down the heat on controversial topics like Climate Change | Waleed Abdalati | TEDxMileHigh

Thank you. I want to talk today about something that is very important to me, it's about communicating controversial topics. My research is related to climate change. I've served as a chief scientist at NASA, I'm the director of a large environmental research organization, and in that capacity, I tend to talk to people of all sorts about climate. What I'm going to talk to you about today is climate, but more generally speaking, communicating controversial topics. And I've talked about climate matters to the general public, to fellow scientists, to legislators, to the members of the White House, in both the Bush and the Obama administration; you can imagine those conversations were probably quite different. And I'm going to talk to you about some of the things I've learned, the things I carry forward in those conversations that I hope you'll carry forward in yours as well.

Communicating controversial topics. Sometimes this reminds me of my experiences in Washington D.C., but I'll let you to interpret that however you want. The tools of communication: words, attitude, and your clarity of purpose, and I'll get to each of those in a minute. But I want to start with a clipping from the Washington Post at the end of last year about the healthcare.gov website. When it was having problems and overcoming those problems, this article came out in the Washington Post. 800,000 visits a day, 50,000 people at one time being able to apply, but I want to call your attention to this: "Democrats optimistic, GOP skeptical." The same data interpreted very differently depending on who's doing the interpretation. What this means, what this says to me in many cases: "It is often less about the data than the narrative." We all have our perceptions of the world, how it works, and we look at the data through those perceptions, and this shapes our interpretation. This is a fundamental thing to understand as you communicate with friends, colleagues, others about controversial topics such as climate change.

I mentioned words. Words matter. Words set the tone, words convey your opinion of something, they put the audience, the person you're speaking to in a certain posture to receive your message or to resist your message. I'm going to give you just a few examples. Estate tax. A tax on the wealth you leave behind after you die, that is one way of describing it. Others choose to describe this as the death tax, the final kick in the pants by the U.S. government as you head to your grave. Words matter. Stand-your-ground law. To some this is the right to not have to retreat when you feel threatened and actually fight back with deadly force, even if you could retreat. To others, this is a license to kill. Why not retreat when you can? Why stay and kill someone? Words matter. The same situations, but cast very, very differently. Here are just a few other examples: job-killing taxes versus revenue for national needs; affordable health care, Obama care; government intervention, the common good. Different ways of describing the same phenomena, but the words say something about how you feel, and depending on which of these words you use when you talk to someone, you'll elicit a certain kind of posture, a certain kind of response.

Attitude matters. I love this. Would you want to build a sandcastle with this kid? (Laughter) Actually, I would, why not? Attitude matters, OK? People, much more than what you say, remember how you make them feel. This is what your attitude does, it sets the mood of a conversation. It will either put people in a resistive posture, if you're forth-coming, if you're strong, you're coming at them with both barrels, or, perhaps, a more receptive posture, if you're a little more open, if you're a little more receiving. The third is purpose, clarity of purpose. You need to be clear on your goals. What is the purpose of your conversation? To some people it's just about convincing, it's just about winning. When I talk to people, my interest is not so much about getting a certain outcome, I'm not a lobbyist; my interest is getting them to think differently than, perhaps, they have.

And getting myself to think differently than, perhaps, I have. It's a two-way–, it's engagement, it's not talking at someone, it's engaging someone, to move people, to move the conversation forward. So my sort of rules of engagement, I have four. The first is understand the context. I like to say your adversaries are not as dumb as you want them to be. Think about that! How many times have we all done it: "Oh, it's just so stupid! Why are you so stupid? If you could just see things the way I see them. If you knew what I knew, you'd see things my way." People feel the way they feel because of the values. It's usually not just that they're dumb, it's just that they view things differently than you do. Once you do that, you can frame your ideas in ways that resonate, in ways that connect with people, meet them where they are. Don't tell people what to think. Understand that beliefs are rooted in values, so when you tell people what to think, you're directly challenging their values.

And the third – if you take one thing away from this talk, please, let it be this – don't expect your values to change other people's beliefs. If you're going into a conversation thinking that because I value this, I can convince this person of the same thing I think, you're not going to have a constructive conversation. So understand the context, frame ideas in ways that resonate, don't tell people what to think, and don't expect your values to change other people's beliefs. When I put this into practice, when I have a conversation with a person about climate change, to get at that, I like to do two things. The first is I like to speak in simple, logical, intuitive statements. So I'll use something that we can both agree on as a starting point. In the area of climate change, it's this: "If we put heat-trapping gas into the atmosphere, it will trap heat." You don't have to be a genius to understand this statement. Most people, you know, I can get that far in the conversation. I'm not thinking about the outcomes, let's start at the beginning.

You can argue about how much heat and what's too much, what's not, – well, never not enough – but what's too much, what is tolerable. But the basic principle: heat-trapping gas will trap heat. The other is we all share some common core principles. We all want to be safe. We all value freedom. We all want opportunities to prosper. These are the common principles, whether I'm talking to a Republican congressman, a Democratic congressman, Tea Party, independent, whatever. Those are things we all value. Some of us are willing to give up more of one to gain another, others the opposite, but when we start in that place, we can have a meaningful conversation, no matter how far apart we may seem to be. This is a graph of the Dow Jones Industrial for the last 110 years, the stock market, the Dow Jones Industrial Average. It may not have much on its face to do with climate in the way you look at it, but, in fact, it does.

If you look at his curve, – it's on a logarithmic scale, so it's a bit compressed – but if you look at this curve, you see that it goes up, it goes down; in general, it goes up over the long period, over the full period of the cycle, and over the last decade or two, it has actually leveled off quite a bit. If you look at the climate curve, the temperature curve, for the last 150 years, it goes up, it goes down, on balance, goes up quite a bit, it has leveled off some over the last decade. I use this analogy because, you know, everybody wants stocks to go up, everybody can look at the graph of the stock and get a sense of what it's doing. When we do this in the context of temperature, I'll bring it back to stocks. You would never look at one stock, you'd never look at one short period of time to understand the trend.

If you took a five-year snapshot of anywhere on here, you might see rapid raises, rapid declines, you'd never say this is what is telling us what the markets are doing in the long term; no, you'll look at a longer data set. The same is true with temperature. Similarly, the leveling off at the top, the basic principles of economics and investment, the odds are the market is going to continue to go up. You can't look at that leveling and say: "The graph has stopped, the market is coming down, it's going to go back to what it was in 1902." You'd never do that. The other thing is you'd never look at one stock or a handful of stocks – they're climbing, increasing, whatever, – and say: "This is what the market is doing." You want an index, a representative index, you want SND 500, you want 500 stocks, you want to collect enough data to make meaningful contributions. Yet, people do this with temperature all the time.

People will grab a small snapshot. This last summer, Tyler, Texas, and Lubbock, Texas had a record-low high temperature in July. So it was the lowest high temperature in July, I think it was 77 degrees, and people took that and said: "Wow, it's done! There is your climate warming, it's done." You can't do that. Nor can take an extremely hot year and say: "Oh, we're cooking. This is what it's going to be like from here on now." You don't pick narrow time frames, and you don't pick one place. There are places on the Earth that are cooling, many places on the Earth that are cooling. That does not tell us what the Earth is doing as a whole, a collection of the data tell us that. One more analogy to the stock market. This is a reconstruction of temperature histories for the last 1,000 years, the famous Hockey Stick, it's called. If these were stocks, – these are different reconstructions, this is what different people find – if these were stocks, or a stock history of a company, you'd look at about 1850, 1900 and say: "Wow, something happened there.

What did they do? Did they change the management? Did they introduce a new product? Did they realize some efficiencies?" You'd want to know, you'd dig into it, but you'd say there was a change there. If this were money, you would say there was a change there, or [if this were] value of a stock. The same is true with temperature. There was a change there, something happened in the period of the Industrial Revolution. By drawing the analogy to the stock, I'm sort of taking it out of the controversial realm and saying: "Let's just look at data, forget our ideologies. What do the data say?" When looking at it in that context, you look at it differently. You look at it and ask different kinds of questions.

So these are climate model predictions for the future. What you see in gray is the past, what our models say happened before, so you get a sense of how good or bad they are by the uncertainty, the width of that gray band. In the future, we see different scenarios. One, a leveling off of temperature, that is if we drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions; the other, the red at the top, is 'business as usual' as we call it, if we don't make any changes and just continue with our activities unabated. There is a range of futures out there. This is what the basic physics tell us. Now, we can have a conversation about our differing values and how we should address this, but the basic physics, the basic principles tell us this. So I come back to the Earth. I was a chief scientist at NASA, I spent a lot of time looking at the Earth this way. A lot of you look at it up close and personally, that is great too, but I come back to the Earth. I'm not going to sit here and say: "You will experience drought. You will experience flooding. Where you live is going to go up 2 degrees, where you live is going to go up 4 degrees." I can't really say that, and I don't think that's the right conversation to have.

I think the right conversation to have is we are stressing the planet, we are putting heat-trapping gas into the atmosphere. it is trapping heat, that causes temperatures to rise, and that puts us in a different kind of risk posture for the future, a higher risk posture. How do we address that? Is the cost of not doing anything greater than the cost of doing things? That is the kind of conversation you got to have, and if I come at you with: "The world is getting warmer, it's going to be anarchy," many people will shut down. The people that won't, are those that already believe it, and I don't need to have that conversation. We're stressing the planet. And that puts our future in a very uncertain state. This doesn't have to be a story though about bad news, about repression, or suppression. If we look at the challenge of climate change, I think it can actually be a different kind of story.

A story about national security, a story about energy independence, a story about prosperity, a story about giving to our future generations. And when cast in that context, sure, these challenges are current structures, but these are the kinds of things that people value, these are the kinds of topics we can have conversations around. And I encourage you, as you talk about anything controversial, think of your narrative, think of the other person's narrative, think about how you can frame the discussion in ways that resonate with people, in ways that connect with people. Finally, I want to leave you with this last thought. One person's sunset is another person's sunrise. It's really a matter of your perspective, how you view things, where you sit when you look at the phenomena. So, as you go out and as you communicate, I encourage you all avoid the sunset and seek the sunrise. Thank you. (Applause).

How climate change is altering the underwater soundscape | Kate Stafford

In 1956, a documentary by Jacques Cousteau won both the Palme d’Or and an Oscar award. This film was called “Le monde du silence,” or “The silent world.” The premise of the title was the underwater world was a quiet world. We now know, 60 years later, that the underwater world is anything but silent. Although the sounds are inaudible above water, depending upon where you are and the time of year, the underwater soundscape can be as noisy as any jungle or rain forest. Invertebrates, like snapping shrimp, fish, and marine mammals all use sound. They use sound to study their habitat, to keep in communication with each other, to navigate, to detect predators and prey. They also use sound by listening to know something about their environment. Take, for an example, the Arctic. It’s considered a vast, inhospitable place, sometimes describes as a desert, because it is so cold, and so remote, and ice-covered for much of the year. Despite this, there is no place on earth that I would rather be than the Arctic. Especially as days lengthen and spring comes.

To me, the Arctic really embodies this disconnect between what we see on the surface, and what’s going on underwater. You can look out across the ice – all white, and blue, and cold – and see nothing. But if you could hear underwater, the sounds you would hear would at first amaze and then delight you. While your eyes are seeing nothing for kilometers but ice, your ears are telling you that out there are bowhead and beluga whales, walruses, and bearded seals. The ice too make sounds. It screeches, and cracks, and pops, and groans as it collides and rubs when temperature, or currents, or winds change. And under 100% sea ice, in the dead of winter, bowhead whales are singing. You would never expect that, because we humans, we tend to be very visual animals. For most of us, but not all, our sense of sight is how we navigate our world. For marine mammals that live underwater, where chemical cues and light transmit poorly, sound is the sense by which they see.

Sound transmits very well underwater, much better than it does in air. So signals can be heard over great distances. In the Arctic, this is especially important because not only do Arctic marine mammals have to hear each other but they also have to listen for cues in the environment that might indicate heavy ice ahead or open water. Remember, although they spend most of their lives underwater, they are mammals, so they have to surface to breathe. They might listen for thin ice or no ice or listen for echoes off nearby ice. Arctic marine mammals live in a rich and varied underwater soundscape. In the spring, it can be a cacophony of sound. (Buzzing, whizzing, squeaking, whistling, wailing sounds) But when the ice is frozen solid, and there’s no big temperature shifts or current changes, the underwater Arctic has some of the lowest ambient noise levels of the world’s oceans.

But this is changing. Climate change and decreases in sea ice are also altering the underwater soundscape of the Arctic, which is a direct result of human greenhouse gas emissions. We are, in effect, with climate change, conducting a completely uncontrolled experiment with our planet. Over the past 30 years, areas of the Arctic have seen decreases in seasonal sea ice from anywhere from six weeks to four months. This decrease in sea ice is sometimes referred to as an increase in the open water season, that is the time of year when the Arctic is navigable to vessels. Not only is the extent of ice changing but the age and the width of ice is too. You may well have heard that a decrease in seasonal sea ice is causing loss of habitat for animals that rely on sea ice such as ice seals, or walruses, or polar bears. Decreasing sea ice is also causing increased erosion along coastal villages and changing prey availability for marine birds and mammals. Climate change and decreases in sea ice are also altering the underwater soundscape of the Arctic.

What do I mean by soundscape? Those of us who eavesdrop on the oceans for a living use instruments called hydrophones, which are underwater microphones. We record ambient noise, the noise all around us. The soundscape describes the different contributors to this noise field. What we are hearing on our hydrophones are the very real sounds of climate change. We are hearing these changes from three fronts: from the air, from the water, and from land. First: air. Wind on water creates waves. These waves make bubbles, the bubbles break. When they do, they make noise, and this noise is like a hiss or a static in the background. In the Arctic, when it’s ice-covered, most of the noise from wind doesn’t make it into the water column because the ice acts as a buffer between the atmosphere and the water. This is one of the reasons that the Arctic can have very low ambient noise levels.

But with decreases in seasonal sea ice, not only is the Arctic now open to this wave noise but the number of storms and the intensity of storms in the Arctic have been increasing. All of this is raising noise levels in a previously quiet ocean. Second: water. With less seasonal sea ice, sub-Arctic species are moving north and taking advantage of new habitat that is created by more open water. Arctic whales, like this bowhead, have no dorsal fin. because they have evolved to live and swim in ice-covered waters. Having something sticking off of your back is not very conducive to migrating through ice, and may, in fact, be excluding animals from the ice. But now, everywhere we’ve listened, we’re hearing the sounds of fin whales, humpback whales, and killer whales, further and further north and later and later in the season. We are hearing, in essence, an invasion of the Arctic by sub-Arctic species, and we don’t know what this means.

Will there be competition for food between Arctic and sub-Arctic animals? Might these sub-Arctic species introduce diseases or parasites into the Arctic? What are the new sounds that they are producing doing to the soundscape underwater? Third: land. By land, I mean people. More open water means increased human use of the Arctic. Just this past summer, a massive cruise ship made its way through The Northwest Passage, the once mythical route between Europe and the Pacific. Decreases in sea ice have allowed humans to occupy the Arctic more often. It has allowed increases in oil and gas exploration and extraction, the potential for commercial shipping, as well as increased tourism. We now know that ship noise increases levels of stress hormones in whales and can disrupt feeding behavior. Air guns, which produce loud, low-frequency ‘whoomps’ every 10 – 20 seconds, change the swimming and vocal behavior of whales.

All of these sound sources are decreasing the acoustic space over which Arctic marine mammals can communicate. Arctic marine mammals are used to very high levels of noise at certain times of the year, but this is primarily from other animals or from sea ice. These are the sounds with which they’ve evolved, and these are sounds that are vital to their very survival. These new sounds are loud, and they are alien. They might impact the environment in ways that we think we understand, but also in ways that we don’t. Remember, sound is the most important sense for these animals; and not only is the physical habitat of the Arctic changing rapidly but the acoustic habitat is, too. It’s as if we plucked these animals up from the quiet countryside and dropped them into a big city in the middle of rush hour. They can’t escape it. So what can we do now? We can’t decrease wind speeds or keep sub-Arctic animals from migrating north, but we can work on local solutions to reducing human-caused underwater noise.

One of these solutions is to slow down ships that traverse the Arctic, because a slower ship is a quieter ship. We can restrict access in seasons and regions that are important for mating, or feeding, or migrating. We can get smarter about quieting ships and find better ways to explore the ocean bottom. The good news is there are people working on this right now. But ultimately, we humans have to do the hard work of reversing, or at the very least, decelerating human-caused atmospheric changes. So let’s return to this idea of a silent world underwater. It’s entirely possible that many of the whales swimming in the Arctic today, especially long-lived species like the bowhead whale – that the Inuit say can live two human lives – it’s possible that these whales were alive in 1956 when Jacques Cousteau made his film.

In retrospect, considering all the noise we are creating in the oceans today, perhaps it really was “The silent world.” 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).