The University of Arizona’s Institute of the Environment released its Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwest United States this week. At an event entitled Climate Change and the Tucson Region: Sustainable Living or Abandoned Wasteland?, the reports’ authors discussed some of the key findings of the report. No one, however, actually attempted to answer the main question that advertised the event. Each panelist expressed a mixture of concern and sufficient hope to imply that the region shouldn’t– or at least won’t–be abandoned. Whether people staying in place means that life would be sustainable or healthy in the Tucson region is an open question. The challenge, as Jonathon Overpeck put it, is to “identify what we can adapt to, and what we cannot adapt to.” Read more
The university as we know it today came to us from Italy. There, in the northern city of Bologna, the idea first found its footing roughly a thousand years ago. In the 11th century, Italian scholars of law coalesced to form what is widely recognized as the world’s longest serving research and teaching institution: the University of Bologna, the “nourishing mother of studies” (alma mater studorium). The history of the idea of the university since then has been one of transnational imitation, accident, and purposeful innovation. It’s a history that shouldn’t be forgotten in debates about how to escape from under the dark clouds—weighing heavy with an indebted and underemployed generation—that currently beleaguer American higher education. Read more
Last week, the Bureau of Reclamation released its Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study. According to the study the gap between available water from the Colorado and demand for water will continue to grow to over 3.2 million acre feet in the next fifty years (an acre-foot of water is the amount of water it takes to cover an acre up to a depth of 1 foot; it’s also approximately the amount of water used by a suburban household in a year). One of the goals of the study was to change how Reclamation considered future supply and demand. Traditionally the agency focused on only one projection of future demand. In this study though Reclamation considered multiple scenarios for supply and demand.
It is curious then that of the four supply scenarios in the study, only one considered the impacts of climate change. This however is not the first time that stakeholders have overlooked future variability in the Colorado. Read more
An unmissable subplot to the 2012 presidential election season goes by the name Nate Silver. His public $2,000 bet to Joe Scarborough that Obama would win reelection was just a tiny sliver of what was really at stake for him, of course. He projected state-by-state outcomes with almost reckless specificity, all while keeping a poker face in front of millions of readers on the virtual pages of his New York Times blog, FiveThirtyEight. But he got it completely right.
For political junkies, it should feel like having watched Babe Ruth point to center field before homering in the World Series. A home run is a home run, but it’s something bigger and wilder when you call your shot. Silver’s gamble had a similar-but-nerdy braggadocio. Political projections can be interesting at best, usually. Calculated bravado made Silver’s riveting. Now he’s the other-other man of the hour, with accolades in long supply. Read more
Last month, I attended the University of Oxford’s first International Water Security Conference. The breadth of presentations, held over three days, made it a challenge to distill a single set of conclusions from the conference. Politicians, scholars, engineers, epidemiologists, climatologists, corporations, NGOs, economists, and lawyers came from six continents to discuss water security, management and conflict from local to global scales. But everyone seemed to agree to some extent with Peter Gleick’s statement that we “must meet basic human needs . . . and basic ecosystem needs.” As Carl Sagan once put it, “We need the plants much more than they need us.” With this in mind, it seemed that at least four key messages emerged from the conference sessions.