"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cybernetics of Climate - Slides

Here are the slides from the second time I've given a talk by this name.

Update: This has generated enough interest that I will polish the slides and make them more legible and better able to stand alone. Meanwhile, I apologize in particular for the twice-digitized hand-drawn graphic, which you can see here more clearly, and also for the mess the process made of James and Julia's graph, which I will embarrass them by saying is the most important result in climate science of the past decade.


Hank Roberts said...

This is very good. I'd like to show it to people if I may point to that link for a while, will you keep it around? It's not all that readable on my little screen, but larger may be better.

I hope you'll swap out the "The Debate is Badly Skewed" slide for one with machine lettering, it's devastating info (but hard to read).

I think Brand might correct a word or two in that last quote -- or else he's restated that old exhortation in more urgent words.

Very, very good presentation.

Michael Tobis said...


Brand did indeed recently revive and update his exhortation from "We are as gods, and might as well get good at it".

For a long time he found the older, more modest version embarassing. I always liked it, myself.

Michael Tobis said...

PS, Steve Easterbrook of the other U of T (Toronto) is hosting the PDF; I expect as a computer scientist he understands the importance of persistent URLs for this sort of thing.

James Annan said...

Hey, a citation - thanks!

One thing that you might like to change for future showings - CO2 is going up by about 0.5% pa (on slide 48). I agree with Hank about 47 being almost unreadable - and that's on a new shiny 24" screen.

Dol said...

Really interesting slides, and conference. If you do it again, try and get it videotaped or recorded. I'd love to hear the talk itself. I love the emphasis on public education, interaction and scientific knowledge. Sorry, I know I keep on doing this but -


I'm a 'social scientist' just trying to poke a toe into climate change and wondering how to make the whole thing more transparent, in the broadest sense. It would be great to link scientists with programmers and visualisers; what might Processing programmers achieve? -


As an offshoot of my modelling work I'm trying to get into this, so far only with simple things like chaos and the logistic map:


I'd like to work more on inference in chaotic systems - the stuff that Shalizi does. Have you come across "Lord Monckton" making the argument that chaos means the climate cannot be predicted? Great cuckoo science - but plausible to lay-people. I wonder which approach is best to counter that - the mathsy one above with talk of boundaries, or just saying "we can't predict the weather a week from now, but we can be pretty sure winter's coming." Probably both - why, mathematically, is that sentence true?

Anyway, thanks again. Look forward to finding out more about education/epistemology/visualisation...

Anonymous said...

Very nice presentation, with a good storyline. It gives the bottom line of what we know, the urgency, and the playing field.

One detail I would like to comment on: The schematic is of course what it is; just a schematic, but the only feedback to the emissions goes via policy. I think there are more possibilities that are of importance, e.g. going via industry, agriculture or consumers. Having the only route to influencing emissions go via policy may fuel fears for “a worldwide communist government” or silly claims like that. The schematic may appeal to a wider audience if the status of policy is not as central as it now appears to be.


Michael Tobis said...

Well, some sort of worldwide agreement is in fact necessary, for one thing. For another, corporations as currently constituted, which dominate the economy, exist for the sole purpose of maximizing shareholder value. One gets fired for altruism. Only pseudo-altruism that builds "goodwill" is tolerable in a publicly traded corporation.

So the only way a large fraction of industry and agriculture can cooperate is if they have regulations placed upon them.

I think corporations and the profit motive are indispensable, but I think that managing the system in which they operate falls to the policy sector.

That said, individuals, closely held businesses and nonprofits may behave otherwise, and this is sufficiently important that it should be represented.

Anonymous said...

I'm kicking myself that we didn't video tape the talk, as it was indeed brilliant. Well, it just means we'll have to invite MT to give it again somewhere soon...

King of the Road said...

In reply to your comment above Michael, altruistic executives of publicly held corporations are fired because, if they aren't, the corporation is sued by the shareholders.

Michael Tobis said...

KOTR, yes. My comment wasn't intended as an ethical judgment of the participants of the corporations, who are playing by the rules of the game.

I mean it as a judgment about the competency of government that isn't setting rules effectively.

Occasionally the rules of the game are so messed up that an individual finds an ethical constraint to stop participating. They should resign, and possibly work toward changing the rules.

As I see it, the corporation remains an amoral entity and it's naive to think of it otherwise. I do not think the rules allowing such public corporations to argue in their own political interest are a good idea.

Michael Tobis said...

Steve, muchas gracias!

King of the Road said...

Michael, I generally agree. The problem is that attorneys bring such actions and also, to a large extent, write the rules of the game. Come to think of it, dealing with attorneys is a bit like dealing with thermodynamics - can't win, can't break even, can't quit.

Publicly held corporations are amoral and are constrained from being otherwise. They're also constrained, to a certain extent, to deny this.

In any case, it wasn't my intent to hijack the thread and climb on my personal anti-attorney soapbox, so to close the loop, thanks for the excellent slide presentation and I agree with Steve that I'd like to hear the narrative.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of the movie "The Corporation". Excellent.

Still, I've come across examples of business that try to make a difference, or at least are doing better than their peers (in terms of sustainability). Even within the rules of the game, there are choices to be made.


Hank Roberts said...

Michael, Bart, this might interest you if you're not familiar with the ongoing work:



Goals of the 2nd Summit

* Explore lessons of the global financial crisis for reconstituting the interface between capital and non-financial corporations
* Develop strategies for squeezing speculation out of financial markets to align them with needs of a stakeholder-controlled, real economy focused on long-term wealth creation
* Deepen and expand a global network committed to a transformation of capital markets and corporations that serve the public interest ..."

Google names and titles you find there and you'll find a lot of work by a lot of people in the business world -- much of it encouraging.

This stuff requires changes to state corporate law, state by state. Look for it.