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The grand challenges of Earth system science and sustainability

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

In the Policy Forum of today’s issue of Science, a research team that includes recent Nobel laureate, Elinor Ostrom, issued a call for innovative interdisciplinary approaches to confronting major environmental challenges:

Tremendous progress has been made in understanding the functioning of the
Earth system and, in particular, the impact of human actions. Although this
knowledge can inform management of specific features of our world in transition, societies need knowledge that will allow them to simultaneously reduce global environmental risks while also meeting economic development goals. For example, how can we advance science and technology, change human behavior, and influence political will to enable societies to meet targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to avoid dangerous climate change? At the same time, how can we meet needs for food, water, improved health and human security, and enhanced energy security? Can this be done while also meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and ensuring ecosystem integrity?

They identified what they call five grand challenges:

(1) Improve the usefulness of forecasts of future environmental conditions and their consequences for people.

(2) Develop, enhance, and integrate observation systems to manage global and regional environmental change.

(3) Determine how to anticipate, avoid, and manage disruptive global environmental change.

(4) Determine institutional, economic, and behavioral changes to enable effective steps toward global sustainability.

(5) Encourage innovation (and mechanisms for evaluation) in technological, policy, and social responses to achieve global sustainability.

And their concluding message resonates with much of what I have been writing about at Global Change (emphasis mine):

These grand challenges provide an overarching research framework to mobilize the international scientific community around a focused decade of research to support sustainable development in the context of global environmental change. … Research dominated by the natural sciences must transition toward research involving the full range of sciences and humanities. A more balanced mix of disciplinary and interdisciplinary research is needed that actively involves stakeholders and decision-makers.

Reid, W., Chen, D., Goldfarb, L., Hackmann, H., Lee, Y., Mokhele, K., Ostrom, E., Raivio, K., Rockstrom, J., Schellnhuber, H., & Whyte, A. (2010). Earth System Science for Global Sustainability: Grand Challenges Science, 330 (6006), 916-917 DOI: 10.1126/science.1196263

Related posts:

From the Environmental Literacy in Higher Education series:

From the Why Don’t People Engage Climate Change? series:

Other posts:

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Image credit: woodleywonderworks

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Posted in climate change science, communication and framing, education, nature and culture, solutions | 1 Comment »

Writing about disasters as an environmental literacy tool

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

Here’s an interesting idea:  Get a bunch of people writing about environmental disasters to help raise awareness about what these are like (and may become) and to spur planning efforts for preventing/dealing with them.  That’s the latest from io9:

We can’t prevent environmental disasters without preparing for them. That’s why io9 is going to pay $2000 each to two people who write the best stories about environmental disaster. It’s io9′s Environmental Writing Contest – for science fiction and non-fiction.

io9 is looking for stories that deal with environmental disaster, whether caused by random asteroid impacts or oil drilling accidents. We believe that the first step to solving planet-scale problems is to assess, honestly and critically, what it would mean to experience such a disaster. We need mental models that can help policy-makers, researchers, and individuals prepare for the kinds of cataclysmic events that have occurred regularly throughout Earth’s history.

We’re holding this contest to reward people for coming up with ideas that could help avert the next Deepwater spill and Pacific garbage gyre – or help people prepare better for the next Indian Ocean tsunami and Haiti earthquake. Storytelling is a powerful tool. We want you to use it well.

Our awesome team of judges includes Elizabeth Kolbert (The New Yorker’s environment reporter), Paolo Bacigalupi (author of Ship Breaker and Windup Girl), and Jonathan Strahan (editor of the Eclipse anthologies), as well as others to be announced.

Interested?  The contest rules can be found at the link above.

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Photo credit:  Reinante El Pintor de Fuego

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Posted in behavior, communication and framing, education, environmental literacy, nature and culture | No Comments »

Civic education and climate change

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Matt Nisbet has an excellent new post, Investing in Civic Education about Climate Change: What Should Be the Goals?, highlighting some of the next-generation approaches to helping people engage climate change.

Related posts:

Why don’t people engage climate change?

Posted in behavior, education, environmental literacy, nature and culture, solutions | No Comments »

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