Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Jeffrey Sachs on Sustainable Development - AGU14

Sou | 6:10 PM Go to the first of 6 comments. Add a comment

We are just pressing against every part of the ecosystem and biodiversity in multiple ways now, because of the scale of economic activity.
Jeffrey Sachs, AGU14 

I've just been watching Jeffrey Sachs talking about global change from an economic, political and diplomatic viewpoint. His theme was scale. It's one of those lectures that helps you take a step back and see things in the wider perspective - and what is happening on the political and diplomatic stage.

[Here's the link to the HotWhopper guide to virtually attending AGU14. Once you have registered, logged in and gone to the video page, you can search for "Sachs" to see the video.

Tip: for some videos you'll get a screen that you have to buy a premier pass to see the video. Click through and you'll probably find, as I did, that the cost is $50 less $50 discount = $0 all up, relief, success - and then you'll get to the videos!]

Dr Sachs set the scene by talking about the explosions of growth around the world over recent decades - with population, technology, and information. He gave examples of the phenomenal growth in China and sub-Saharan Africa among other things. He also referred to warnings such as those described in Limits to Growth (link to Amazon), commissioned by the Club of Rome and published in 1972. He asked:
So, what to do about this? Oh my God. That's the problem. We really are the generation that reached the limits. We were warned about the limits two generations ago in 1972....

Dr Sachs then went on to describe what world leaders are doing about all this: sustainable development - an integrated strategy to meet economic, social and environmental objectives. (This is the "triple bottom line" assessment, which has been the basis of government cost-benefit analysis of major projects and initiatives for many years now.) Sachs said he used the term sustainable development in two senses:
  1. as an analytic complex systems science of social, economic, environmental and political systems
  2. from a moral or normative point of view, an integrated framework which tells us to stop an economics-only approach to public policy, and to address three spheres of human well-being - economic, social and environmental, in a holistic manner.

He went on to talk about how the world has adopted sustainable development in a very specific way. In September next year, on the 70th anniversary of the UN, there will be the biggest gathering of Heads of State ever - with probably 170 or 180 or more attending. At that meeting the world will adopt sustainable development goals (SDG's) as a framework of action for the coming generation (2015 to 2030). Next year, he said, provides the opportunity to redirect "the world juggernaut economy" through three major summits:
  • July 2015 in Addis Adaba - Financing for Sustainable Development
  • September 2015 at UN HQ in New York - Sustainable Development Goals
  • December 2015 in Paris - "Last Chance" Climate Change Agreement at COP21

Jeffrey Sachs talked about deep transformation. How we need to move from a high carbon world to a no carbon world within two generations. How we will need to make cities liveable, agriculture resilient and sustainable. How we will need to find new ways of cooperating through public-private partnerships, and new technologies. How technologies evolve largely through deliberate direction and only partly (and later in the development chain) through market forces.

In regard to climate and carbon emissions - "we need to bend the curve dramatically" and get to no carbon by 2070.

Jeffrey Sachs seemed to be arguing that we can do it. He showed the dramatic advances in the human genome project as an example of incredible recent achievements. What we need are targets and milestones, he said. Something to aim for. And we need to:
  • understand the science; and
  • monitor what is happening so we can see how we are progressing; and
  • develop the interface of earth sciences and human policy sciences - which we don't have yet; and
  • engage in assisted directed technological change - we can't just leave all this to market forces; and
  • lead public and classroom education - building a shared global framework for action. 

Jeffrey Sachs finished by thanking all the scientists for all the wonderful work they do. Hear, hear!

I've listed a couple of his references below plus more.

Rockström, Johan, Will Steffen, Kevin Noone, Åsa Persson, F. Stuart Chapin, Eric F. Lambin, Timothy M. Lenton et al. "A safe operating space for humanity." Nature 461, no. 7263 (2009): 472-475. doi:10.1038/461472a (avail from ResearchGate)

Dennis L Meadows et al. Limits to Growth . Vol. 381. London: Earth Island Limited, 1972. (Link to Amazon - available hard copy only. A digital scan version can be downloaded here (free).)

Meadows, Donella H., Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows. Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update (Link to Amazon - available in Kindle)

Turner, Graham M. "A comparison of The Limits to Growth with 30 years of reality." Global Environmental Change 18, no. 3 (2008): 397-411. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2008.05.001 (avail from ResearchGate)


  1. Sou,

    Something our friends across the great climate divide routinely fail to recognize publicly is that even without AGW we're already stressing the environment's ability to support us just as Sachs points out in the lead quote. "We'll adapt" they say confidently. Then in the next paragraph go back to talking about the inherent unpredictability of chaos and GCM's abject failure to conform to their arbitrary (read: purposefully impossible) standard of 100-year annual weather forecasting.

    Somewhat apropos to this bizarrely inconsistent method of critical thinking, I had an amusing exchange on WUWT today. Someone trots out Ferenc Miskolczi for some unknown reason. I point out even Spencer trashed Miskolczi 2010. "No he didn't" they say in near unison. I dredge up the post from Spencer's blog and quote Spencer giving the paper a good reaming. The apologia begins in earnest, "Well, if you throw out that one bit, it's a good paper." I suppress the urge to ask them if that's why they go so easy on MBH98-99. dbstealey chimes in calling me two-faced for defending "pal review" then turning around and trashing the peer-reviewed Miskolczi. I tell db that's exactly why he should join me in dumping on Miskolczi. He wanders off muttering something about my confirmation bias and penchant for quoting "factoids".

    Along comes MikeB with this quote: "Actually, the Gerlich and Tscheuschner, Claes Johnson, and Miskolczi papers are a good test to evaluate one’s understanding of radiative transfer. If you looked through these papers and did not immediately realize that they were nonsense, then it is very likely that you are simply not up to speed on radiative transfer." ~Andy Lacis

    Totally unfazed, dbstealey comes back with, "Anything Lacis says should be taken with a boulder of salt…" and links to a WUWT article trashing Lacis and GISS ModelE written by none other than ... wait for it ... Dr. Roy Spencer.

    I couldn't make this stuff up.

    1. Andy Lacis is a star. I used to enjoy his appearances at JC's no end.

  2. dbstealey is not only desperately stupid, he is desperately malicious.
    Needless to say Anthony adores him.

    1. After playing him absolutely straight up for maybe a week, I learned it's best to ignore his indignant rantings and accusations of dishonesty in lieu of just feeding him scraps until he baits and trips his own trap.

  3. A good place to learn more about Rockström's planetary boundaries concept is here at his institute's website.

    In summary, proposes that there are nine planetary boundaries which we would be wise not to transgress.

    These are:

    Stratospheric ozone layer


    Chemicals dispersion

    Climate Change

    Ocean acidification

    Freshwater consumption and the global hydrological cycle

    Land system change

    Nitrogen and phosphorus inputs to the biosphere and oceans

    Atmospheric aerosol loading


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