Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Science Technology and Society Forum in Kyoto

I'm in Kyoto, Japan for the STS forum, an incredible gathering of top scientists and policy leaders from around the world. The caliber of attendees is amazing from all countries: ministers of education and science, top scientists, university presidents. The event is the brainchild of Koji Omi, former Finance Minister of Japan. His concept was that science and technology was critical to the future of society, and he wanted to build an inclusive international forum of top leaders literally from all over the world to tackle major problems.

Of all the discussions I heard, the ones on climate change were the most exciting and compelling. The phrase "the failure of Copenhagen" was often repeated, especially poignant given that we were meeting in the same building where the Kyoto Protocols were agreed. There was special energy around the concept of climate adaptation: the idea that no matter what happens on controlling greenhouse gases (see, failure of Copenhagen), that climate change is already affecting the world and we will be having huge challenges adapting to that change.

People mentioned that there had been a reluctance to talk about adaptation, since it would take the focus off of the critical challenge of mitigation. But the consensus in the group was that we needed to get on climate adaption. We had a mind-blowing presentation from one of the engineering leaders on Venice's efforts to respond to sea level rise with giant barriers to the Venice lagoon. But, most climate adaptation strategies are going to by necessity be less expensive than that.

The biggest idea I heard was that while mitigation is a global issue, climate adaptation will be a local issue. Dan Goldin (former head of NASA) and Charlie Kennel (former head of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography) pulled together a proposal for what they call "Knowledge Action Networks," to help local community get access to data about how climate change was likely to affect their communities. Since I came to STS to plug open content, open data and transparency in general, it really resonated. It seemed like a larger scale version of what we are already doing for the conservation movement with Miradi, and what we've been kicking around as the "Carbon P&L" concept for a possible new social enterprise.

I'm looking forward to more brainstorming on this: very exciting!

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