Brenda Cooper

FiRE (Future in Review) Day 1: The Speed of the Atmoshpere

I’m lucky enough to be the invited science fiction interviewee at FiRE, a conference that is not only about the future but about how to actually do the work to create a future we can thrive in.  Today was registration, a cocktail  party on a lawn by a beach, a lovely dinner, and a dinner speaker.  And after that, I’m impressed.  I love meeting people.  So far, I’ve met:

  • a man who owns a company that mines kelp and uses it to safely increase crop yields in developing countries
  • women on the boards of schools and museums
  • a man from Ghana who is using cell phone technology to ferret out faux drugs (think about buying fake Rolex in China – well the fake drug situation in Ghana is apparently similar, but the implications are worse)
  • a man who owns the largest privately held ISP in Australia (and has a lovely accent)
  • entrepreneurs and venture capitalists from at least five corners of our technology world
  • journalists from New York and the UK

The most important part is not that there is so much influence gathered in this one place, but that to a person, everyone I’ve talked to at any length is interested in making the world better and capable enough to make real differences on  a bigger than individual scale.  Yes, we all must do our part, and do more than we thought we needed to, but most of us only have the resources to affect ourselves and maybe a few others.  Some of the attendees here have the resources to affect far more than that.  Influence is important, and what you do with it is even more important.

So that dispenses with the cocktail party and dinner chitchat, and sends us on the the night’s speaker, V. Ramanathan.  It appeared that the talk was being video-taped, and so you might watch for it to show up somewhere since the whole talk is worth listening to.  But I’ll try to paraphrase and hope not to do it too badly.  What I took away from the talk is that there is already so much Co2 in the air that we have effectively already changed the climate.  The more we continue to add, the worse it gets.  Furthermore, removing pollution (which we are doing and which we must do) is going to make warming worse since the pollution acts as a coolant (it mirrors sunlight back into space).  So the climate is going to change whether we like it our not, and the questions remaining are simply how much and by when.  The work from here on out is risk mitigation, the search for game-changers, and an effort to make as much change happen as soon as possible.

The professor also offered an idea I like. One new thing I learned is that Co2 lives longer than the other greenhouse gasses such as methane, black carbon, and ozone.  The idea here is to focus sharply on removing these gasses in order to buy time to address Co2.

And now on to the reason I titled the blog “The Speed of the Atmosphere.”  We were shown a slide that demonstrated that the gasses and pollution created in China reaches us in three days.  Our sins reach Europe in three days, and then Europe’s atmospheric challenges land on China in three more days.  We share each other’s air.

I’ll try to blog about a few other topics as the conferemce continues.  It will be very busy,but I’ll do my best (there are 87 speakers).  There will undoubtedly be others blogging about FiRe – I’ll try to find links.  If you have any, please feel free to send them to me.