Climate Management 101 — 1. A portfolio of approaches and solutions.
When I worked at NASA most of the scientists had the following statement in their position description, “Solving complex problems with no known solutions.” I’m sure that most of us just looked at this as a set of words contrived in the distance past by human resources. Ultimately I ended up a manager, and by my nature, a student of management. This is first of a series of blogs that consider the “climate change problem” as the management of a complex problem with no known solution.
At the beginning of addressing such a problem, it is important to take an inventory of what you know, and to separate what you know from what you believe and what you think should happen. In the inventory of what you know it is necessary to identify the external factors or communities that are related to or have a vested interest in your problem. For climate change, these externalities would include, for example, energy, public health, and religion. It is also useful to place your problem into the set of similar scale problems, for example, control and treatment of AIDS. This leads to the identification of a system of strongly and weakly interrelated problems, which are each to their own, also complex systems.
After this first step, there are a number of aspects of the problem that become evident. First, there is likely no solution. There are a number of paths that are a productive way to start, but none of those ways scale or extend to the problem as a whole. Therefore to fall into the trap of advocating, for instance, renewable energy portfolios, adherence to Kyoto, or a carbon tax as the solution to the climate problem reduces the solution set too far. It does not recognize the complexity of the system or the diversity of the communities that have vested interests in the problem. A reduction to arguments of advocacy for particular approaches to the climate problem is often seen in both the press and political discussions. Advocacy for these approaches and the fact that these approaches do not scale or extend to a solution of the climate problem contributes to the volatility of the climate change problem, and hence, to the inability to converge towards solutions. The discussion becomes polarized between the advocates and those who can, rightly, point out the deficiencies of a particular approach. The role of important approaches is diminished. Hence, what is required is a portfolio of approaches, which will lead to a portfolio of policy and practices which will comprise the solution set for the sustained management of the climate.
Second, there is a short-term and long-term part of the paths to the solution set. Some policy and practices that may not be part of the long-term solution set may be essential ingredients in short-term approaches. For example, carbon taxes and a carbon market are often posed as competing approaches to control the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. A carbon market requires valuation of carbon dioxide emissions, valuation of efficiency, and choices in both fuels and abatement techniques. If the market is to be viable, then the costs of expenditures in efficiency need to scale to the cost between different fuels and abatement techniques and to the cost of a share of carbon. Since these market elements do not currently exist, in the short term a carbon tax or tax credit could, for instance, give meaningful valuation to efficiency or make the choice of renewable energy more attractive. Hence, rather than competing approaches, a tax or tax credit plays a role in a developing carbon market.
An important paper in the past couple of years is Pacala and Socolow, which appeared in Science in 2004. This paper and a body of work that follows recognize both the initial transient phase of the problem as well as the need for a portfolio of approaches to the problem. There are meaningful short-term ways that address the perceived urgency of the climate change problem, and there are multiple choices which provide the flexibility that allows the participation of many communities. Further, a subset of approaches is free enough of controversy that people will recognize the value of their implementation. The proposals of Pacala and Socolow give an excellent strategy that starts to address the climate change problem; however, they do not stand as a solution and require integration with many other elements of the problem, including policy, as well as sustained management towards the long-term solution set.
Others in this series: