Climate Management 101 — 4. Organizing or Not (Open Source?)

October 28th, 2007 <-- by Richard Rood -->

Climate Management 101 — 4. Organizing or Not (Open Source?)

In this series I have maintained that there is a need for a sustained management of the climate. The global scale of the problem of controlling greenhouse gas emissions, the exceedingly long time scale before there are realizable benefits from our actions, the fact that the climate change problem is strongly correlated with energy consumption and societal success – these and an array of similarly enormous factors both demand and defy management.

Climate change is to a good approximation a problem of energy consumption. Energy resources are stressed, and there is growing energy-related stress on the economy and national security. The energy problem is urgent and immediate and will demand attention. It is possible to address the urgency of the energy demand and to make the climate problem worse – i.e. coal. It is possible to develop the illusion of addressing the energy problem while at the same time addressing the climate problem – i.e. corn ethanol. The climate change and energy use problems are correlated, but their solutions are not. Therefore, if we are going to address the climate change problem, then we need to define our goals and to manage towards those goals.

Climate change impacts water resources, public health, and virtually every sector of our enterprise. Water resources, public health, and many other societal resources are stressed irrespective of climate change. There is urgency and immediacy to address these problems, and addressing these problems, once again, might not improve the outlook for the climate. We have a set of problems that have a relationship to climate change, but remediation of one set of the problems does not necessarily carry over to the others. Again, the goals that are required to manage the climate need to be raised, and we need to manage towards those goals.

Basic management intuition says that to achieve specific goals, then some entity has to have the responsibility for achieving those goals. That entity has to have the resources and the authority to manage towards those goals. The tendrils of the climate change problem extend to every nation, every region, every sector, and every person. There is not an obvious entity or management structure to address such a problem.

Faced with this challenge, we look to those elements of society that have an extent that scales comparable to that required to address the climate change problem. Two come to mind. Our belief systems, religions, extend throughout the world. They are not, however, homogeneous, and they do not exist harmoniously. Our economies extend throughout the world. It is because of this that the idea of a market-based approach is near the top of the list of policy options.

A successful market to control carbon dioxide pollution would require that we integrate the true value of our environment into our enterprise. It would require a true valuation of energy and account for the cost of treating our waste.

The development of a market that reduces the emission of carbon dioxide is not a simple task. The time required to do this will be long. There are actions that we can take in the short term that will be consequential. Efficiency coupled with conservation offers a meaningful strategy for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. These short-term steps need to be identified, and we need to manage towards their execution.

The scope of the climate management problem is global. There are, however, national and regional actions that are consequential. It is this identification and discrimination of temporal and geographic scales which gives the foothold for management.

Still, however, what sort of entity and management structure can address the complexity of the climate problem in, for instance, the United States? There have been calls for a Climate Agency and Climate Services for many years. The U. S. already has substantial investment in climate research spread across many agencies. There is, perhaps, a temptation to consolidate our addressing of the climate problem into some Homeland Security type mega-agency. This is a bad idea. It does not recognize the complexity of the problem; it does not recognize the intrinsic differences of research, commerce. societal services and security.

Management of complex problems always comes to a tension between centralized management and distributed management, perhaps anarchy. It is uncommon that a centralized approach can accommodate the complexity. In fact, centralized approaches increase the risk of abject failure. Elements of the distributed system are, usually, very effective, but the whole of all of the efforts often falls short of the needed goals. I always gravitate towards some flavor of federated management, where there is integration of the efforts of the distributed community. This type of management requires a high level of management consciousness; the ability to walk the line between control and innovation. This is not something that our government was designed to do.

A phenomenon of our age is the development of communities around a specific subject. This community then develops the tools that are needed to solve its problems. The community functions with a governance model of some type – buy in by its participants, an agreed upon way to behave, and checks and balances. This is one model of open source software development. It is the concept of open communities being the most effective way of addressing complexity. If you have read this far, what do you think? How can we make this work?

Previous entries, with comments, are available in the blog archive.

Others in this series:

Climate Management 101 – 1
Climate Management 101 – 2
Climate Management 101 – 3
Climate Management 101 – 4

2 Responses to “Climate Management 101 — 4. Organizing or Not (Open Source?)”

  1. Shannon Says:

    A few thoughts:

    First of all, corn ethanol might also provide the illusion we are fixing the global warming problem while creating additional water quality problems.

    Second, you do not need to base the market cost on the true environmental cost of pollution if you have other substitutes, such as the cost of reducing a unit of pollution. With a cap-and-trade system, you would allocate a certain number of pollution in the form of permits and let the market derive the price. The price could decrease due to reduced demand if the the marginal cost increase of a renewable technology over a unit of the polluting technology were less than the cost of a permit. In both cases, the true environmental costs are not necessary. What is necessary is the practical reduction of greenhouse gases.

  2. r baker Says:

    The substantial conflicting conclusions on the “energy balance” of corn-based ethanol need to be clarified- and at least show that, probably, the more such ethanol that is produced, the less energy-efficient the process is.

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