While still working half-time during April I attended two inspiring conferences for work that also informed my sabbatical thinking – the Energy Transition Symposium in Colorado and the AWWA Sustainable Water Management Conference in Tucson.  I also had time this first month to get organized and continue outreach, extending my network and knowledge through informational interviews. With that backdrop, here are a few things that struck me from the start – during month 1 of my sabbatical:

  1. How to put vague units of global warming forecasts into practical terms. What’s the difference between 1.5 degrees Celsius and 2.0C temperature rise? A startling statistic, this “small” different of 0.5C = 150 million lives lost = 25 holocausts or 2 WWIIs. Already we have 7 million deaths per year from air pollution(Wallace-Wells)
  2. Cooling person-days, an interesting unit that caught my eye. As an energy engineer, I work with cooling degree days (CDD), a unit for designing and operating air condition systems. In climate change, there’s a new related unit called cooling person days (CPD) used to describe impact of high heat on human health. Unfortunately, climate models predict 150 to 750 million CPDs of severe deadly wet bulb temperatures – making parts of the world uninhabitable and other parts severely compromised in terms of human productivity(Wallace-Wells). Exacerbating the problem – cooling demand due to these rising temperatures are expected to quadruple, raising earth’s temperatures another 0.5C from the associated greenhouse gas emissions (Lalit, 2019) (or 150 million more lives, see point 1 above).
  3. Can we avoid scenarios with winners and losers? If cattle were a country it would be the world’s 3rd largest emitter (China, U.S., cattle), but the burgeoning middle class deserves access to energy and food in a world where wealth = calories = meat. We need a transition strategy for carbon-intensive sectors.  For coal mines and coal towns, emerging policies like “Asset Securitization” seem promising (Colorado Energy Research Laboratory, 2019). In addition to the problem of stranded assets other threats to sustainability include short-term thinking, human resistance to change and economic growth models tied to carbon emissions (The Worldwatch Institute, 2015).
  4. Colorado and migration. Currently 10,000 people per month are moving to CO on top of the 82 million visitors per year(Colorado Energy Research Laboratory, 2019).
  5. New Normal. New York City is now experiencing 500 year floods every 25 years; just one example of why we often hear language about the ‘new normal’ in precipitation and weather-related events(Wallace-Wells). As a result, insurance companies are starting to sue municipalities because they’re not ready for storms.
  6. Sustainable Resettlement a new frontier in green building. Refugee camps used to be thought of as temporary facilities, but with average stays in camps now over 20 years in many locations, a growing body of work is offering new solutions that look at camps from a regenerative, sustainable design standpoint(Doezema, 2016).
  7. Inoculation Theory – a tool to stop the spread of climate denial, humor helps too (Cook, 2019).  It can be nearly impossible to change the mind of someone deeply entrenched in climate denial. The more important thing is to stop the spread of that thinking to others.  Inoculation Theory is a branch of Cognitive Psychology that may help. One technique is to explain logical fallacies in a user-friendly way, like transplanting illogical arguments into a different absurd context. Late night comics are great examples of this method – as are political cartoonists and other types of artists (Cook, 2019).
  8. Degrees of climate denial. Unfortunately, just like we have general climate deniers, some people are slow to accept the term climate refugee because they don’t want to let up on the fight for mitigation and/or adaptation instead (Behrman, 2018).

Works Cited

Behrman, A. K. (2018). Facilitating the Resettlement and Rights of Climate Refugees. New York: Routledge.

Colorado Energy Research Laboratory. (2019, April 1). Videotaped Sessions. Retrieved from 21st Centery Energy Transition Symposium: http://cercsymposium.org/symposium-2019/videotaped-sessions-2019/

Cook, J. (2019, April 12). Research Assistant Professor, George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communications. (J. Dorsey, Interviewer)

Doezema, M. (2016, September 22). Rethinking the Refugee Camp. Retrieved from City Lab: https://www.citylab.com/equity/2016/09/rethinking-the-refugee-camp/500804/

Lalit, R. (2019, May 24). Manager, Global Cooling Prize, Rocky Mountain Institute. (J. Dorsey, Interviewer)

The Worldwatch Institute. (2015). State of the World 2015: Confronting Hidden Threats to Sustainability. Washington: Island Press.

Wallace-Wells, D. (n.d.). The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming.