Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Most recently in the Ecology Category

By Feliciano Guimarães from Guimarães, Portugal (Patterns Uploaded by tm) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


Last week, I was invited to join a kind of alternative conference running alongside
COP22 in Marrakech. Unlike COP22, which was governments and NGOs in green rooms and blue rooms negotiating policy and agreements, the meeting I attended was a "Do-Fest," a collection of action-oriented people gathering to figure out what we can do without waiting for permission or incentives.

With galleys of Whiplash and a refurbished violin in hand, I headed off to the meeting to give a presentation in the first session, looking at climate change through the lens of The Principles and some of the new work around design and science that we are doing at the Media Lab.

Here's a video of my talk:

Here's what I said.

One of my favorite restaurants in Tokyo is a place called Okame. It is a tempura place in Tsukiji. The famous film director, Akira Kurosawa, is rumored to have frequented the place, among many other well-known Tokyo celebrities. It is a small house-like building with two guest rooms, each with a tempura fryer and a counter for guests. The chef and the son of the chef who was running the place when I first started eating there goes between the two rooms frying tempura for the guests. The place is run by the family and to this day, I don't think they have any outside help. I once asked the chef why he didn't open another branch since it was so popular. In response, he asked me why he would ever want to do that. He is happy, he doesn't have to manage outside help, he gets to spend time with his favorite clients and everything is just right. I realized after asking the question that I was interjecting the values of the community in which I live -- the industrial culture of "growth is good."

Another favorite restaurant of mine in Japan is a sushi place which I can't tell you too much about, because they prohibit their customers from promoting the restaurant. In fact, the restaurant always says "closed" and they are really selective with their customers. The father of the current chef used to run a very famous and popular sushi bar in Ginza, but he became unhappy with the glitzy customers and also hated having to pay high rent -- money that didn't go towards better ingredients -- so he moved the restaurant to a secluded neighborhood and they have been running the place in a rather secretive way ever since. I've been going there since I was a teenager. Every time I go, we talk about this fish or that fish that is no longer available. Some of my favorite fish that I used to get second helpings of are now rare. The last time I went, I had a particular type of Japanese char, and the chef told me it was likely to be the last time I would ever eat it. I thought about how, in my lifetime, almost all of the fish that I've eaten here may become unavailable and what we currently know as sushi could disappear. I realized that the values that caused me to ask the chef at Okame whether he was going to open another branch were the same values that might end up closing down my favorite sushi bar.


I work with a monk named Tenzin. He doesn't have a home. He owns nearly nothing. When we were hiring him to work at the Media Lab, he asked for no salary. MIT said that he couldn't "work" without being paid. He asked for a dollar. MIT insisted that they had to pay minimum wage. To Tenzin, more than enough is too much. He is also one of happiest people that I know. His happiness comes from intrinsic motivators and not from a love of growth and external measurements.

I'm an investor in a company called Kickstarter. I'm sure most of you have heard of it. A few years ago, Kickstarter announced that instead of taking the company public they are going to convert into a public benefit corporation and buy out any investors who didn't like the idea of them growing organically. I kept my stock, get dividends, and really love that they seem to be doing well and growing in a healthy measured way.

In nature, many things grow. Growth in itself isn't bad. It's very useful for evolution. On the other hand, most ecosystems have feedback loops that harness growth to create competition and keep themselves in check. Unchecked growth is like cancer.

Most people in modern society have a belief that growth is inevitable, that's it's good, and that it's the solution to all of our problems -- even those caused by growth, like poverty. We believe more is better, and the richer and more influential you are, the happier you will be. We are defining the culture and setting an example for our children and the rest of the world. I think we need to think about what actually makes us the happiest. Is it our influence, or our families, or a walk along the beach that is more important? Does having twice as many family members make us twice as happy? I believe that one of the drivers of many of our problems, including the degradation of the environment, is our love of growth.

Donella Meadows describes this pattern in the essay "Leverage Points." Donella worked with Jay Forrester at MIT on system dynamics. In the '70s, she created a model for the Club of Rome that showed major global problems involved complex systems that were all connected. These models were based on models of interconnected systems where the basic system looks something like this:

Figure from Donella Meadows's essay

The state of the system, or the "stock," is like the amount of money in an account, or the amount of water in a lake, or even the amount of trust in the government. You could imagine the stock as a bathtub and the water in the tub. The inflows are the water flowing from the faucet. The outflows are water flowing out of the drain. By closing the drain and turning on the faucet, you can get the water to increase in the tub. The "goal" is to get the right amount of water into the tub. You can watch the water level and see the discrepancy and control the inflow by turning on the water, or if you end up with too much water after you enter the tub, you could open the drain and lower the water level.

Now imagine that you want to control the temperature. You would add hot water. Now imagine that the boiler is far away, in the basement, and there is a delay after you turn the knob. Now imagine the system that gets the water to your apartment and the system of energy behind the boiler. You can quickly see how the system gets complex and how everything is interconnected. You can also imagine that a tiny tub with a firehose-like faucet is harder to control than a large tub with an appropriate faucet.

This is a very good way to imagine how systems work.

Most of what we design involves some part of some complex system. Modern design is usually focused on the customer and the customer experience. For example, many of the "Uber for food" services like Doordash are a great experience for the customer. You have an app, you click on a restaurant, order food and before you know it, it's at your door. But what about the driver, the cook in the restaurant... what's the experience like for them? How much do the app developers care about their experience?

In the article "Why I Quit Ordering From Uber-for-Food Start-Ups" in the Atlantic Robin Sloan argues that the cooking/food service Josephine is better because it designs for the chefs as well. Josephine matches people who would like to cook food in their homes with people in the neighborhood who would like to eat that food. In a way, this service is designed for both the consumer and the producer and tries to promote a healthier neighborhood. It's looking at more of the system, not just the subject of the consumption. However, the system is even more complex than Josephine recognizes. It not only includes all of the humans in the neighborhood, but also the supply chain, the waste chain, and many other things that could be designed for as well.

We recently launched the Journal of Design and Science as a collaboration between the Media Lab and MIT Press to try to bring design to science and science to design to create a new kind of design for complex system self-adaptive systems and to bring this design to science.

In the journal's first article, "Design as Participation," Kevin Slavin uses the quote "you're not stuck in traffic, you are traffic." Josephine was probably designed by people who understood home cooking aficionados and were closer to the system. But ultimately, if you really want to understand the system, you have to be part of the system. The design of healthy complex system requires the designers to be both the system and humble participants in the system.

At MIT, professors Neri Oxman and Meejin Kim teach a class call Design Across Scales. In this class, they describe systems at every scale from the microbial, human, architectural, urban, global, astronomical. All of these system are connected. Whereas most scientists and designers are focused on a single scale and a single systems, they can and must understand how their work connects to and affects all systems at all scales and take responsibility for their interventions into these systems.

In "Age of Entanglement," Neri Oxman describes the Krebs Cycle of Creativity. This shows science taking the perception of nature and converting it into knowledge. Engineering takes this knowledge and converts it into utility. Design takes this utility and converts it into meaning, behavior, and societal value. Art takes it and converts it into social perception. And although it's too rare, this should be in the input into science as well. Our view is that science, engineering, design, and art need to work seamlessly together in order for our creativity to be well expressed.

Donella Meadows describes not just how systems worked, like the bathtub model above, but how you can intervene in these systems. By adjusting flows, feedback, goals, rules, how things are connected, etc., you can modify and influence the system.

Donella Meadows describes 12 ways to intervene in a system and lists them in reverse order of effectiveness.

PLACES TO INTERVENE IN A SYSTEM

(in increasing order of effectiveness)

12. Constants, parameters, numbers (such as subsidies, taxes, standards).

11. The sizes of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows.

10. The structure of material stocks and flows (such as transport networks, population age structures).

9. The lengths of delays, relative to the rate of system change.

8. The strength of negative feedback loops, relative to the impacts they are trying to correct against.

7. The gain around driving positive feedback loops.

6. The structure of information flows (who does and does not have access to information).

5. The rules of the system (such as incentives, punishments, constraints).

4. The power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure.

3. The goals of the system.

2. The mindset or paradigm out of which the system -- its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters -- arises.

1. The power to transcend paradigms.

I find this list very compelling and useful. Also, it's important to see that the 4th intervention -- the power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure in a complex adaptive system -- requires creativity, which is fueled in nature by biodiversity, in society by science, and in technology by research.

The problem is that what we tend to do when we are trying to deal with climate change is fiddle in the least effective intervention layer -- fiddling with subsidies, taxes, etc. This describes a lot of what happens at COP.

The first patent drawing for Lizzie Magie's board game, The Landlord's Game, dated January 5, 1904

One great example of how these layers relate is the history of the board game Monopoly. Everyone knows the traditional Parker Brothers game of Monopoly. What many people don't know is that Monopoly is based on a 1902 game called The Landlord's Game patented in 1904 by Elizabeth Magie. This was a game based on the economic principles of Georgism, which advocates a single tax on unimproved land, and was designed to show how rents enrich property owners and destroy tenants. The designer hoped that when kids played the game, they would learn about the unfairness of the capitalist system. The Parker Brothers version of the game didn't substantially change the rules. It just changed the goal. Instead of the goal being to learn about the unfairness of capitalism, it was to become the capitalist and to bankrupt all of your friends. The key here is that nothing in Donella's list from 12-4 changed. Only the goal changed. As we think about how to "fix" the climate problem, by understanding that maybe somehow the goal -- to grow and eliminate the competition -- could change, maybe we don't need to change so many of the other layers. On the other hand, it might also show that even if we change a lot of the parameters and even the rules, unless we change the goal, we won't change much.

Goals and behavior are hard to change. We often believe that if we just labeled food better, or if we could just make a convincing argument that our behavior would negatively impact the health of the planet, people would behave differently. While that might convince some people, for many people it's not an information problem. The Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas serves Triple Bypass Burgers and Coronary Dogs. The waitresses are "nurses" dressed in white lab coats and you eat for free if you weigh over 350 pounds. It's popular and you often have to wait in line to get in. Several people have had heart attacks while eating there. In some case, it's clearly not an information problem -- it's a culture, story, style problem.


In 2008, Canadian health workers in Cambodia were trying to solve a health problem caused by a lack of iron in the diet of the people there. They tried handing out supplements and educating people, but none of that worked. Then they heard a local story about a fish that was "good luck." They designed a fish made out of iron that people could put in their pots when they cooked their food. This "lucky iron fish" was a huge success and had a significant positive health outcome.

Health workers are not the only people who try to modify behavior through cultural intervention. During the Cold War, the CIA used modern art as a "weapon" to combat communism. Communism was still popular among many intellectuals and artists when the CIA was founded in 1947. In order to combat this mindset, they promoted modern art, which symbolized creativity and freedom that Russian art, stuck in its communist ideology, couldn't compete with.

Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun (1655 -- September 1716)


Andrew Fletcher, a Scottish politician who opposed the 1707 Act of Union between Scotland and England said, "Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws."

I believe that the best way to tackle the problem of climate change is through culture. Huge behavior change followed the leadership of musical transformation, such as the Beatles, the hippie movement, and later punk rock movement. I believe that transforming our culture so that having more than enough feels somewhat disgusting and art and culture reflect the diverse and complex systems in which we live will do more than any fiddling around.

Violins are beautiful, the product of hundreds of years of cultural evolution. We cherish violins. However, kids these days aren't as moved by violins as they are by DJs, remixes, and electronic music. We need to stop fiddling around and change the music.

(In Marrakech, at this point, I smashed a violin on stage.)

Originally posted on the Whiplash Medium site.
Credits

Thanks to Kevin Slavin for turning me on to Donella Meadows, the Heart Attack Grill, the Lucky Iron Fish, and the CIA and modern art story.

Thanks to Seth Godin for the idea of smashing the violin, and to Ryuichi Sakamoto for pointing out that Nam June Paik and he both smashed violins and that I was part of a proud lineage of violin smashers.

Lastly, thanks to Drew for procuring the used violin on short notice.


I met Peter in Marrakech at a private meeting that he and others had organized during COP22. Peter is Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, Co-founder of Conservation International, one of the most effective conservation efforts I know of. I caught up with him on Thanksgiving after we were both back in the US.

We talked about biodiversity, COP22, sustainability, conservation, indigenous people, climate change, complex systems and the theory of change.

The audio is available on SoundCloud and iTunes.


I met Christopher Filardi in Marrakech at a conference running along side of COP22. He's an evolutionary biologist and a conservation activist. I was fascinated with his description of the role of indigenous people in conservation. I recorded a short conversation that I had with him over Skype when I was in a lounge in Dubai Airport and he was at his home in Montana. Apologies for the poor quality of the video and audio.

The audio is available on iTunes.

I went to meet Dean Ornish the other day with Larry. We talk about various things trying to tie together free culture and health. After the meeting, Dean Ornish gave us his new book, The Spectrum. While the book isn’t focused primarily on this, Dean Ornish points out the relationship between nutrition and the environment which I found very interesting.

…according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s report Livestock’s Long Shadow, animal-based agribusiness generates more greenhouse gasses than all transportation combined. The livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions as mesured in carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent than does transportatino (18 percent versus 13.5 percent). Also, it accounts for 9 percent of CO2 derived from human-related activities. It generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the global warming potential of CO2. It’s also responsible for 37 percent of all human-induced methane, which is twenty-three times more warming than CO2. Nitrous oxide and methane come mostly from manure. Imagine about 56 billion “food animals” pooping every day.

Also, livestock now use 30 percent of the earth’s land surface, mostly for permanent pasture, but also including 33 percent of global arable land to produce feed for them. Clearing forests to create new pastures is a major driver of deforestation - some 70 percent of forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing.

I’ll try to write more about the book when I finish it, but it might be the most practical nutrition book I’ve read so far. I may tune my diet a bit afterwards.

UPDATE: The report he is referring, which was published in 2006, is is online.

Yesterday, we started planning our veggie garden and started a compost bin. I'm trying to figure out what percentage of my total food intake I can grow at home. We have a relatively large yard by Japanese standards so most of this will be a matter of personal energy. I'm going to start small this year but try to increase my nutritional independence from commercial networks every year.

My goal is to be able to cover nearly all of our fertilizer needs through the composting of all of our biodegradable garbage this year.

Thinking through the various scenarios, I realized that I could significantly reduce inputs and outputs from our house by going this route. When I imagine walking over to the garden every morning, picking my veggies, then chucking the waste into the compost bin, I get a happy feeling inside. I realize this is pretty simple and not so significant, but "just add water and sunlight" is very appealing.

I think that I can also make a significant impact on my energy inputs through photovoltaics and maybe some day get off of the power grid. This requires a larger financial investment but is an area that I've already done a bit of work in this area from my time at ECD.

In my lab/office/Tokyo pad we just finished setting up (thanks to the folks at WIDE) a dark fiber connection to the WIDE box at the Japanese Internet exchange. It is currently a 1G connection. WIDE is a research project and I'm only paying for the dark fiber. WIDE is routing for me. I am not going through a single licensed telecom provider for my Internet connectivity. Consequently, going from 1G to 10G is just a matter of buying more hardware and has no impact on the running cost. More bandwidth is just about more hardware. The way it SHOULD be.

It's exciting to think about making my footprint smaller and smaller in nutrition and energy and thinking about nutrition, energy and bandwidth more and more as assets that I operate rather than services from big companies.

I was going to Twitter this as I was sitting here drinking my morning tea, but it turned into a blog post. Thanks Twitter. ;-)

Today I heard a presentation by Michael Molitor from Climate Wedge. He is an expert on environmental issues and his company has created a fund that buys and sells "Voluntary Carbon Units" (VCUs).

Carbon credits or Carbon Units are basically a unit that represents one metric ton of CO2 emissions. The EU has a market called a Compliance market where companies can buy credits to offset their EU Allowances. For example if company X only has an allowance of 100 tons of CO2 emissions, they have the choice of either buying carbon credits on the market or lowering their emissions by that much. Emission allowances will continue to go down driving prices of credits up and/or causing companies to innovate instead of paying for these credits. It is any interesting and now exceedingly common practice that makes it easier for companies to become "carbon neutral" while providing incentives for companies to innovate.

In addition to the formal compliance market which is mostly for EU regulated companies to buy and sell their credits to meet their allowances, there is a voluntary market which involves "softer" carbon credits and allows companies that are not yet regulated to play in this market. HSBC, for instance has announced that it is now "carbon neutral". It is not required by law to do this, but as people become more sensitive to the issues of global warming, carbon neutrality will have an increasing impact on customer and investor relations.

There are a number of individual level carbon neutral initiatives. Airlines, automobile companies, oil companies are beginning to provide carbon neutral products where a portion of the cost or the payment of an addition expense go toward making the use of that product or service carbon neutral. The interesting thing is that in most cases the costs are quite small. To make your whole life carbon neutral it costs roughly 1% of your income.

I think this is a great idea and the notion of being carbon neutral is very appealing. I am going to try to do this immediately.

However, a few things concern me.

I've googled around for companies and non-profits that offer carbon units and some look rather sketchy and/or expensive. There is also the issue of the quality of the carbon unit. Some little city threatening to build a coal power plant, then not doing it in exchange for carbon units seems less sincere than someone rolling out a photovoltaic power generator. "Good" carbon units like those on the Compliance Market trade at a premium because they are more closely audited and provided from reputable organizations. I think that these markets will grow quickly and hope the scam artists don't steal money from too many good intentioned people.

The other thing that scares me a bit is that although I like markets, I worry that a lot of money will flow to companies trying to innovate in this space. I see a VC bubble in energy technology right now too. When I see lots of money pouring into an industry like this, I worry that a bubble will form causing inefficiencies, reduction in quality of investors, noise level increases drowning out experts and other things that I saw during the dot com bubble.

Finally, this is not enough. This is all a huge step in the right directly, but we need to be doing everything we can, and even that may not be enough. It will sure feel good to be carbon neutral, but we definitely can't stop there.

I blogged about the movie An Inconvenient Truth after I saw a screening of it. I think that EVERYONE should see the film. There is now a site dedicated to getting more people to see it. Please take a look and direct people to it if you can.

I went to a screening of an inconvenient truth (IMDb). an inconvenient truth is a film directed by Davis Guggenheim about global warming and Al Gore's life long effort to learn about and educate the world about the reality and risk of global warming.

My position on global warming had always been that it was probably a bad thing. Pollution was clearly increasing and it increased the risk of some non-linear event occurring. Having said that, I wasn't THAT concerned and thought that there was still some dispute in the scientific community.

Watching this film has caused me to change my opinion. I now believe that global warming our most urgent and important crisis and something that we all need to rally behind. The movie presents a scientific, moral and political argument that is convincing and also fun to watch. I also felt I got to know Al Gore through the movie in a completely new way.

I've always been a big fan of both Davis and Al Gore, but this movie has really solidified my respect for both of them. I urge everyone to go see this movie. It opens in select theaters on May 24, but the big opening is the first weekend in June. Your turnout to the movie will determine how broadly the movie ends up playing. Considering the importance of this film, it would be great if the maximum number of people possible saw it.

In an effort to cut down on energy consumption, Japan has implemented "Cool Biz". Cool biz facilities keep the temperature at around 28 degrees Celsius (approx 82.4 Fahrenheit) in the summer. It often feels hotter than that. In these offices, people don't wear suits. Most government buildings and many public facilities are now cool biz. First of all, 28 degrees is hot, even with a t-shirt. Second, when you travel around buildings requiring various dress codes, this system doesn't really work.

This isn't a new thing, but it appears that it is being implemented with renewed vigor this year. I blogged about this back in 2002. According to the Japanese Wikipedia, they think that it will save about $1B.

I suppose I'm a schmuck for complaining about something so socially and fiscally good, but for some reason this kind of suffering feels very Japanese and annoying. There is something very ceremonial and inefficient about it. Maybe it's just that I'm sweating my ass off in a cool biz zone. Maybe this is a signal to me to figure out a way to save $1B for the Japanese economy and help the environment. Maybe we can start by firing all of the retired bureaucrats that they force companies to hire who get paid a mint and driven around in black limos.

Rogerpayne
I sat next to Dr. Roger Payne at lunch. He talked to me about the songs of the Humpback Wales that he has been recording for decades. He is the authority of this field. He explained to me that Humpback Whales sang beautiful songs. They copy from each other, remixing the songs and add to the songs. These songs evolve over time and riffs get passed from whale to whale across the world. The songs have lots of interesting variations and even have rhymes. He made an interesting observation that the whale songs of the 60's were much more beautiful than the whale songs these days.

I suggested that he made some of these songs available online via Creative Commons and he agreed that this would be a cool idea and agreed to work on this. For now, you can find three of his CD's on Amazon.com: Whales Alive, Deep Voices and Songs of the Humpback Whale.

I look forward to when we have some whale songs on ccMixter.

Sorry about the light blogging. I was participating in an interesting conference in Kyoto called Science and Technology in Society with a very interesting international mix of scientists, politicians and business people. There were lots of really interesting presentations from some really smart people. I'll try to post more later, but here are some notes from a lunch speech by Sherwood F. Rowland, Donald Bren Research Professor of Chemistry and Earth Systems, University of California at Irvine and Nobel Laureate in Chemistry (1995).

The population of the world is about 6B now and it is expected that it will stabilize at around 9B in the middle of the century. We've grown from 3B to 6B in the last half century so we've done this before. We output about 6B tons of carbon dioxide. That's an average of 1 ton per person. In the US the average is about 5 tons per person and in India and Nigeria it's about 0.2 tons per person. If you added the US and population to India's population, it would be about 1.4 tons, or approximately the rate at which Albania creates carbon dioxide. 85% of our energy comes from fossil fuels, coal, gas and oil which create carbon dioxide. These are green house gasses. In 1800 there was about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide and 800 parts per billion of methane in the air. Today we are at about 380 parts per million of carbon dioxide and 1750 parts per billion of methane.

A calculation of the natural greenhouse effect of the earth is 32 degrees centigrade. The enhanced greenhouse effect puts us at more like 33 to 37 degrees centigrade. The average temperature of the earth has increased 6/10th of a degree in the last century. The warmest days since we have begun recording temperatures about 150 years ago have all been since 1990. In order to stabilize the increase in carbon dioxide (at a much higher level than it is now), we would need to cut back 60% of our output. Conservation can help, but it is unlikely that conservation itself can take us to a sustainable situation. Alternative carbon free energy sources like solar, nuclear, and wind must be explored, but we must understand that we are in a situation that requires immediate action.

I was scribbling notes during lunch and I may have mangled some of this. Please let me know if I've misquoted something and I'll fix it.

One important "take-away" from this meeting was that global warming and the risk did not seem like some sort of disputed theory as some politicians seem to lead us to believe. All of the scientists involved in energy and ecology that I heard speaking seemed to believe that our earth was immediately at risk and that we had to act now. The combination of the increase in population and our addiction to energy would not allow us to stabilize at any sustainable equilibrium without drastic changes in the way we make and use energy.

Bjorn Lomborg

What if hospitals only dealt with patients who made the most fuss. That's what it seems like we do with global resource allocation for global problems. Why don't we prioritize? What if we had an extra$ 50Bn to allocate. What would you spend it on?

HIV aids?
Schools?
Climate age?
Malnutrition?

We need rational basis on our spending.

The Copenhagen Consensus was a group of leading economists who got together to try to prioritize based on best information available.

What we would do:

1- Prevent HIV - $27Bn will save 29M lives
2- Micronutrients - $13Bn will help more than 1/2 the world
3- Free Trade - would create more than $2000Bn / yr
4- Treat Malaria - $12Bn could come back 10X or more

What we wouldn't do?

Kyoto (global warming) is not a good use of money

Focus on high benefit projects.

We now have the list. We have to get the rest of the world on board.

Bill Joy

I think there will be a crisis or catastrophic event that will take our attention away from terror or war and as a positive response may redefine our focus of the century.

A global pandemic/epidemic - the positive response: New found respect for natural systems and focus on health.

Environmental tip. A phase change with a irreversible climate change - the positive response: Understanding balance with natural systems.

Over self-consumption like the oil supply - the positive response: Might help wastefulness and make it a century of efficiency.

A web site by a women who races her motorcycle through the Chernobyl "Ghost Town." Amazing photos.

about town where one can ride with no stoplights, no police, no danger to hit some cage or some dog..
via Markoff

I sat next to Sir Martin Rees at dinner last night. He is the Royal Astronomer of the UK and the Master of Trinity College. I met him last year at the same dinner. He's amazingly smart and funny.

Ever since I'd posted my entry on aviation and global warming, I've been trying to figure out how to get to the bottom of this issue. The journalists told me that they just cited experts and the trick was to find good experts. I figured Sir Martin Rees would probably have an educated and balanced view.

Sir Martin Rees told me that he thought it was probably true that global warming was happening and that CO2 emissions contributed to it. He said that his main concern with global warming with the possibility that something non-linear would happen. In other words, his worry was not just the melting of the ice caps or the increased heat, but that this would cause something unpredictable and significant, such as a change in the circulation of the oceans.

He talked about some of the interesting mail he got. He said that he once got contacted by a cryogenic company which wanted his opinion on the idea of "the end of involuntary death" by freezing yourself before you die. When he replied that he'd rather be buried in a cemetery than a freezer in Calfornia, the company posted on their web site that "Rees is a deathist".

In a controversial book that he wrote called "Our Final Hour" he says that there is a 50/50 chance that our civilization will end this century. He mentioned that the original title of the book was "Our Final Century?" The British publishers took out the question mark and made it "Our Final Century". Then the US publishers change it to "Our Final Hour". ;-)

The dinner was off the record. "Nothing leaves this room. Just like Las Vegas." But I received permission from Sir Martin Rees to blog his comments. Sir Martin, if you see this and I've quoted you in error, please let me know. I don't have your email address.

Whiplash by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe

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