Blog Archive for the ‘Seminars’ Category

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Michael Shermer Seminar Tickets

Posted on Wednesday, March 18th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Michael Shermer presents

Michael Shermer presents “The Long Arc of Moral Progress”

TICKETS

Tuesday April 14, 02015 at 7:30pm SFJAZZ Center

Long Now Members can reserve 2 seats, join today! General Tickets $15

About this Seminar:

Steven Pinker writes: “Shermer has engaged the full mantle of moral progress and considered how far we have come and how much farther that arc can be bent toward truth, justice, and freedom.”

“Through copious data and compelling examples Shermer shows how the arc of the moral universe, seen from a historical vantage point, bends toward civil rights and civil liberties, the spread of liberal democracy and market economies, and the expansion of women’s rights, gay rights, and even animal rights. Never in history has such a large percentage of the world’s population enjoyed so much freedom, autonomy, and prosperity. The steadily unfolding revolution of gay marriage gives Shermer the opportunity to show how rights revolutions of many different kinds come about.“ [Steven Pinker is the author of The Better Angels of Our Nature. He gave a SALT talk on “The Decline of Violence” in 02012.]

Michael Shermer’s new book is The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom. His previous books include The Believing Brain and The Science of Good and Evil. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine and has a monthly column in Scientific American.

Paul Saffo Seminar Tickets

Posted on Monday, March 9th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Paul Saffo presents The Creator Economy

Paul Saffo presents “The Creator Economy”

TICKETS

Tuesday March 31, 02015 at 7:30pm

Cowell Theater at Fort Mason

Long Now Members can reserve 1 seat, and purchase additional tickets at half-price.
Join today! General Tickets $15

 

About this Seminar:

According to futurist (and Long Now board member) Paul Saffo, the ‘new economy” anticipated in the late 01990s is arriving late and in utterly unexpected ways. Social media, maker culture, the proliferation of sensors, and even the 02008 market crash are merely local phenomena in a much larger shift. What unfolds in the next few years will determine the shape of the global economy for the next half-century and will force a profound rethink of economic theory.

Paul Saffo teaches forecasting at Stanford and Singularity University. Journalists rely on him for cruelly telling quotes about everything from the monthly disruptions in Silicon Valley to the yearly turmoils in the global economy.

David Keith Seminar Media

Posted on Friday, March 6th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

Patient Geoengineering

Tuesday February 17, 02015 – San Francisco

Video is up on the Keith Seminar page.

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Audio is up on the Keith Seminar page, or you can subscribe to our podcast.

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Practical geoengineering – a summary by Stewart Brand

“Temporary, moderate, and responsive” should be the guidelines of responsible geoengineering, in David Keith’s view. For slowing global warming, and giving humanity time to bring greenhouse gas emissions down to zero (and eventually past zero with carbon capture), he favors the form of “solar radiation management” that reflects sunlight the way volcanoes occasionally do—with sulfate particles in the stratosphere.

The common worry about geoengineering is that because it is so cheap ($1 billion a year) and easy, civilization would become “addicted“ and have to continue it forever, while giving up on the expensive and difficult process of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, thus making the long-term problem far worse. Keith’s solution is to design the geoengineering program as temporary from start to finish. “Temporary“ means shut it down by 02200. (Keith also likes the term “patient” for this approach.)

By “moderate” he means there is no attempt to completely offset the warming caused by us, but just cut the rate of climate change in half. That would give the highest benefit at lowest risk—minimal harmful effect on ozone and rainfall patterns, and the fewest unwelcome surprises, while providing enough time (and plenty of incentive) for societies to manage their carbon dioxide mitigation and orderly adaptation. Geoengineering’s leverage is very high—one gram of particles in the stratosphere prevents the warming caused by a ton of carbon dioxide.

Responsive” means careful, gradual, and closely monitored, with the expectation there will be many adjustments along the way, along with the ability to back off entirely if needed. Though climate-change models keep improving, we still do not completely understand how climate works, and that raises the very good question: “How do you engineer a system whose behavior you don’t understand?” Keith’s answer is “feedback. We engineer and control many chaotic systems, such as high-performance aircraft, through precise feedback.” The same goes for governance of geoengineering. It is a complex system that will require sophisticated control by a global set of governing bodies, but we already do that for the far more complex system of global finance.

Keith’s specific program would begin with balloon tests in the lower stratosphere (8 miles up) releasing just 100 grams of sulfuric acid—about the amount of particles in a few minutes of normal jet contrail. “If those studies confirm safety and effectiveness,” Keith said, “then we could begin gradual deployment as early as 02020 with three business jets re-engineered for high altitude. By 02030 you could have about ten aircraft delivering a quarter million tons of sulfur per year at a cost of $700 million.“

The amount of sulfur being released might be up to a million tons by 02070, but that would still be only one-eighth of what went into the stratosphere from the Mt. Pinatubo volcanic eruption in 01991, and one-fiftieth of what enters the lower atmosphere from our current burning of fossil fuels. By then we may have developed more sophisticated particles than sulfate. It could be diamond dust, or alumina, or even something like a nanoscale “photophoretic” particle designed by Keith that would levitate itself above the stratosphere.

This is no quick fix. It is not quick, and it doesn’t try to be a complete fix. It has to be matched with total reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to zero and with effective capture of carbon, because the overload of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere will stay there for a very long time unless removed. Keith asked, “Is it plausible that we will not figure out how to pull, say, five gigatons of carbon per year out of the air by 02075? I don’t buy it.“

Keith ended by proposing that the goal should not be just 350 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. (It’s rising past 400 ppm now.) We can shoot for the pre-industrial level of the 01770s. Take carbon dioxide down to 270 ppm.

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Richard Rhodes: Twilight of the Bombs — 02010 Seminar Flashback

Posted on Thursday, March 5th, 02015 by Mikl Em
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In September 02010 Richard Rhodes spoke about Twilight of the Bombs his history on nuclear weapons from the end of the Cold War to the 21st Century. Rhodes won the Pulitzer prize for The Making of the Atomic Bomb (01987) his first of four books chronicling the rise of nuclear science from the laboratory to the battlefield. Twilight of the Bombs is the final book of that series, covering an era of smaller arsenals but continuing challenges.

Richard Rhodes speaks about his latest book at The Interval on March 10, 02015

Long Now members can watch this video here. The audio is free for everyone on the Seminar page and via podcastLong Now members can see all Seminar videos in HD. Video of the 12 most recent Seminars is also free for all to view.

Rhodes warns of the devastating impact to the entire world of even a “regional” nuclear war between nations like India and Pakistan. He tells fascinating stories about Niels Bohr’s earnest warning to FDR and Churchill; the many close calls of the Cold War era that were never publicized; anecdotes about nations like South Africa, Libya, Iraq, and Sweden who all pursued or even built weapons to some degree; 10 steps for nuclear abolition; and his concern that the US may pose the biggest challenge to world disarmament.

From Stewart Brand’s summary of the talk (in full here):

How much did the Cold War cost everyone from 1948 to 1991, and how much of that was for nuclear weapons? The total cost has been estimated at $18.5 trillion, with $7.8 trillion for nuclear. At the peak the Soviet Union had 95,000 weapons and the US had 20 to 40,000. America’s current seriously degraded infrastructure would cost about $2.2 trillion to fix—all the gas lines and water lines and schools and bridges. We spent that money on bombs we never intended to use—all of the Cold War players, major and minor, told Rhodes that everyone knew that the bombs must not and could not be used.

Richard Rhodes is the author or editor of twenty-four books including The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner); Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb (shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize); and most recently Hell and Good Company (02015), a history of the Spanish Civil War. He has been a visiting scholar at Harvard and MIT and appeared on public television’s Frontline and American Experience series. His work is funded by the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation Program in International Peace and Security and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Tickets are available for Richard Rhodes talk at The Interval: March 10, 02015

Richard Rhodes at The Interval, March 02015
Richard Rhodes will speak at The Interval on March 10, 02015
photo by Catherine Borgeson

The Seminars About Long-term Thinking series began in 02003 and is presented each month live in San Francisco. It is curated and hosted by Long Now’s President Stewart Brand. Seminar audio is available to all via podcast.

Everyone can watch full video of the 12 most recent Long Now Seminars. Long Now members can watch video of this Seminar video or more than ten years of previous Seminars in HD. Membership levels start at $8/month and include lots of benefits.

You can join Long Now here.

Brewster Kahle: Universal Access to All Knowledge — 02011 Seminar Flashback

Posted on Thursday, February 26th, 02015 by Mikl Em
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In November 02011 Brewster Kahle, the founder of the Internet Archive, spoke for Long Now. “We are really striving to build The Library of Alexandria version 2,” says Brewster, near the start of his talk, “So that everyone anywhere who is curious to want access can access the world’s knowledge.” He proceeds to assess, one media type at a time what it will take in effort and disk space to get all the books, recorded music, TV, software, web pages, etc. into an online database. The overall message: “Universal access to all knowledge is within our grasp.”

Long Now members can watch this video here. The audio is free for everyone on the Seminar page and via podcastLong Now members can see all Seminar videos in HD. Video of the 12 most recent Seminars is also free for all to view.

From Stewart Brand’s summary of the talk (in full here):

The Web itself. When the Internet Archive began in 1996, there were just 30 million web pages. Now the Wayback Machine copies every page of every website every two months and makes them time-searchable from its 6-petabyte database of 150 billion pages. It has 500,000 users a day making 6,000 queries a second.

In 02015, less than 4 years later, the Internet Archive’s web archive has grown to over 400 billion pages; and the ever-expanding collections of books, movies, and music have now pushed the total Archive database size over 20 petabytes.

You’ll hear in this talk that Brewster and the Archive’s association with The Long Now Foundation goes way back. In fact the first prototype of the 10,000 Year Clock “bonged” twice to mark the year 02000 in a building shared with the Archive. Long Now continues to partner with the Archive in many ways including on Rosetta Project activities and the Manual for Civilization. And we intend for our partnership to continue for at the very least a few more millennia.

Brewster Kahle is the founder and chairman of the Internet Archive. He earned a B.S. from MIT in 1982, where he studied artificial intelligence with Long Now co-founder Daniel Hillis. Brewster Kahle serves on the boards of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, the European Archive, the Television Archive, and the Internet Archive.

Brewster Kahle and the Archive servers
Photo by Rudy Rucker

The Seminars About Long-term Thinking series began in 02003 and is presented each month live in San Francisco. It is curated and hosted by Long Now’s President Stewart Brand. Seminar audio is available to all via podcast.

Everyone can watch full video of the 12 most recent Long Now Seminars. Long Now members can watch video of this Seminar video or more than ten years of previous Seminars in HD. Membership levels start at $8/month and include lots of benefits.

You can join Long Now here.

Michael Pollan: Deep Agriculture — 02009 Seminar Flashback

Posted on Tuesday, February 10th, 02015 by Mikl Em
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Michael Pollan -- Deep Agriculture

In May 02009 author and food activist Michael Pollan spoke for Long Now about Deep Agriculture. At the time Barack Obama was recently elected President, and Pollan takes the opportunity to give a “state of the movement” on efforts to reform the US food system.

Full audio and video of this Seminar is free for everyone to watch on the Long Now Seminar site and via podcast. Long Now members can see all Seminar videos in HD. Video of the 12 most recent Seminars are always free for all to view.

His assessment finds a system built on cheap oil that has negative impacts on our health and jeopardizes our security. In a word, Pollan calls it unsustainable. It takes 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to bring 1 food calorie to the table. It’s important, he says, that people realize “we are eating oil.”

From Kevin Kelly’s summary of this Seminar (in full here):

The benefit of a reformed food system, besides better food, better environment and less climate shock, is better health and the savings of trillions of dollars. Four out of five chronic diseases are diet-related. Three quarters of medical spending goes to preventable chronic disease. Pollan says we cannot have a healthy population, without a healthy diet. The news is that we are learning that we cannot have a healthy diet without a healthy agriculture. And right now, farming is sick.

Michael Pollan is an award-winning author, a critic of and activist against the industrialized food system, whose books include The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, and most recently Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. He is also a former executive editor for Harper’s Magazine.

The Seminars About Long-term Thinking series began in 02003 and is presented each month live in San Francisco. It is curated and hosted by Long Now’s President Stewart Brand. Seminar audio is available to all via podcast.

Everyone can watch full video of the 12 most recent Long Now Seminars. Long Now members can watch more than ten years of previous Seminars in HD. Membership levels start at $8/month and include lots of benefits.

You can join Long Now here.

Jesse Ausubel Seminar Media

Posted on Friday, February 6th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
link   Categories: Announcements, Seminars   chat 0 Comments

This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

Nature is Rebounding: Land- and Ocean-sparing through Concentrating Human Activities

Tuesday January 13, 02015 – San Francisco

Video is up on the Ausubel Seminar page.

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Audio is up on the Ausubel Seminar page, or you can subscribe to our podcast.

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Why nature is rebounding – a summary by Stewart Brand

Over the last 40 years, in nearly every field, human productivity has decoupled from resource use, Ausubel began. Even though our prosperity and population continue to increase, the trends show decreasing use of energy, water, land, material resources, and impact on natural systems (except the ocean). As a result we are seeing the beginnings of a global restoration of nature.

America tends to be the leader in such trends, and the “American use of almost everything except information seems to be peaking, not because the resources are exhausted but because consumers changed consumption and producers changed production.“

Start with agriculture, which “has always been the greatest raper of nature.” Since 01940 yield has decoupled from acreage, and yet the rising yields have not required increasing inputs such as fertilizer, pesticides, or water. The yield from corn has become spectacular, and it is overwhelmingly our leading crop, but most of it is fed to cars and livestock rather than people. Corn acreage the size of Iowa is wasted on biofuels. An even greater proportion goes to cows and pigs for conversion to meat.

The animals vary hugely in their efficiency at producing meat. If they were vehicles, we would say that “a steer gets about 12 miles per gallon, a pig 40, and a chicken 60.“ (In that scale a farmed fish gets 80 miles per gallon.) Since 01975 beef and pork consumption have leveled off while chicken consumption has soared. “The USA and the world are at peak farmland, “ Ausubel declared, “not because of exhaustion of arable land, but because farmers are wildly successful in producing protein and calories.” Much more can be done. Ausubel pointed out that just reducing the one-third of the world’s food that is wasted, rolling out the highest-yield techniques worldwide, and abandoning biofuels would free up an area the size of India (1.2 million square miles) to return to nature.

As for forests, nation after nation is going through the “forest transition” from decreasing forest area to increasing. France was the first in 01830. Since then their forests have doubled while their population also doubled. The US transitioned around 01950. A great boon is tree plantations, which have a yield five to ten times greater than logging wild forest. “In recent times,” Ausubel said, “about a third of wood production comes from plantations. If that were to increase to 75 percent, the logged area of natural forests could drop in half.” Meanwhile the consumption of all wood has leveled off—for fuel, buildings, and, finally, paper. We are at peak timber.

One byproduct of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the longer temperate-zone growing seasons accompanying global warming is greater plant growth. “Global Greening,“ Ausubel said, “is the most important ecological trend on Earth today. The biosphere on land is getting bigger, year by year, by two billion tons or even more.”

Other trendlines show that world population is at peak children, and in the US we are peak car travel and may even be at peak car. The most efficient form of travel, which Ausubel promotes, is maglev trains such as the “Hyperloop“ proposed by Elon Musk. Statistically, horses, trains, cars, and jets all require about one ton of vehicle per passenger. A maglev system would require only one-third of that.

In the ocean, though, trends remain troubling. Unlike on land, we have not yet replaced hunting wild animals with farming. Once refrigeration came along, “the democratization of sushi changed everything for sea life. Fish biomass in intensively exploited fisheries appears to be about one‐tenth the level of the fish in those seas a few decades or hundred years ago.“ One fifth of the meat we eat comes from fish, and about 40 percent of that fifth is now grown in fish farms, but too many of the farmed fish are fed with small fish caught at sea. Ausubel recommends vegetarian fish such as tilapia and “persuading salmon and other carnivores to eat tofu,” which has already been done with the Caribbean kingfish. “With smart aquaculture,“ Ausubel said, “life in the oceans can rebound while feeding humanity.”

When nature rebounds, the wild animals return. Traversing through abandoned farmlands in Europe, wolves, lynx, and brown bears are repopulating lands that haven’t seen them for centuries, and they are being welcomed. Ten thousand foxes roam London. Salmon are back in the Thames, the Seine, and the Rhine. Whales have recovered and returned even to the waters off New York. Ausubel concluded with a photo showing a humpback whale breaching, right in line with the Empire State Building in the background.

Subscribe to our Seminar email list for updates and summaries.

David Keith Seminar Primer

Posted on Wednesday, February 4th, 02015 by Charlotte Hajer
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On Tuesday, February 17, David Keith will present Patient Geoengineering, as part of our monthly Seminars About Long-Term Thinking. Each month the Seminar Primer gives you some background information about the speaker, including links to learn even more.

In 01991, Mount Pinatubo – a largely forgotten and underestimated volcano in the Philippines – erupted in what would turn out to be one of the 20th century’s most significant geological events. It shot about 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide to the surface, much of which a coinciding typhoon then swept up into the air. This produced a cloud of sulfuric acid aerosols that quickly spread across the planet and managed to lower global temperatures by about 0.5 ºCelsius for the next few years.

This one-time event thereby managed to achieve what decades of political discussion about curbing CO₂ emissions has so far been unsuccessful at doing: counteracting the unprecedented global warming of our planet. Could Mount Pinatubo be pointing us to a viable new solution for climate change?

Many people, climate scientists included, are wary of proposals to reverse or reduce global warming by tinkering directly with Earth’s climate and atmosphere. Such efforts at geoengineering, they worry, could have unforeseen and dangerous regional side effects that we may not be able to control or reverse. What if it interferes with local patterns of rainfall – or produces powerful storms?

But after decades of getting nowhere with emissions caps, argues David Keith, we simply can no longer afford not to put these ideas on the table.

Keith is an applied physicist and climate scientist at Harvard, with dual appointments in the university’s schools of engineering and public policy. He splits his time between Cambridge and Calgary, where he runs Carbon Engineering – a company that works on developing technologies for the capture of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and turning it into low-carbon fuel.

Keith dedicates both his academic and entrepreneurial efforts to the exploration of climate engineering. While his company works on methods to directly reduce the amount of CO₂ in the air, his research explores ways to counteract human contributions to rising CO₂ levels by diminishing the amount of solar energy that reaches Earth’s surface. Indeed, one method for this kind of Solar Radiation Management (SRM) takes a cue from Mount Pinatubo, and would involve the release of sulfate particles into the upper atmosphere:

Keith not only argues that we must seriously consider these options, but also suggests that they may not be as irreversible, costly, or dangerous as they seem.

There’s no question [solar radiation management] reduces the global average temperatures; even the people who hate it agree you could reduce average global temperatures. The question is: how does it do on a regional basis? By far the single most important thing to look at on a region-by-region basis is the impact on rainfall and temperature. And the answer is, it works a lot better than I expected. It’s really stunning. A lot of us thought that, in fact, geoengineering would do a lousy job on a regional basis – and there’s lots of talk on the inequalities – but in fact, when you actually look at the climate models, the results show they’re strikingly even.

Nevertheless, Keith by no means means to suggest humanity should begin experimenting with these methods immediately, nor should they be considered a viable and ethical alternative to cutting CO₂ emissions. Above all, he argues for thoughtful discussion, rigorous research, and global consensus about the best way forward. We must, above all, be patient and thorough. As he told Time Magazine in 02009, when the weekly named him a Hero of the Environment, “The thing about tools … is not that you have to use them: it’s that you have to understand them.”

Join us next Tuesday, February 17th at SFJAZZ Center to hear David Keith present his case for patient geoengineering.

David Keith Seminar Tickets

Posted on Tuesday, January 20th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
link   Categories: Announcements, Seminars   chat 0 Comments

 

The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

David Keith presents Patient Geoengineering

David Keith on “Patient Geoengineering”

TICKETS

Tuesday February 17, 02015 at 7:30pm SFJAZZ Center

Long Now Members can reserve 2 seats, join today! General Tickets $15

 

About this Seminar:

The main arguments against geo-engineering (direct climate intervention) to stop global warming are: 1) It would be a massive, irreversible, risky bet; 2) everyone has to agree to it, which they won’t; 3) the unexpected side effects might be horrific; 4) once committed to, it could never be stopped.

What if none of those need be true?

Harvard climate expert David Keith has a practical proposal for an incremental, low-cost, easily reversible program of research and eventual deployment that builds on local research and is designed from the beginning for eventual shutdown. All it attempts is to reduce the rate of global warming to a manageable pace while the permanent solutions for excess greenhouse gases are worked out. Global rainfall would not be affected. The system is based on transparency and patience—each stage building adaptively only on the proven success of prior stages, deployed only as needed, and then phased out the same way.

One of Time magazine’s “Heroes for the Environment,“ David Keith is a Professor of Applied Physics in Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Professor of Public Policy in the Harvard Kennedy School. He is also executive chairman of the Calgary-based company, Carbon Engineering, which is developing air capture of carbon dioxide.

Jesse Ausubel Seminar Primer

Posted on Tuesday, January 6th, 02015 by Charlotte Hajer
link   Categories: Long Term Science, Seminars   chat 0 Comments

On Tuesday, January 13, Jesse Ausubel will present Nature is Rebounding: Land- and Ocean-sparing Through Concentrating Human Activities, as part of our monthly Seminars About Long-Term Thinking. Each month the Seminar Primer gives you some background information about the speaker, including links to learn even more.

Carbon_Emissions_1

The stories and scary graphs aren’t hard to find: the global industrialization that has been taking place since the middle of the 19th century has had a disastrous effect on our environment. It has led to massive deforestation, depletion of other natural resources, and a (resulting) rise in greenhouse gases not seen in millions of years.

But Jesse Ausubel counters this gloom with a bit of optimism. He argues that modernity and technology are not necessarily the unusually destructive forces we make them out to be. Humans were impacting the world around them long before we first started burning fossil fuels to power large-scale factories. And the technological progress we’ve made since then, Ausubel suggests, can actually – and might very well – help us diminish our harmful environmental footprint.

Ausubel is an environmental scientist who combines research with an active policy agenda. He has played an important role in bringing environmental, ecological, and climate issues to the attention of governments and scientific agencies, and has been instrumental in the formulation of US and international climate research programs. He helped organize the first United Nations World Climate Conference in 01979 – the event that first brought the issue of global warming to governments’ attention – and served on a variety of federal research agencies throughout the 01980s and 90s.

Census_Of_Marine_Life_Logo

Through his work with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, where he is a science advisor and former Vice President of Programs, Ausubel has pursued several efforts at documenting and conserving biodiversity. He helped develop the Census of Marine Life, an international mission to study the distribution, diversity, and abundance of life in Earth’s seas and oceans. The census has so far discovered numerous previously unknown species, and species thought to have gone extinct millennia ago. Honoring Ausubel’s efforts, a recently discovered deep-sea lobster was named Ausubel’s Mighty Clawed Lobster (or dinochelus ausubeli).

dinochelus_ausubeli

In addition, Ausubel is a co-founder of the Barcode of Life – an initiative to begin using very short genomic sequences (rather than morphological characteristics) as universal ‘barcodes’ for species identification. He is also founding chair of the Encyclopedia of Life, a wikipedia-like website, first proposed by former SALT speaker E.O. Wilson, that aims to catalog all species of life on earth.

EC11117_Fa

Ausubel is currently Senior Research Associate and Director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University, where he studies how human technological and economic development interact with the environment. He is considered a founder of the field of Industrial Ecology (and his 01989 textbook, Technology & Environment, is accepted as one of the sub-discipline’s foundational texts).

Ausubel argues that industrial development can help us diminish our harmful environmental footprint, because it always tends toward greater efficiency. As the New York Times reported in 02011,

In a recent interview in his office at Rockefeller University on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Mr. Ausubel explained his view that the environment will be protected, not harmed, by technology. Over the long run, he notes, the economy requires more efficient forms of energy, and these are inherently sparing of the environment. Cities used to use wood for heat and hay for transport fuel. But the required volumes of wood and horse feed soon led to more compact fuels like coal and oil.


Jesse Ausubel : Why Renewables are Not Green from Arcos Films on Vimeo.
decarb2

As industry evolves, Ausubel argues, it constantly finds ways to use fewer material resources for every unit of production, thus decreasing its consumption of the world’s natural resources, including land. In other words, industrial development follows a path of dematerialization. Ausubel claims it is also on a course of decarbonization: a consistent and gradual replacement of carbon-based fuels by much more efficient hydrogen-based ones. Indeed, Ausubel is an advocate of nuclear power as a highly efficient source of energy, and a useful alternative that can help us spur society’s decarbonization along.

In a landmark paper, for which Ausubel won The Breakthrough Institute’s 02014 Paradigm Award, Ausubel concludes:

The builders of the beautiful home of the US National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., inscribed it with the epigraph, “To science, pilot of industry, conqueror of disease, multiplier of the harvest, explorer of the universe, revealer of nature’s laws, eternal guide to truth.” Finally, after a very long preparation, our science and technology are ready also to reconcile our economy and the environment … In fact, long before environmental policy became conscious of itself, the system had set decarbonization in motion. A highly efficient hydrogen economy, landless agriculture, industrial ecosystems in which waste virtually disappears: over the coming century these can enable large, prosperous human populations to co-exist with the whales and the lions and the eagles and all that underlie them–if we are mentally prepared, which I believe we are.

Human culture is poised to realize technology’s potential to liberate the environment, Ausubel suggests: we need simply to pursue our drive toward efficiency and greater convenience. This drive might just allow us to have our cake and eat it, too – a prosperous and growing human society amid a thriving natural environment.

To hear more about Jesse Ausubel’s vision of a prosperous human population co-existing peacefully with a thriving natural world, please join us on Tuesday, January 13 at the SFJAZZ Center.