Conference notes: 22nd March

They don’t go in for understatement in Arizona. Here’s the Dean of the State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability, Sander van der Leeuw, looking forward to Planet Under Pressure 2012:

The agenda for worldwide sustainability science will be set at this conference. The whole of the research agenda for sustainability science for the next several years will be recast and the funding reorganized to take account of the discussions at this conference.

You can detect a hint of what a “recast” of scientific research might mean in a paper to be published in the forthcoming June issue of BioScience:

Global change research must reorient from a focus on biophysically-oriented, global-scale analysis of humanity’s negative impact on the Earth system to consider the needs of decision makers from household to global scales

Contributors to this paper, Planetary Opportunities: A Social Contract for Global Change Science to Contribute to a Sustainable Future, include Elinor Ostrom, Diana Liverman and James Syvitsky, all key speakers at the London conference.

This call for the the science community “to renew its social contract with society by moving……towards solution-oriented research” has been highlighted by Andrew Revkin in his conference prep. The leading US environmentalist blogger is a moderator on Day 3.


I warned last week that Planet Under Pressure 2012 might attract some bile from the merchants of climate change denial. As an innocent from the development sector, I hadn’t appreciated that the broader community of earth scientists is already targeted by reactionary interests.

The Global Warming Policy Foundation is a UK think-tank which attacks the current policy response to climate change (and which declines to disclose its substantial sources of funding).

In a piece published on Tuesday, Donna Laframboise offers a forensic examination of the nine Policy Briefs which have been prepared by the various research agencies of the International Council for Science and circulated for the London conference.

The ICSU explains: “the briefs specifically target policy-makers in the Rio+20 process, aiming to give them access to the latest scientific thinking on sustainable development issues. Ms Laframboise is particularly agitated by the contributors:

Many of the authors are not scientists in the way that term is normally understood. They are communications managers, economists, sociologists, and political science professors…..Nor is there any reason to believe that these people are representative of the scientific community.

I’m not qualified to comment on the credentials of the authors of these ICSU briefing papers. But I do feel that the GWPF analyst has wasted her considerable energies.

The Rio+20 conference is the biggest excuse for pamphleteering since the South Sea Bubble. We’re all doing it and our chances of pinging the decision-making process can be found in the grains of Rio sand.

The ICSU briefs are of variable quality and most of them have arrived too late in the day – but each is a valuable stimulant for conference debate – which is where we are.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK