While at the Carbon Expo in Cologne at the end of May, there was a great deal of interest in the climate change learning programs that we shared with attendees. The sense I got as I spoke with participants from a range of sectors (engineering, risk management, energy consulting) is that people are realizing that knowledge needs to be converted to learning to become practice, especially on a topic as complex as climate change. This was one of the drivers behind the development of our recent Massive Open Online Course on climate change.
I’m definitely not a stats geek, but every now and then, I get caught up in some of the nerdy excitement generated by measuring the state of the world. Take today’s launch (in London, but webstreamed) of a new ‘Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2014’ for example – it’s fascinating.
This is the fourth MPI (the first came out in 2010), and is again produced by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), led by Sabina Alkire, a definite uber-geek on all things poverty related. The MPI brings together 10 indicators, with equal weighting for education, health and living standards (see table). If you tick a third or more of the boxes, you are counted as poor.
"Journalists have strong incentives to inflate the likelihood of worst-case scenarios for whoever is losing the current news cycle, which produces a lot of phony “game changers”. After so much hype and so many failed predictions, who can blame citizens for tuning these stories out?"
- Brendan Nyhan, an American political scientist, liberal to moderate political blogger, author, and assistant professor in the Department of Government at Dartmouth College.
The possibility of rational debate and discussion in human affairs remains a stubborn and persistent ideal. This is, I suspect, mainly because we have a lot riding on it. Without the possibility of rational debate and discussion, it would be close to impossible to work in groups, and for the groups to be productive, to get stuff done. Deliberative processes would also be unworkable; and would in fact not exist. Parliaments and similar legislative assemblies – allegedly the great deliberative forums of liberal constitutional democracy – would not function without some attempt to promote rational debate and discussion. Democracy itself celebrates the ideal. The whole idea of a public sphere rests on the notion that citizens can meet in the virtual public square-- constituted today by the mass media system in each country– and exchange views on the great public issues of the day, from which process-informed public opinion might emerge, and so on.
Yet, the ideal of rational debate and discussion requires (a) certain personal disciplines, and these disciplines are not easy to practice; and (b) personality traits that are not evenly distributed within any population.
There is no shortage of discussion on climate change; it seems almost pervasive these days. The media report extreme weather events, animal extinction (think polar bears floating off to sea), health problems, and the political push and pull around the issue. The problem is also prevalent in popular culture, with magazines running special issues, movies showing the end of our days, and video games that presenting post-apocalyptic scenarios. Yet, we have very little consensus about how to deal with it.
Robert Redford recently wrote a blog post calling for more storytelling on “complicated, politically charged issues like our environment and the need for swift action to combat climate change.”
Simple adjustments though, including stricter enforcement of seatbelt and helmet wearing, can help reduce these distressing statistics. That's where the Seatbelt Crew comes in.
A group of special, transgender Indian women use their sacred position in Indian culture to urge motorists to use their seatbelts. The following video shows the Seatbelt Crew as they direct motorists and passengers at traffic stops to use their safety devices.
So I thought I would chip in to the debate on lessons learned. In my role supporting service delivery in South Asia, I have actually been asked, ‘what have we learnt?’ So I have been trying, but still failing, to come up with a satisfactory summary – not least because what constitutes a ‘lesson’ depends on the ‘evidence’ you value. Here is my (subjective) work in progress:
"There is this increasing faith that physical science is the answer to all our terrible questions. I want to fight against the whole idea that it is where you go to for enlightenment.”
- Mary Midgley, an English moral philosopher, who strongly opposes reductionism and scientism and any attempts to make science a substitute for the humanities. She is well-known for her work on science, ethics and animal rights.
Imagine that you’re a citizen of a country that has just experienced one of the worst earthquakes in history. You, your neighbors, and fellow country-men are immediately thrown into danger, chaos, and destitution. As one of the fortunate survivors, you wait for authorities to provide medical care, shelter, food, and other immediate needs, but you receive little or no help. Yet, to your surprise, a large group of ordinary citizens begin organizing a massive disaster response by using blogs, twitter, Facebook, and other social media networks. Their efforts have provided you with life-saving resources. And all of a sudden, within days, digital technologies have facilitated an entire social movement around this earthquake. These are the types of stories that Steven Livingston and Gregor Walter-Drop examine in their new edited series, Bits and Atoms: Information and Communication Technology in Areas of Limited Statehood.
If you are interested in digital media and politics, there is a plethora of literature on the role of ICTs in powerful political systems in the industrialized world. However, there has been very little focus on the role of digital technology in weak states with inadequate governance systems. Bits and Atoms is a comprehensive volume that examines the extent to which ICTs can help fill governance voids in a number of countries in Eastern Europe, Sub-Sahara Africa, and the Middle East. A distinguished group of scholars attempt to answer some important questions like, “Can ICTs help fill the gap between pressing human needs and weak states’ ability to meet them? Can communities use ICTs to meet challenges such as indiscriminate violence, disease, drought, famine, crime, and other problems arising from deficient and non-responsive state institutions? How does ICT affect the legitimacy of the state?”