The AMS Summer Policy Colloquium: contributing to successful living on the real world.

Earlier this June, each of the 37 participants in the 2014 AMS Summer Policy Colloquium received a parting gift: a copy of Living on the Real World.

lotrwbookHere’s the reason why. All seven billion of us wake up daily purposing to eke a living from our planet… extracting water, food, and energy that we need while dodging weather extremes, seismic shakes, and volcanic upheavals. At the same time we struggle to protect habitat, biodiversity, and the environment so that we may live with equal success for many tomorrows. Stakes are high… some would say existential. Colloquium participants will find themselves are at ground-zero of these issues throughout their careers. They could use a framework for making their work effective. So could we all.

Sad to say, things don’t look to be going that well, at least on the surface. Today’s serious literature about the world’s environmental future runs toward the apocalyptic. A steady stream of argument points to deteriorating water- and air quality; the latest wildfires, floods, and seemingly unending drought; melting ice caps and acidifying oceans; and suffering of all forms of wildlife from habitat loss and more.

On the one hand that dour perspective has merit, but on another it’s puzzling. Looking at human experience through history’s rearview mirror suggests progress in many respects, not just decline.

LOTRW addresses this enigma. The book argues that our threefold problem of real-world-living is soluble… and, further, that if we look more closely at decisions, actions and events underway in the world around us, we see promising signs that effective problem-solving is already underway, whether with respect to Earth as a resource, Earth as a victim, or Earth as a threat – or, most importantly, in some degree of combination. We don’t have to steer the world to an entirely new course; we just all have to get together and give a helpful nudge to those bits that are working.

Thought and action are pivotal in four arenas.

Earth observations, science, and services are delivering new understanding at a stunning rate on how the Earth works, both with respect to the overall picture and details. The new understanding isn’t simply tweaking long-held views of how things work; some age-old ideas are being turned on their heads. The advances point to and motivate new coping strategies.

Policy provides an inexpensive, quick means for harnessing the new knowledge and capabilities for societal benefit. One policy transcends all the others – to foster and accelerate innovation. That’s not just in science and technology, but also with respect to the seat of policy itself. Today’s policies need rejiggering and in some cases substantial reworking. Such reformulation progresses too slowly at national levels. What’s more, international and national level one-size-fits-all policies aren’t what are needed. The action is shifting to adaptive, experimental policymaking at local levels, whether with respect to recycling, cleaning water supplies, building community resilience to hazards, or harnessing renewable energy sources. One especially encouraging example: though carbon emissions are a global problem, nations, states, and even cities are adopting local measures to reduce emissions unilaterally. In aggregate, these may yet address the problem… and in time.

Social networking. Since policymaking will need to become more local, adaptive, and experimental, and since policy consequences are inherently emergent versus easily recognized a priori, we need a means for early detection of success and failure and the ability to communicate those findings rapidly from one policy setting to another across nations and the world. In this context, the current rise of IT-based social networking on the world scene seems nothing less than Providential.

Local leaders. However, place-based policy formulation and implementation aren’t mere abstractions. They won’t happen without local, community-level leadership – real people listening to their peers and through that engagement co-producing vision; and then taking initiative and at the same time shouldering individual responsibility in the face of personal risk to reputation and fortunes.

The some 500 early-career scientists who’ve been through the AMS Summer Policy Colloquium over its fourteen-year history and their peers form just such a cohort, one that’s growing in numbers with time as they share their wisdom and perspective – and, yes, their energy and passion – with others, and as they learn from others in like measure.

We want them to collaborate with – not combat – the political leaders and the public who support their work at national and local levels. We want them to develop solutions, not just refined academic critiques. We want them doing their part to make the 21st century humanity’s best century yet. LOTRW offers rudiments of a framework for how to accomplish this, accompanied by generous helpings of encouragement. Join the effort! Pick up a copy of the book and read it. Participate in the 2015 AMS Summer Policy Colloquium. Tell your friends and colleagues.

After all, we’re in this together.

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2 Responses to The AMS Summer Policy Colloquium: contributing to successful living on the real world.

  1. Bill:-

    Consider the following –
    • The proportion of undernourished people in the developing world fell from 23% in ’90-’92 to less than 15% in ’10-’12.
    • More than two BILLION people gained access to potable water in the last decade.
    • Never in the history of the world have so many lived such a good quality of life.
    • Indicators of environmental quality show a steady IMPROVEMENT over the last half-century in the US.

    Then why all the negativity? I’m not sure, but Schumpeter (of Creative Destruction fame) may offer a clue. He predicted that capitalism would lead to a rise in living standards (which it has), which in turn would lead to a great increase in the educational level of the population (which it has). Then the educated but uncompetitive would blame the system for their failings, and seize control of educational and cultural institutions so that they could propagandize that capitalism doesn’t work (which seems to be the case). You gotta wonder…

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