Information Systems for Environmental Sustainability

IT, Resource Productivity, Environmental Preservation, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

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U-M President Schlissel: “I am committed during my presidency to putting U-M on a trajectory towards carbon neutrality”

Citing regional collaboration and replicability, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel commits to net carbon neutrality during his presidency. From the University Record article:

Speaking at his annual Leadership Breakfast, Schlissel said he would appoint a commission in the coming months to develop a plan that includes specific strategies and a timeline for the university to achieve carbon neutrality in a fiscally responsible manner.

“Throughout our history, we’ve always strived to impact society in profound ways. I’d like to figure out how to do this in partnership with Ann Arbor, and with other regional stakeholders, in a fashion that can be replicated by others all around our state and around the nation.”




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BBC: “Five things we have learned from the IPCC report”

Full BBC article about the IPCC special report can be found here.

There’s no doubt that this dense, science-heavy, 33-page summary is the most significant warning about the impact of climate change in 20 years.

“It is seriously alarming,” Amjad Abdulla, a lead author on one of the chapters from the Maldives, told BBC News.

“The small islands will be the first, but nobody can escape; it is quite clear.”

But while the warnings about the dangers of letting temperatures go beyond 1.5C are dire, the report says, surprisingly perhaps, that the world can keep below the limit.

“We face a really large challenge but it is not impossible to limit warming to 1.5 degrees,” said Dr Natalie Mahowald, an IPCC author


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Report: “Digital Efficiency: Driving Decarbonization and Unlocking Business Value Across Industries”

New report by Intel and GE describes some scenarios for how digital technologies can reduce emissions and cut costs in the fourth industrial age.2017-07-13 12.38.11 pm

One example is wind farm efficiency:

For example, GE’s PowerUp Platform has been extended to become the Digital Wind Farm. With this solution, GE extends analytics and optimization beyond a single wind turbine to the entire wind farm. GE harnessed the power of the emerging Industrial Internet to create the Digital Wind Farm, a dynamic, connected, and adaptable wind energy platform that pairs wind turbines in a wind farm with digital infrastructure to optimize efficiency across the entire wind farm. This platform can account for the wind farm’s topology, surrounding geography, wake effects, and other inputs to control individual wind turbines and optimize the operation as a whole. Through these techniques, the Digital Wind Farm technology boosts a wind farm’s energy production by up to 20 percent and could help generate up to an estimated $50 billion value for the wind industry. The Digital Wind Farm uses interconnected digital technology to address a long-standing need for greater flexibility in renewable power.

Overall, the report’s projections show significant potential, though much work is needed to translate potential into reality.

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HSBC: Accelerated Drive to Low Carbon Economy is Better for Global Economies

Nick Robins, head of the Climate Change Centre of Excellence at HSBC, discusses benefits, costs and risks of a transition to a low-carbon economy last September at the Stockholm meeting of the Global Challenges Foundation.

Nick calls this “disruptive change” and describes a “digital networks” wave of disruption giving way to a “climate business” wave of disruption. I would agree, though I think the interesting opportunities lie in the transition from digital networks to climate business.

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Climate Change Knowns and Unknowns – Professional Responsibility of Scholars Who Don’t Study Climate Science

What professional responsibility do scholars who don’t study climate science have to their students and others who look to them for knowledge about climate change and potential solutions? How to respond to such questions in terms of the nature of the problem, its implications, and approaches for mitigating and adapting to the problem?

Science of Climate Change (nature of problem)

Regarding the science of climate change itself, based on their developed scientific expertise 97% of well-published climate scientists agree that “anthropogenic greenhouse gases have been responsible for “most” of the “unequivocal” warming of the Earth’s average global temperature over the second half of the 20th century,” according to a peer-reviewed study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Another peer reviewed study, this time of 3,146 earth scientists finds a similar result: 90% respond “risen” to the question “When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant? and 82% answer Yes to “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?”

To emphasize, these are the views of truth-seeking scientific experts who study various aspects of climate change and subject their analyses to rigorous peer review and criticism within scientific journals and in research lectures.

Implications of Climate Change (impact of problem)

Regarding the implications of rising mean global temperatures on human life, there’s been widespread research on impacts to food and water supplies, human health, economic growth, conflict and security, disease, etc. For example, a recent study of “Climate Change Impacts on Global Food Security” in Science results in a set of precepts, including

  • Climate change impacts on food security will be worst in countries already suffering high levels of hunger and will worsen over time
  • The consequences for global undernutrition and malnutrition of doing nothing in response to climate change are potentially large and will increase over time
  • Food inequalities will increase, from local to global levels, because the degree of climate change and the extent of its effects on people will differ from one part of the world to another, from one community to the next, and between rural and urban areas.

Overall, and according to the latest 2014 IPCC report: “Based on many studies covering a wide range of regions and crops, negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts (high confidence).” IPCC goes on to summarize that: “Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and challenging irreversible impacts”

Importantly, some effects of climate change are impacting human life now, including increased coastal flooding, longer and more damaging wildfire seasons, more frequent and intense heat waves, forest death in the Rocky Mountains, and changing seasons.

Mitigating and Adapting to Climate Change (solutions)

Regarding solutions, arguments can be made for a variety of approaches, including moving away from fossil fuels by pricing the CO2 externality, technological ingenuity, dietary changes away from beef and toward local and organic foods, carbon sequestration, adoption of low-carbon energy sources, enacting regulations, etc.


Two Fundamental Tenets of Professional Responsibility

So what is the professional responsibility of non-climate science scholars in the face of the above knowns and unknowns? I propose two basic principles:

P1 Clarity in communicating consensus of climate scholars and what their research says: most of global warming is being caused by increased concentrations of carbon emissions from human activities such as the use of fossil fuels.  

P2 Clarity in communicating the scientific understanding that impacts of climate change are occurring now, and the range and intensity of impacts is likely to increase and be more negative than positive in the future, creating significant risks. 


Below, I provide two example statements from professors who are not climate scientists that illustrate alignment and misalignment with the two principles.


1. Roger Pielke Jr., professor of political science in the environmental studies program at the University of  Colorado.

Roger uses a simple and easy-to-understand “bathtub model” of carbon dioxide buildup on page 9 of his book “The Climate Fix,” clearly fulfilling P1. He goes on to say that “Many, if not most, scientists believe that the impacts [of accumulating carbon dioxide] will be on balance negative and significant,” in line with P2.

These statements align with P1 and P2 and indicate professional responsibility.


2. Jaana Woiceshyn is an associate professor of strategy at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Canada.

Jaana has recently written that “there has been no significant global warming in the last century” and “CO2 is not a significant cause of temperature fluctuations”.

These statements contradict P1 and do not indicate professional responsibility.