A Climate Change Circular Firing Squad

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There’s a lot that’s new with the Climate Web!

First, please visit and subscribe to our brand new Climate Web YouTube Channel. It’s already a great resource for getting introduced to the Climate Web and for exploring it in depth — and it will get much better. Since the Climate Web points you to more than 100 climate-relevant YouTube channels, and more than 1,500 YouTube videos, it may help serve as a climate gateway into YouTube.

If you’ve followed my work over the years on topics like Climate Chess and the 1,000,000 piece Climate Change Jigsaw puzzle, you’ll know I’m not overwhelmed by the way in which climate advocates organize and coordinate their efforts in order to tackle climate change. But we rarely see the kind of circular firing squad that Chris Mooney reported on this week in the Washington Post. Stanford’s Mark Jacobson has actually filed a libel suit against the authors of a peer-reviewed article that challenges some of the assumptions in Jacobson’s work in which he suggests that we can “immediately” transition to a 100% renewable energy mix. There’s plenty of room for technical debate on this topic; in fact, you can dig deep into all of the associated issues through the I:100%RenewablesCase Index Entry in the Climate Web. But for one climate advocate to sue other climate advocates over disagreements regarding modeling assumptions? Really?

One of the things we obviously need more of when it comes to tackling climate change is dialogue of all kinds. And there is an I:ClimateDialogues Index Entry in the Climate Web. But we recently came across some great work in this area by Kimberly Nicholas of the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies. Check out her “We Can Fix It World Café” page.

Last item for today — I’ve always been intrigued by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock. We’ve just added this Doomsday Clock Animation video to the Climate Web. Check it out — it’s worth the two-minute view!

I hope you find this week’s additions to the Climate Web as interesting (and frustrating) as I do. Again, please visit the Climate Web’s new YouTube channel! Suggestions welcome!

What’s New in the Climate Web: Climate Doorways

Lots of new additions to the Climate Web recently!

We’ve added Climate Liability News to the 100 or so websites in the Climate Web focused on climate change. The idea of assessing liability for GHG emissions is VERY challenging, but now there’s a site tracking the idea day to day.

The Climate Web has been comprehensively tracking the topic of hurricanes and climate change as Harvey and Irma hit the U.S. You can find that coverage at the index entry I:HurricaneHarvey, and we recommend you watch our video trying to make sense of the conversation.

Check out this fun Climate Change Coloring Book project.

Take a look at this innovative 97 Hours of Consensus graphic at Skeptical Science. Can you find the 3 outliers? I found 2, and I’m pretty sure I know who the 3rd is likely to be, but couldn’t find her!

It’s still a work in progress, and early stage at that (in terms of the detail in the Climate Web), but if you want to see the 190 arguments that climate doubters tend to bring up (based on Skeptical Science), here’s the list of arguments in the Climate Web. It’s an interesting list, and we’ll be grouping the arguments in the Index, and then linking information to them so you can quickly survey the best available information from multiple sources.

Last but not least, and reflecting a huge amount of work in recent weeks, take a look at our new Doorways into the Climate Web. The idea is to point users to basic collections of relevant information they can use to understand a topic, without having to tackle the massive amount of related information in the Climate Web (unless one wants to, of course!). Here’s a short video introducing the idea and goal of Climate Web Doorways.  We’ll be issuing “Climate Web Doorways of the Day” on all kinds of topics. Our first Doorway of the Day dealt with electric vehicles, while today’s provides a snapshot of Oregon and Climate Change. Individual Doorways of the Day will be up for about 3 days and then cycle to another topic, but as explained here it’s easy to get permanent access to more than 100 standardized Doorways into the Climate Web, not to mention your own personal doorway. Check them out!

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I hope you’ve seen something interesting to you, and that you’ll check it out in the Climate Web! Please consider supporting our Climate Web Patreon Project, and thanks to our existing supporters!



Climate Change and Hurricanes?

Watch our new video! In this video, we explore media coverage of the links between climate change and Hurricane Harvey, and evaluate the common assertion that we can now finally stop debating whether such links exist (an assertion we heard after Hurricane Katrina by the way). The video doesn’t advocate for or against climate science, it simply asks whether the scientific messaging is consistent and effective. The results aren’t that encouraging, and we should be doing better.

And by the way, the Climate Web can help!

Actionable Knowledge for Climate Progress

head sculpture with open top and a brain being plugged in

This is Part 3 of this blog series. In Part 1, I asked, “do we really intend to do something about climate change?” Part 2 asked “if so, does information matter?” Part 3 asks, “can I find the information I need?”

The idea of actionable climate knowledge reflects the reality that an individual making a climate-relevant decision is doing so on the basis of her ability to answer the two questions that govern all human decision-making: “is it worth it,” and “can I do it?” Each of us uses different information to answer the two questions, and it has to be extracted from the information deluge that crashes over us every day.

Here’s a great (non-climate) example of information that has been organized into actionable knowledge (thanks to Patrick McKercher):

“Andrea, an accounts manager at an investment firm, wakes up to learn from CNN that an Asian banking scandal is strangling venture capital flows and causing loans to be called in prematurely.

Andrea accesses her company’s TheBrain™-based proprietary Knowledge Web to scan her company’s Asian partners and holdings. Clicking on the link to the Royal Bank of Hong Kong (RBHK), the hardest hit bank according to CNN, she is relieved to find that relatively few of her own clients are linked to RBHK, and that her company’s overall exposure to the crisis is modest.

She clicks through the Knowledge Web to show all clients with loans from the Royal Bank of Hong Kong that missed their financial targets in last 36 months, revealing just one client, Tsingtao Telecommunications. Pulling up her company’s current Asia strategy from the Knowledge Web she sees that Tsingtao is an important part of that strategy, and that Tsingtao is linked to other clients in Sweden, Indonesia, and South Africa.

Andrea then sets about using the Knowledge Web to help solve her client’s problem. She can see that Tsingtao switched its banking to RBHK from Cathay Bank four years ago. From her “people network” within the Knowledge Web she discovers that Alejandro (who graduated from the Haas Business School at UCB a few years after she did) now works at Cathay Bank. She calls Alejandro and finds out that after getting poor returns in real estate, Cathay wants to diversify and is interested in reclaiming lost customers. Cathay soon offers Tsingtao a bridge loan at very favorable rates, and Andrea receives a generous bonus at her next review.”

Most of us are likely envious of the Knowledge Web Andrea was able to draw upon, and in fact knowledge management is big business. Andrea’s TheBrain™ software is actually in use by many Fortune 100 companies, and by agencies like the Department of Defense and the CIA. Most of us, however, create elaborate electronic file folder systems full of reports, news stories, and websites that we’re sure we’ll need in the future. A good substitute? Not even close, and when we do need information we’re often left searching the internet for “that great piece” we vaguely remember seeing six months before. Unfortunately, when it comes to a topic like climate change, almost any climate-related search term will generate millions of hits. That’s the antithesis of individual-specific actionable knowledge.

The actionable knowledge we need is almost certainly out there. Woodrow Wilson supposedly said that “there is no idea in our heads that has not been worn shiny by someone else’s brain.” It’s a great quote, whoever said it. There’s almost no question that the internet holds what you need, already “worn shiny by someone else’s brain.” The problem is finding it! As reflected in knowledge management expert Carla O’Dell musing: “If only we knew what we know.”

Those simple seven words go a long ways toward explaining why we’re headed for between 3.5 and 6.0 degrees C of climate change, a level of change that will wreak havoc on the natural and managed systems upon which human societies depend.  It’s not that the information and actionable knowledge we need to make better decisions about climate change doesn’t exist – we’re deluged with climate-relevant information. The problem is that the relevant decision-makers either never encounter “their” actionable knowledge, or have forgotten it by the time they need it.

Let me give you a personal example. I saw a news story today that referred to the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition’s recent Report on the High-Level Commission on Carbon Prices. Since carbon pricing is an area of personal expertise, I figured I should track it down. The report sounded familiar, and when I found the document I even recognized its cover. But I had no recollection of whether I’d read the report.

But like Andrea and the CIA, I have a Knowledge Web built with TheBrain™ software. The Climate Web links together more than 1,000 books, 2,000 videos, 15,000 reports and articles, 25,000 news stories, 3,000 websites, 2,000 topical experts, as well as 10’s of thousands of individually extracted ideas and graphics. 1,500 index entries instantly take me to potentially actionable knowledge on any climate topic, basically putting the entire topic of climate change into my short-term memory.  Calling up the Report of the High-Level Commission on Carbon Prices, it turns out I had read it and linked 30 key ideas and graphics into the Climate Web’s Carbon Pricing Deep Dive. Replicate that thousands of times and you’ll have a sense of how the Climate Web beats Google on actionable knowledge.

For a visual introduction to what I’m talking about, this video explores how the Center for Climate and Security’s recent report, “Epicenters of Climate and Security: The New Geostrategic Landscape of the Anthropocene,” is integrated into the Climate and Security Deep Dive of the Climate Web.



In Part 1 of this blog series I used the metaphor of a 1,000,000 piece jigsaw puzzle to represent the climate change challenge, and urged people really wanting to make a difference on climate change to go to “jigsaw puzzle school.” The Climate Web IS jigsaw puzzle school, and we’ve kept it public access to facilitate faster completion of the puzzle. The web-based version of TheBrain™ software through which you can access the Climate Web, however, is less powerful than the desktop software. To accomplish the actionable knowledge miracles that Andrea was able to, or that we’re able to with the Climate Web, you’d want to develop your own Knowledge Web “fitted” to your own brain.

If you’re working on climate change, however, we can greatly simplify the process. We can use topical modules from the Climate Web to help you construct your own Knowledge Web, saving you hundreds or even thousands of hours. After that you’re free to take your Knowledge Web in any direction that makes sense for you.

Helping you build your own Knowledge Web is just one of many ways the Climate Web can help advance your climate-relevant goals. Whether you’re an individual, a business leader, a researcher, a philanthropist, or a consultant/lawyer, the Climate Web is an unparalleled actionable knowledge resource for climate issues, climate risks, and climate solutions. If you’re involved in any way with the 1,000,000 piece climate change jigsaw puzzle, you should take advantage of the Climate Web.


This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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Does Information Matter for Completing the 1,000,000 Piece Climate Jigsaw Puzzle?

men discussing 1,000,000 piece puzzle to solve climate change

This is part 2 of a 3-part blog. The first part is here, where I explored some of the reasons we’re doing so poorly at completing the 1,000,000 piece climate jigsaw puzzle envisioned by Australian cartoonist Neil Matterson in 2008, a cartoon that remains as relevant today as it was nine years ago.

I concluded Part 1 suggesting that people who want to influence climate change outcomes should attend Climate Puzzle School to learn more about the unique challenges of completing a 1,000,000 piece puzzle, and how they can help beyond the individual puzzle piece they may already be working on.

My “The Great Wall” cartoon zeroes in on one of the most important topics for Puzzle School to cover, namely how to help climate change decision-makers get the  “is it worth it?” and “can I do it?” information  that underlies all human decision-making (see Grenny and Paterson’s 2013 book, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything). Answers to those two critical questions need to find their way from the “growing mountain of climate change information” through, over, or under “The Great Wall” to individuals making climate-relevant decisions.

The challenge doesn’t stem from an information shortage — rather, it’s the opposite. Individuals working on the 1,000,000 piece climate jigsaw puzzle are a veritable information generating machine, using thousands of venues to generate and distribute a virtual infinity of climate-relevant information. From books to reports to videos, blogs, and news stories, any decision-maker with any interest in the topic will likely find herself deluged with information.

The “Great Wall” in my cartoon is obviously metaphorical, but it might as well be as real. Enormous quantities of information do spill over the wall, one symptom of which is that decision-makers turn up millions of hits in connection with any online search. Regardless of whether that decision-maker is an individual purchasing a car, a business executive interested in assessing climate risks, or a policy-maker considering a legislative proposal, the likelihood that he or she will ever see the best available answers to their own “is it worth it, can I do it?” questions is vanishingly small. This in turn dramatically  biases decision-making outcomes against being as climate-friendly” as they could be.

Information overload is certainly important in explaining our relative lack of action on climate change as suggested by Neil Matterson’s 1,000,000 piece jigsaw puzzle cartoon. But the communications challenge goes deeper. Most communication of climate information is premised on the idea of “rational dialogue” in which anyone can be “brought around” on climate change if supplied with enough factual information. Perhaps not surprisingly, most climate communication therefore focuses on constituencies who have not embraced an aggressive response to climate change. Yet we know from two decades of behavioral economics research that this “rational dialogue” assumption couldn’t be more wrong. Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman (often referred to as the father of behavioral economics) characterizes human responses to information inputs as falling into one of two categories: System 1 or System 2. Most human decision-making is reactive and automatic System 1 thinking. Only a small fraction of information inputs get sent up the cognitive chain for System 2 consideration and processing.

Most climate communications assume a System 2 response, which is why we assume that more factual information will eventually get almost anyone to “see the light.” But no one is ever the bad guy in their own mind; everyone believes they have already “seen the light.” Everyone’s System 1 brains filter most of the climate-relevant information they receive to fit their mental models and world view; it rarely moves on to System 2.

In other words, incentivizing better climate change decision-making isn’t about generating and delivering enough information to turn “bad decision-makers” into “good decision-makers.” It’s about getting information in front of decision-makers that goes to their “is it worth it, can I do it?” questions, and that triggers their System 2 decision-making process. Access to “actionable knowledge” might result in a different decision-making behavioral outcome. But recognizing the importance of “actionable knowledge” also illustrates the real communications challenge. Almost infinite information exists, but how do individual decision-makers find the specific actionable knowledge they would use to make more climate friendly decisions?

The “more is better” model that drives most climate communications today has become counter-productive. If we want to move the 1,000,000 piece climate jigsaw puzzle closer to completion — i.e., closer to real environmental benefits and action on climate change — we need to recognize the importance of facilitating access to “actionable knowledge.” Importantly, the need for improved actionable knowledge access applies just as much to individuals already working on the 1,000,000 piece climate change jigsaw puzzle as it does to individuals skeptical of climate change and climate action.

As I argued in Part 1 of this blog, individuals working on the puzzle are as much a part of the problem Pogo described in 1971 (“we have met the enemy, and he is us”) as almost anyone else. Yet it should be easier to get individuals already working on the puzzle to become more effective in contributing to puzzle progress, than to try and use information to change the worldview of individuals skeptical of climate change and climate action.

If the goal is actionable knowledge, perhaps knowledge management approaches and tools are part of the solution? I explore this question in this short video that shows how thinking of climate information flows as a system can illustrate the relationship of climate information to climate progress or the lack thereof.

The video suggests that without a knowledge management function, information overload takes over and sabotages progress on climate change. Inserting a new node into the system representing knowledge management fundamentally changes how the system works. (FYI, the “Loopy” software I used to design the climate information systems in the video was recently developed by Nicky Case. You can see and play with the original systems diagrams: here (for the without knowledge management case) and here (for the with knowledge management case). Feel free to improve my depiction of the climate information system and send it back to me. The idea of the Loopy software is to encourage conversations about systems using easy to build systems diagrams. A great idea!)

I’m certainly not arguing that knowledge management is the “silver bullet” for completing the 1,000,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. But knowledge management training IS likely to be a critical component of any Climate Puzzle School. What’s the status of knowledge management for supporting climate change decision-making? I’ll explore that in Part 3 of this blog.

Do We Really Intend to Avoid Dangerous Climate Change?

To be clear, I’m not asking “do we care about climate change?,” or “are we worried about climate change?,” or “would we like to see something done about climate change?” The answer to all of these questions is obvious from dozens of opinion polls documenting public concern over climate change.

But we care about lots of wicked problems. We care about global peace, while the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Doomsday Clock gets ever closer to midnight. We care about global inequality, while it gets worse. We care about the international wildlife trade, yet the illegal trade continues decade after decade. We’ve cared about climate change for 30 years now, and yet we remain on track for dangerous climate change.

So what I’m asking isn’t “do we care?” It’s “do we intend to do anything about it?” That’s a much harder question to answer. To explore the question further, I’ll use Neil Matterson’s 2008 vision of the 1,000,000 piece climate change jigsaw puzzle.

men discussing 1,000,000 piece puzzle to solve climate change
Source: Neil Matterson, Sunday Mail Brisbane, 11/2/2008. Image courtesy National Museum of Australia

After working on many aspects of climate change for more than two decades, I’m fascinated by the fact that so few of the 1,000,000 pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place despite the efforts of millions of individuals, thousands of organizations, and dozens of countries. Why haven’t we made more progress?

I’ve spent the last four years focused on understanding the 1,000,000 climate change jigsaw puzzle. What might the puzzle actually look like if it could be completed? What are the pieces, where do they stand, which could be assembled quickly and which not, who is working to assemble the puzzle and who is trying to slow it down? To this end I’ve read dozens of books, hundreds of reports and journal articles, thousands of news stories, visited thousands of websites, and watched hundreds of videos. With the help of knowledge management tools I “remember” almost all of it, so I can honestly claim to have as in-depth an understanding of the jigsaw puzzle as anyone else.

It’s pretty much inevitable that we’ll decarbonize our energy systems eventually. But why will we wait to finish that transition until we’ve committed to levels of climate change (probably between 2 and 6 degrees C) that will range from disruptive to catastrophic for billions of people on the planet? We have most of the tools we need, and in the larger scheme of things it wouldn’t cost very much. So why is progress on the climate jigsaw puzzle so slow in the face of certain risk and almost inevitable disruption? That’s the really challenging question.

I know that climate change is a wicked problem, perhaps the ultimate Gordian knot for human and societal decision-making. I can list dozens of factors that impede progress on avoiding dangerous climate change, some of which are summarized in this cartoon.

The bottom line is that based on best available information any rational risk-averse society would prioritize completing the 1,000,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. The tools to complete most or all of the puzzle already exist. The money exists. But the 1,000,000 piece puzzle hasn’t progressed much beyond what Neil Matterson drew in 2008.

Recognizing that reality, I don’t see convincing skeptics of climate action of the error of their ways as the place to focus if we intend to do something about climate change and ultimately complete the puzzle. Pogo stated on Earth Day 1971, “Yep, son, we have met the enemy and he is us.” I would argue that the when it comes to the 1,000,000 climate change jigsaw puzzle, an important enemy still is the “us” working on the puzzle; we could be doing a much better job. For example:

  • Are there very different views of what the completed puzzle should look like, based on our disciplinary tool sets, political world-views, and financial self-interests? Yes.
  • Are we more committed to completing the puzzle “our way” than to the larger goal of getting the puzzle put together? Yes.
  • Do we only “see” those parts of the puzzle we want to see or are most comfortable seeing? Yes.
  • Are we incentivized to generate ever more information about the puzzle, as opposed to figuring out how to assemble it? Yes.
  • Are we happy to “reinvent the wheel” for individual puzzle pieces if it advances our personal (e.g. need to publish) or organizational (e.g. need to raise funding) interests, no matter how much of a diversion? It seems that way, yes.
  • Do we tend to convince ourselves that “our” puzzle piece is by far the most important, that climate change would be easy to solve if everyone else would just come around to our way of thinking, thus justifying our relative lack of interest in other puzzle pieces? Yes.
  • Do we denigrate the importance of the “other” puzzle pieces (think about the renewables vs. nuclear debate to name just one)? Yes.

The bottom line is that in addition to the many other reasons climate change is such a wicked problem, those of us working on the 1,000,000 piece jigsaw puzzle are part of Pogo’s “we have met the enemy and he is us” problem statement. Our incentive structures lead us to focus much more on “our” piece of the jigsaw puzzle than on the goal of completing puzzle. We seem to assume that Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand will take care of that part of the process.

If we really want to do something about dangerous climate change we should go to Puzzle School to learn how we could most contribute to completing the 1,000,000 climate change jigsaw puzzle. Unfortunately, Puzzle School doesn’t exist. What does that say about whether we actually intend to do anything about dangerous climate change?