Friday, May 11, 2007

International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development

Take time if you can to look at the Drafts out for comment (before 21st May) of this extensive international exercise:

'The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) is a unique international effort that will evaluate the relevance, quality and effectiveness of agricultural knowledge, science, and technology (AKST); and effectiveness of public and private sector policies as well as institutional arrangements in relation to AKST.'

As I understand it the private sector is not happy with the way the Assessment is turning out - there are clearly contested positions so if you want to influence the outcome have a look.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Australia's Right To Know - an initiative that needs to succeed

'AUSTRALIA'S largest newspaper, television and radio companies today will set aside their traditional rivalries to unite behind a new public campaign designed to protect free speech.

Fairfax Media, publisher of The Age, News Ltd, FreeTV representing free-to-air television networks, the ABC and SBS, and commercial radio broadcasters will argue that free speech is being eroded through more than 500 federal and state laws and regulations.

The media coalition will fund a national study outlining current restrictions on expression, which will be used as the basis for a new public campaign...'
Green fuels on the wrong track?

John Vidal's article makes sound sense in pointing out some of the systemic traps in policies that pursue 'green fuels' developments. It is:

'based on the most comprehensive survey yet of energy crops, such as palm oil, maize, sugar cane, soya and jatropha, with 30 UN agencies contributing.'

Some green fuels development may be OK in Brasil or parts of Argentina (but even there it can be pursued at the expense of habitat destruction). The expansion of corn-based fuel production in the US just does not add up in environmental terms and seems to me a purely political ploy to appease powerful mid-west US interests.

Studies also vary greatly in their boundary conditions and thus what is internalized or externalized to the 'system of interest'. For example, in this University of Minnesota study benefits from ethanol are seen as positive because gain is attributed to livestock production without 'problematising' the issues associated with the environmental sustainability of their animal production systems.
Thinking systemically - how to do it

Frank Fisher (from the Understandascope) in an article in today's Age shows how systemic thinking can be used to break out of traps. Traps develop when current ways of thinking about, and acting in, the world are no longer adequate. Here is a flavour:

'Beyond these largely well-known consequences of the thermal power stations are their less well-known environmental demands for water, ecological, geological and climatological dislocation. In the case of water, we are talking about water for cooling, the dispersal of "waste" heat equivalent to twice the energy shipped out as electricity, which when dumped into airsheds around power stations causes local and global climate changes. Local ecosystems are extensively damaged, especially around the respective mines and power stations by earth and water movements and a range of polluting gases and particulates. Geological changes are made through mining, redistribution of mass ("overburden"), site drainage and water course (aquifer) changes'.

We need much more of this!
'Climate change adaptation' is the new buzz phrase in Oz

As evidenced by last Tuesday's Australian Federal Budget, concern in Oz has at last shifted beyond the debate about whether climate change is 'real' or not. Not before time the phrase 'climate change adaptation' is now the rage. In negotiations between the States and Federal Government (COAG) action has become framed in the following terms:

'COAG welcomed the Commonwealth’s commitment of up to $26 million to establish and manage the Australian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation and $100 million program funding for the Centre over five years. The work will assist particularly affected sectors and regions, planning bodies, farmers, businesses and local government to understand better the impacts of climate change and to develop responses.

The adaptation centre will be managed by the Commonwealth but will work closely with the States and related bodies to ensure a coordinated national approach as envisaged by the National Adaptation Framework.'

In many ways this is a good thing, but of course much later in coming than it should have been. However, before the concept becomes more entrenched, or reified, I hope there will be some exploration of what the phrase reveals and conceals.

What do I mean by reveal and conceal? Well all metaphors have entailments that reveal and conceal. Take the idea of countryside as a tapestry - in England this reveals concerns about the patterns, borders, field geometry, texture etc., of the countryside. The same metaphor conceals other aspects such as the smells, noise, danger that can also exist in countrysides. So a metaphor brings forth some things and hides others - and this can lead to unintended consequences when particular metaphors are used to frame policies and practices.

With climate change adaptation my fear is that this will reify understandings, widespread in ecology and environmental science, that there is a knowable and predictable environment to which we and other species can adapt. Such a reification is a negation of the understanding that adaptation is a co-evolutionary process that unfolds every day. For me the big question that funds for climate change adaptation needs to address is:

How can we favourably alter our (Homo sapiens sapiens) current trajectory as quickly as possible within our co-evolutionary drift with the biophysical world and with other species?

To explore this question requires systemic understandings and practices.