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I've Got A Fever... And The Only Cure... Is More Calvin

emissions 1900ffBW copy.jpgI'm packing to head off for a few days (it's ostensibly a vacation, so I'll only be working part of the time), but I thought that this was something that should be at the top of your web reading list.

Bill Calvin, emeritus professor of neurobiology at the University of Washington, is putting the finishing touches on his latest book: Global Fever. David Houle at EvolutionShift got to interview him, and both the interview and the pieces of his book that he has put online are well-worth checking out:

The timetable is really 2020? That means that we must truly accelerate efforts on all fronts. What can we do as individuals?

You can’t enjoy the long run unless you do the right things in the short run. We’ve only got a decade to make a big dent in fossil fuel use or deploy new carbon sinks in equivalent numbers. Anything slower means a disaster for today’s students.


Climate change is a challenge to the scientists but I suspect that the political leadership has the harder task, given how difficult it is to make people aware of what must be done and get them moving in time. It’s going to be like herding stray cats, and the political leaders who can do it will be remembered as the same kind of geniuses who pulled off the American Revolution.

What does a neurobiologist know about climate change? A whole lot -- Calvin's specialty is the evolution of human intelligence, and it turns out that past climate changes have been very important in the development of the human brain. He explores this topic in a book entitled A Brain for All Seasons: Human Evolution and Abrupt Climate Change. Bill Calvin is remarkably prolific; just skimming through his website can be mind-boggling. He may well be the smartest person I've ever met.

(Oh, yeah, disclaimer time: I first met Bill Calvin about 12 years ago, and we are still in sporadic contact.)

Bill has a variety of solutions in mind, but he's adamant that this is such a big and immediate problem that deeper, more culturally-transformative changes (like redesigning urban life) simply won't be fast enough to help us avoid disaster. This runs somewhat against the WorldChanging canon, but I have a stark suspicion that he's right; of course, it doesn't hurt to be redesigning urban life at the same time as we strong-arm encourage people to drive hybrids.

The last big climate change helped to make us smarter; let's hope that we're smart enough to deal with this new one.


Thanks for pointing out Mr. Calvin's book to me. I have just finished the on-line chapters and it is a great read. I was quite surprised to read how promising the modern take on geothermal energy is.

I've been looking at Vinay Gupta and the Hexayurt project. The fact that they are focusing on life support systems for emergency and disaster relief that work on AA batteries fits right into the work I've been doing for the last few years on solar/dynamo battery chargers. We have to figure out how to live and live comfortably with much less energy.

Of course, the problem with climate change is thermal inertia. If we could snap our fingers and stop all human releases of greenhouse gases _this very instant_, we'd still have to deal with the added heating from all the greenhouse gases we've already put into the atmosphere. We may be beyond the climate tipping point now but that's never a reason to stop working.

This looks like a pretty good plan which I am in agreement with. I am somewhat more positive on nuclear. And would put it at a more solid 3 dots. I am big on up-powering existing reactors. Geothermal is worth a shot as he indicated, it still needs to get proven to scale, but worth trying. I also like DC power and superconductors. Hybrid cars, electric cars, high efficiency diesel are all good.

So 100% loan guarantees to help encourage funding (instead of 80% already) and a national effort on the plan.

He was pretty big on nuclear, in the past you have been far more reluctant. Any new position here ?


Ok, I laughed though.


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