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Lisa Dilling is a recently-appointed Assistant Professor in the Environmental Studies department. Her research focuses on decision-making and carbon cycle science. Read her new book!


November 28, 2007

Carbon in North America

I didn't want the month to expire without mention of the release of "SAP 2.2", or The First State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR): The North American Carbon Budget and Implications for the Global Carbon Cycle, a report three years in the making issued by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. Disclaimer, I was co-lead for the report, which was authored by over 90 scientists from a wide variety of disciplines. The bottom-line punchline is that sources (such as emissions from energy) outweigh sinks (such as forest and soil uptake) in North America by approximately 3:1. This strongly suggests that sinks by themselves are not going to be sufficient to deal with removing emissions in the future. Sinks are also likely to decline and become more uncertain in the future-- consider the scientific reports just this month on the volatility of sinks (a few weeks ago, we heard about emissions from forest fires, this week, it is about the reduced carbon uptake during the drought of 2002).

Being a bit of an insider on this report, I wanted to share my own personal opinion on what was distinct and unique about this effort for carbon cycle science and for the CCSP reports issued thus far.

As far at the treatment of carbon cycle science, it was the first attempt that we were aware of that examined the balance of carbon at the continental scale in North America with a common data framework from the ground up, meaning not from atmospheric data. We of course built off of many previous efforts at a national or regional scale. The second notable approach was the decision to place equal emphasis on the human activity components of the carbon cycle in North America and the land (and coastal) components. Carbon cycle science is often presented as a budget with much detail on the land, ocean and atmosphere side, with not much detail for the "source" terms, the energy side of the question. The document includes chapters on energy extraction and conversion, transportation, buildings, industry and so on. Also, we included from the start economic and policy analyses to provide a decision-relevant context to our information. Finally, we tried our best to include stakeholders and potential users of the information from the start of the process, at the outline stage, all the way to the finished draft. We held three separate workshops, provided numerous opportunities for comment, and changed the structure and questions answered in response to our participants. The process took more time, resources and effort, but was essential in the team's mind to fulfilling our mandate to be policy-relevant. Only time will tell if we succeeded. Some of the news coverage can be found here:
usa today
Rocky Mountain News
Science Daily

and blogged by Andy Revkin of the NY Times here:

Please check out the report, feedback welcome!

Posted on November 28, 2007 12:48 PM View this article | Comments (1)
Posted to Author: Dilling, L. | Climate Change

October 25, 2007

News on science and world poverty

The Council of Science Editors (includes editors of many scientific publications around the world) has organized this week to focus some page space on the theme of research on poverty and human development. For some good news on the topic, see some of the amazing data visualizations of Hans Rosling, who argues that many countries that we used to think of as experiencing mass poverty are now developing by many standards at a rapid pace. There are still some bleak spots—many of the countries in Africa unfortunately are not yet on target to meet the Millennium Development Goals. One of the interesting tidbits is a project that is using randomized testing to study the effectiveness of various anti-poverty measures. It seeks to combine sensible, tailored solutions on the ground with a research protocol to rigorously test how well the measures work. While this might seem to be “mundane science” to some, I think it’s a great example of usable science working to help the world’s poor.

Posted on October 25, 2007 10:25 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Dilling, L. | Sustainability

October 12, 2007

Al Gore and the Nobel

Former Vice-President Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) share this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. In doing so, they join the ranks of previous winners such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, and many other internationally recognized figures working on human rights and global security issues.

I was personally surprised by this decision by the Nobel Committee on many levels.

In my recollection, the Nobel Peace Prize is traditionally awarded to individuals and organizations working to end human conflict or improve the lives and dignity of oppressed or poverty-stricken people. In awarding the prize to Gore and the IPCC for the climate change issue, the Nobel Committee are extending the boundaries of what we recognize as a human conflict issue to include the global environmental issue of climate change. Certainly climate change has the potential to inflame conflicts and initiate new ones, and many have pointed this out in their evaluation of the impacts of climate change on societies. But in my opinion the Nobel should be reserved for those on the front lines combating the human tragedies of our day such as the atrocities of Darfur, ongoing military occupation in Burma, and plunging life expectancy in many African nations. That the Nobel Committee has no environmental prize is a reflection on the inadequacy of the Nobel categories, and should not be an excuse to make the Peace prize into the political issue “catch-all” category of the day.

But I have a few specific beefs with the Nobel Committee’s selection of Mr. Gore. The citation reads: “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change" and for Gore specifically, “He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted.” Certainly the IPCC has done this in spades, for many years and involving many, many scientists. The IPCC and the thousands of individuals who generally volunteer their time deserve a great recognition. But Mr. Gore has had a mixed record in his efforts on climate change. Certainly, he recognized the importance of the issue early on, writing a book on the subject, “Earth in the Balance,” in 1992. But Gore has also had an opportunity to influence US policy from the second highest platform available—the Vice-Presidency. In his 8 year term as Vice-President, the US became a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol (largely attributed to Mr. Gore’s efforts) but never ratified it. The blame for this has been laid on President Bush, but Mr. Gore did not make this a platform of his Presidential campaign, nor did he attempt to spend political capital to get the Protocol ratified before he left office. In addition, no reputable scientist believes that the measures of the Kyoto Protocol, even if fully adopted by all signatories, would put much of a dent in the global warming problem. The Kyoto Protocol may be a “good start” as some have said, but it may just as easily be seen as a detrimental distraction to the reality of seriously solving the problem. We need reductions of 80-90% in the long term, some say in the next few decades. How are we going to get there?

As far as “measures needed to counteract such change,” Mr. Gore’s communication efforts thus far leave much to be desired. As his documentary illustrates well, he is a consummate scientific communicator, and he has done a great job of communicating the science of climate change to a wider audience. As far as promoting adequate solutions, however, Mr. Gore falls short. In his film, “An Inconvenient Truth”, he only begins to discuss solutions two thirds of the way into the movie, and then only in a cursory manner. Mr. Gore does not even mention the energy part of the climate change problem until more than half way through the movie. There is a reason he was unable to urge the Congress to ratify the Protocol. There was a reason he did not make climate change a central platform of his Presidential campaign. The fact is, the solutions that are needed to get to 80 or 90% reduction in CO2 emissions are politically and infrastructurally difficult. Mr. Gore cites that “political will is a renewable resource”, and certainly political will is a necessary feature. But even more necessary are real, committed strategies to begin to make stringent reductions in emissions. And in that department Mr. Gore is still where many advocates are on the climate issue. Raising awareness is a good thing, but what we really need is action.

Perhaps the Nobel Prize Committee shares this sense of urgency, and with their selection is intending to do their part to elevate the issue. Certainly others are interpreting their actions this way-- for example Rep. Al Markey (D-MA) on CBS-- “Now that Mr. Gore has won the Nobel Peace Prize, it is up to Congress to act.”

Hmm. An Oscar and a Peace Prize. Maybe now people will sit up and take notice. I just wonder what they will take notice of. Most of the press coverage of Mr. Gore’s selection has included speculation on whether or not he will run for president again . But the climate change issue is not about a single person or finding the magic button to get people’s attention. We need to get past symbolic gestures and dramatic theater. My hope is that someone will soon win a Nobel Prize for discovering a way for humans to live peaceably and in good health without exhausting our non-renewable resources or polluting the planet for future generations and the rest of the world’s species.

Posted on October 12, 2007 03:29 PM View this article | Comments (13)
Posted to Author: Dilling, L. | Climate Change

September 26, 2007

We're Hiring!

Faculty Position, Center Director
Science and Technology Policy Research
CIRES, University of Colorado at Boulder

This is a fantastic opportunity for individuals who conduct science and technology policy research. Please see our webpage at: for the wide range of research and outreach going on at the Center. If you have questions about the Center or the University of Colorado, please feel free to contact me, Lisa Dilling, at ldilling AT Please forward to colleagues!

Faculty Position
Center Director

Science and Technology Policy Research
CIRES, University of Colorado at Boulder

The University of Colorado at Boulder seeks to hire a Faculty Director for the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. Applicants must have demonstrated achievement in science and technology policy research. This position allows substantial time for research as well as leadership and administrative service as Center Director. The successful candidate must have an established interest in interdisciplinary research and teaching, and must be willing to contribute to both undergraduate and graduate teaching related to science and technology policy. The position will carry tenure within an academic department to be mutually decided upon by the candidate and department. Possibilities include Geography, Political Science, Environmental Studies, Communications, and numerous others.

Required Qualifications: PhD in a field relevant to science and technology policy, a demonstrated record of excellence in extramurally supported research, and a commitment to teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

To Apply: Applicants should send a letter of application, curriculum vitae, a statement on teaching experience, and three names to be used for letters of reference to, job posting number 802370.

Questions can be directed to CIRES Human Resources ( Review of applications will begin November 15 and continue until the position is filled.
The University of Colorado at Boulder is committed to diversity and equality in education and employment.

Posted on September 26, 2007 12:17 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Dilling, L. | Job Announcements | Job Announcements

November 29, 2005

The US Climate Change Science Program and Decision Support

A few weeks ago, the US Climate Change Science Program held a large public workshop with the stated goal of “serving as a forum to address the Program’s progress and future plans regarding its three decision support approaches.” In the Strategic plan, these three approaches are broken down into producing synthesis and assessment reports, developing adaptive management approaches and developing methods to support climate change policy making. This conference was organized around only the first two topics, not explicitly discussing the third.

I attended the workshop, along with about 800 other people. The breakdown of attendees was not given, but among presenters the statistics were clear—scientists and government participants dominated. The paucity of attendance of true “decisionmakers” who might be using the information generated by the program was readily apparent. If taking time to attend a three-day meeting is any indication of who the stakeholders of the CCSP are, the message is obvious: scientists and scientific agencies.

This poses a real problem for a program determined to make its research support decision making, in whatever topic. How can one hope to make a product that is useful to someone without some sense of the market, if you will, for that product? How can a workshop hope to provide useful feedback to program direction if the intended beneficiaries are largely absent? And how does feedback from such a workshop affect agency direction, compared with say, agency steering committees or panels of scientific peer reviewers? As Dr. Mahoney stated quite clearly at the conclusion of the conference, agencies themselves are responsible for the content of the CCSP: as to the funding-- “everything has to go that way” i.e. through the agencies. He acknowledged the limited influence that CSPO (the office that coordinates the CCSP) has in directing the work of the CCSP.

In another clear statement, Dr. Mahoney stated that the mandate of the CCSP is to do “research and observations,” not to be providing decision support. In fact, however, the Global Change Research Program Act specifically states that the program should “provide usable information on which to base policy decisions relating to global change.” This provides plenty of legal authority for program activities, including research and observations, being “usable” for decision making. And while the CSPO may not have the power to ensure the program is usable, the Committee (i.e. the agency managers) overseeing the program certainly does have the mandate to “consult with actual and potential users of the results of the Program to ensure that such results are useful in developing national and international policy responses to global change.”

Which brings me to my final observation. The final session of the meeting was devoted to setting priorities for the future. One of the discussion questions was “What information do we need to better support decision makers and refine CCSP’s future decision support priorities?” Several of the speakers presented interesting and thoughtful ideas for the future evolution of the program, including the need for evaluation of the use of information with respect to outcomes, the need for a dialogue on the appropriateness of CCSP activities to the public need, and the need to pay attention to scales and decision makers beyond the national governmental level. The response of Dr. Mahoney was to emphasize the limited influence of CSPO (his office that coordinates the CCSP), restate the focus of CCSP on research and observations, and to highlight the zero-growth budget prospects for the program, very frank although not very optimistic responses.

Although I certainly enjoyed aspects of the conference, and was pleased to see so many scientists earnestly working at this interface of creating scientific information that is usable to society, I ultimately left feeling that an opportunity had been lost. The amount of funding spent on the types of research highlighted at the conference such as regional integrated sciences and assessments, applications programs and the like is quite small, probably less than 5%, and that would be a generous estimate. The work relating to decision support is that is going on is often marginalized, and institutional structures and incentives for researchers are not well-aligned with providing usable science to improve societal outcomes. It is not clear that the CCSP has seriously taken on the challenge of decision support and how it relates to the current program structure and priorities. The optimist in me hopes that this type of transformation is possible, but it will take more than good intentions and words on a page. It will take leadership, prioritization, planning and political will.

Posted on November 29, 2005 02:15 PM View this article | Comments (7) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Dilling, L. | Climate Change

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