This series is something neuroscientist Alison Bernstein and biologist Iida Ruishalme have been brewing over for a long time. Risk perception is such a big crux in science communication that it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on. We decided to cross-post it both on SciMoms and Thoughtscapism in the hopes of spreading the message far and wide.
Common perception of dangers vs the actual hazards they pose, by Susanna Hertrich (posted with permission).
Our decisions as parents and as consumers are exercises in balancing risks and benefits. However, risks are not always intuitive and our cognitive shortcuts can lead us astray.
Misunderstandings about risk complicate our ability to make informed decisions about everything from vaccines and medical decisions to what food we eat and feed our children. Unfortunately, humans, on the whole, are intuitively terrible at assessing risk in our own lives. Our difficulty in assigning risk seems to be innate, as discussed in this piece from Undark (Know This First: Risk Perception Is Always Irrational). Continue reading
World’s energy production needs all the innovation it can get, but UN-director Erik Solheim appears not to have gotten the memo.
GUEST AUTHOR: This piece was written by journalist Øystein Heggdal, and it was originally published in the Norwegian newspaper Klassekampen on the 2nd of February 2018. We cooperated on a translation of the article for it to appear here English.
There is an ongoing petition campaign with the aim to change the politics at UN’s Environmental Program (UNEP) whose director Erik Solheim is. The campaign is lead among others by the climate scientists James Hansen, and it was started in connection to the COP23 climate meeting in Bonn last year. Solheim and the UNEP arranged the largest side-event of the meeting, called Sustainable Innovation Forum, where tech companies could present their ideas about how societies can be steered in a direction that protects the planet and which helps us avoid the problems of climate change.
Perhaps you’ve seen one of these videoclips: the scene opens up of wolves galloping in the snow, then landscapes of rivers and mountains opening up before you. Pictures of deer and elk, bears, bison, beavers, badgers, foxes, eagles, and so on, are paraded before us to beautiful music. They are all told to be living again in harmony and balance, thanks to one factor: wolves. You hear the exalted voice of George Monbiot saying things like “Birds began to return to the park!” and “But this is where it gets truly remarkable, it turns out that reintroduction of wolves even changes the course of rivers!”
Large predators are an important part of upholding the balance of ecosystems, for sure. But does an ecosystem “miraculously” return back to normal, including its physical landscape, by introduction of one of its main predators, 70 years after its removal?
Uplifting videos, like the ones produced by the Sustainable Human and the National Geographic, certainly do a good job convincing us that this is what has in fact happened. They are truly lovely (if a tad melodramatic) stories, too. But I think they would be better if they were accurate.
On our way in to the plant with my girlfriends
A friendly nuclear engineer I met at the screening for the movie New Fire made the off-hand mention that he might be able to give a tour of his nuclear plant, Gösgen – an offer I held onto like a leech! Yesterday it happened. It was a bit of a walk to get there from the Däniken train station, but the day was sunny and the place was not hard to find… we just followed the source of the clouds.
It is sort of amazing to realize that the little dome (to the left of the hyperboloid cooling tower) is the source of so much energy, that the mere waste heat from that process continually vaporises water enough to create decent-sized clouds.
Well at the entrance to the plant, we were met by my nuclear contact, and he handed us over to the great care of our tour guide for the day, Heinz, who had grown up playing on the greens around the power plant.
Enter the obligatory jokes, “Look, even the trees are dead here!!” (For posteriority, let it be stated that it’s January)
This piece was originally published in the Finnish newspaper Aamulehti on Friday 8th of November 2017. The article is based on an earlier English blog piece I wrote, which was quite a bit longer than the 4500 character limit at the paper, and unlike it, included plenty of graphs and hyperlinked sources. For a long version of the topic you can head on over there. However, I felt I could hardly turn down a reader’s kind request to translate the newspaper-published piece as well. So here it is: the TL;DR version of my economical arguments around low-carbon electricity. A few graphs added. Continue reading
I’ve joked to my friends that if there is anything that proves how important I consider the clean energy topic to be, it’s me digging into electricity pricing. I have a natural aversion to economics – I’ve demoted that aversion somewhat from the position of idealist elitism it carried back when I was a teenager (anything to do with money was about greed and not worth considering). Now I acknowledge that my prejudice toward economics is a flaw in my character which means I’m probably missing a whole lot about a fascinating and complex aspect of societal dynamics. I’ve battled that weakness a couple of times to catch a glimpse of that complexity.
So, when I used to hear people complain about nuclear energy being expensive and slow to build, I would thoughtfully nod my head, thinking: “Well, they probably have a point, it’s expensive, and it’s quite a project to build a plant. Still, it’s important because it can provide astounding amounts of reliable carbon-free energy, so we just have to stomach that slow and costly process.”
You’d think I would have learned by now about the risks of making assumptions based on hearsay?
When someone pointed me to a graph comparing the best build-rates we’ve ever had on carbon-free energy over the last half a century (first the excellent one presented by Climate Gamble, then another from Cao J et al, Science, which you see below), I had to stare at it for a while to process how wrong I had been about that “slow to build” part.
I first saw the giant inflated bubble-igloos at the COP23 area at night, illuminated from inside with a green and violet light, giving them a sort of futuristic bouncy castle -vibe. The circus-sized igloos were to be the location for the UN Environmental Program’s (UNEP) Sustainable Innovation Summit (SIF) – the largest official side event of COP23. This was a major event for tech companies to present their ideas about how to steer the modern society in a direction that would help protect the planet and mitigate climate change.
This was not something for the general public – with tickets 1000 dollars a piece (500 for NGOs), the two day event, a few hundred meters from the official Bula Zone of the Bonn conference, was definitely industry centric. But not just any industry.
The UNEP had selected those it deemed most suitable for its sustainability goals. With that in mind, you might find it surprising that car and coal power companies were not only among the event’s participants, but among their gold sponsors, with their names displayed all over the event. Continue reading