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A Climate Change Wiki

By Bill Henderson

24 August, 2007

"(T)here are “moderate” climate-change scientists and activists who see the problem as serious but solvable, while there are some who believe that the world has already passed a “tipping point” beyond which catastrophic impacts are inevitable. It is probably fair to say that the substantial majority of both groups find themselves somewhere midway between extreme positions staked out by some of their spokespeople." Richard Heinberg

At the moment we continue to use ever increasing quantities of fossil fuels and the resulting climate change problem continues to build. Climate change policy is adrift with mitigation being undertaken at a sluggish pace despite the increasing evidence of potential dangerous climate change.

Emission reduction in the United States - which realistically must be the leader in establishing meaningful emission reduction programs if there is ever going to be a world wide buy-in to effective mitigation - is piecemeal at best, lead by California and by some American cities.

In our western democracies the primary purpose of government has evolved into being a protective system for nurturing the economy. Politicians do not lead - they follow. Increasingly complex, now globalized economies confine legislators to a straightjacket nixing any policy change that could possibly negatively effect economic growth by even minor percentage points. Media corporations themselves dependent upon continuing smooth flowing business as usual have not and will not effectively educate general publics about the real dangers of climate change. Inertia strongly favors denial not action.

Innovation is needed if effective emission reduction is to be implemented globally. Most importantly, there may be potentially very serious climate change tipping points that require effective implementation immediately.

Digital technology to the rescue with a way to rapidly speed up educating general publics about the urgency of climate change mitigation within a new process for developing consensus on risk assessment and mitigation strategies.

If a major centrist organization - such as the Pew Foundation for only one example - facilitated the collaborative construction of a climate change consensus, a climate change wiki, created and evolving with input by any and every informed participant globally, it is possible that candidates in the 08 US presidential and congressional elections could have a definitive state of the art overview of climate change/mitigation to either incorporate into their platforms or to run against.

A wiki is a collaborative website which can be directly edited by anyone with access to it. Business has already begun using this new technology for opening up hierarchies in problem solving within departments so that a full and unfettered flow of all relevant info is possible.

Once an initial template has been developed every potential stakeholder from scientist to business owner, from any potential climate change victim to every fossil fuel corporation, every diverse layer of government and any specially informed citizen can be enfranchised to access, add or edit information.

Digital technology allows for such a building process to be global, inclusive, and to achieve at least a beginning consensus in a remarkably short time. The present division between scientists and policy makers can be closed; the IPCC has correlated the emerging science (within a problematic political framework), but there are no meaningful feedback loops with policy formation at present. The full range of arguments about the science and mitigation incorporating any tangential perspective can be iterated in the wiki process. We can greatly increase the understanding of the climate change problem and possible mitigation.

There have already been limited attempts to create climate change wikis, but so far without the resources of a significant organization. There has to be enough buy-in at the onset so that all major stakeholders would be compelled to participate or eventually accept an empowering consensus by default

The best existing template for climate change mitigation (in my humble opinion) is Ian Dunlop's Climate Change & Peak Oil: An Integrated Policy Response for Australia . Significantly it is also a template for ameliorating the twin building problem of the end of cheap fossil fuel energy (or more popularly: Peak Oil). Dunlop has proposed building upon an improved Kyoto platform with the utilization of instruments that are already well understood: contraction-convergence, carbon trading, an oil depletion protocol, etc.

Jim Hansen, George Monbiot, David Spratt and many others are in the tail of informed opinion aware and concerned that climate change is non-linear: with greenhouse gas emissions increasing we are approaching tipping points beyond which climate change may no longer be manageable; it will be out of our hands, with potentially catastrophic consequences for man and indeed for most of the species with which we now share creation.

We desperately need a way to rapidly quantify these tipping point risks. With carbon cycle time lags, we could quietly slip over the bar at any time, cross over a threshold to catastrophic climate change dominating everybody's future. Climate change is now acknowledged as the biggest market failure ever and we will not reach agreement let alone take precautionary action without global consensus, without innovation.

The latest (as yet unpublished) science directly analyzing potential climate change tipping points suggest that the 450ppm - 2 degrees C precautionary ceiling for levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere should protect us from the worst of climate change danger. There does appear to be enough time - a hopeful window of opportunity - for precautionary mitigation.

No human process will ever be perfect and it is too much to expect that constructing a climate change wiki will lead to complete global unanimous agreement on such a contentious subject. But building a wiki could be the democratic innovation we need to finally adequately address the climate change problem - a wiki could at least put us all on the same page - and may be a very useful tool in managing man so that a sustainable future is possible.


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