Why climate action isn’t selling?

For climate action to take place, we need less funding for men and women in suits and more funding for the people you probably consider ‘uneducated’.

Background

Of course, you’re tired about hearing of climate change, its imminent danger, or the denial of its existence. This post isn’t about why I think climate change is real or whether I think humans are behind it. It’s an exploration of why deniers exist, why it seems there is an abnormal level of resistance for political change, and how I think we, as scientists and as a society, need to proceed.

Ever since Svante Arrhenius published his calculations about the warming effects of CO2 in the atmosphere on ground temperature in 1896 and Charles David Keeling demonstrated that the levels of atmospheric CO2 was in fact increasing,  we’ve known about the prevalence of anthropogenic emissions as a cause of rising temperatures.

Keeling Curve GIF.gif
Keeling Curve measurement series of the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere as measured from the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii.

However, it’s the political and social context that have been tarnished by polarization and an affinity to claim that ‘them’, the others who don’t share the same beliefs, are a hoard of brainless individuals. In this article, I present two societal mechanisms I think are driving protest against the push for climate action.

The homogeneity of thought

It’s been well known, especially after the 2016 US elections, that the majority of people in this country belong to one of two groups of people with homogenous thoughts on politics. By homogenous, I mean that the variation in the convictions among the people of one group is a tiny fraction of the difference in thought between representative individuals in the two, opposed, groups. In the case of the US, these two groups are Democrats and Republicans. This phenomenon is known as herding behavior.

herding

To prove my point, think of your friends. Do most agree with you on major political issues? If you ever think of challenging one of your group of friends’ beliefs, would you agree that there is an element of fear that arises ? Would that make you an outcast? Would that make similar people judge you? I think these are your fears. This social pressure is behind the homogeneity.

In my opinion, this dynamic plays a major role in people’s reluctance to stand for one unified issue such as climate change. So, when a Democrat announces their support for climate action, their conviction is more likely deeply rooted in the herd-like behavior of ideological or political groups. It is less likely, however, to be rooted in their values. In a recent visit to the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the director of the Atmospheric Chemistry Division argued that it is values that stood in the way of people seeing the clear scientific results on climate change. By casting the problem as such, one relieves science from the responsibility because one can do so little to change another’s values. However, isn’t conserving our environment a ‘conservative’ value? Why do so-called ‘conservative’ Republicans apparently disagree with the need for climate action? Their is clearly a bigger pull by herding instincts that one by values.

Climate change activism and Globalisation

For anyone who wants to read more about globalisation, check out this book. The point is, globalisation was introduced to the world as a means for the free flow of thought, people, and money irrespective of borders. It was hoped that this free flow would increase global economic output and it did. Few people could argue the ability of open trade, for example, to provide cheaper products to ordinary people thus increasing their  collective wealth. Big corporations benefited too from their ability to tap into different markets for their products and an increased level of vocational expertise predominantly in Asian countries.

But what happened to the poor and lower middle class: the forgotten ones? With machines becoming intelligent and the export of industries abroad, among others, a lot of people in the lower economic and educational tiers of society, especially in first world countries, felt left out, and rightly so. No one cared about retraining or reassuring these people, until it was too late. Anyway, why would anyone stop the world from collectively becoming richer at the expense of a few?

But the few of before became the many of today and they desperately stand for each other, what they call the ‘us’ from the harmed posed by  the ‘them’. If I were left out for the sake of global prosperity once, why would I trust these same people about calls for global action again? For me, there is a trust issue that emanates from the rising tide of globalisation washing away those who can’t afford to exist on the top levels of society.

Conclusion

In my opinion, because industry can’t offer an economic, low-barrier to entry alternatives to traditional fuel types, and because of the scars left by globalisation, this time we need to think of the few, we need to reassure everyone, be as inclusive as possible, we need to promise retraining programs in these new technologies. We need less hand-shakes that mean little to ordinary people (looking at you, Paris Agreement), and more caring geared toward the basis of society.

Moreover, the less high-level the climate discussions appear, the less people will make climate action a political issue. The need for intergovernmental meetings is still there, but the need to balance it out with incentives at the individual levels is far greater.

I’m looking for thoughts and alternative views on the issue of climate action.

Readme: Xylem_Network_Matlab

This post is meant as a guide to the Github code used in the research article published in Plant, Cell, & Environment (link for paper to be added). Access the code by clicking here.

In this article

Introduction

Research on plant hydraulics is advancing at great pace and from different scientific angles. There is a need to combine newly acquired knowledge on plant hydraulic tissue anatomy, physiology, and whole tissue hydraulic function. This model was developed to do just that for flowering plant xylem. The object oriented nature of the model provides modularity and allows for easy implementation of additional levels of complexity of xylem function.

The Xylem Network model first builds a xylem network (XN) of random topology. Topology means the relative position of vessels relative to each other. Properties such as mean vessel length, diameter and mean mean pit membrane size are controlled through input parameters to the model as detailed in the How to use section.

The model can then generate Vulnerability Curves (VCs) and extract hydraulic properties of the generated XN. Below is a figure illustrating how emboli propagate through the xylem as the pressure difference between the water and the atmosphere (\Delta P) increases.

cav_gif
GIF of the new flowering plant xylem network model showing the process of cavitation. Black vertical lines are vessels and red horizontal lines are intervessel connections (IVCs). \Delta P is the pressure difference between the water and the atmosphere. As the pressure difference increases, emboli propagate embolizing some vessels (cyan) and isolating others (magenta).

Classes

This Matlab code is designed as a model to explore how water or emboli propagate throughout a flowering plant xylem tissue. This code is based on Object Oriented Programming (OOP) capabilities of Matlab. There are five objects that interact in this model:

  • XylemNet: The xylem network object containing all conduits, conduit elements, ICCs, and clusters.
  • Conduits: each conduit is made up of multiple consecutive conduit elements. Conduits are constrained to one direction, considered vertical along the orientation of water flow. One can think of conduits in this context as vessels.
  • Conduit elements: conduit elements form part of every conduit. All conduit elements are of the same length in the model. Therefore, the vertical distance between two consecutive nodes is the conduit element length which is set by the user.
  • InterConduit Connections (ICCs): each ICC connects two conduits with each other. This is necessary because conduits do not usually span the whole length of the conductive tissue.
  • Clusters: clusters are collections of conduits and ICCs that form an independent water pathway from the inlet of the conductive tissue to the outlet. A xylemNet object may contain multiple clusters.

How to use

There are scripts a user may use to take advantage of the model without knowing its inner workings:

XylemNetIni.m initializes a xylem network, pertinent parameters can be changed in that script, they are set to default values corresponding to Acer anatomy measurements. The detailed descriptions of parameters are included as comments in the code.

VCGen.m allows you to compute the vulnerability curve associated with the generated xylem network. You can control the behavior of VCGen with the following parameters:

Example

Book Review: Us vs Them by Ian Bremmer

Us vs Them was released in April 2018 and authored by Ian Bremmer

I’ve followed Ian Bremmer on twitter for many months before the release of his new book. His tweets are part statistics borrowed from newly published academic studies and part funny but enlightening comments on current events. Ian understands all points of view. He is a refreshing source of thought in the current contentious environment between the political right and left. I bought his book to get more of the same and understand his train of thought even deeper. I comment on the book and give a candid yet concise review of the thoughts and feelings engendered while reading it.

This book aims to put us all on the same page on the current rise of nationalism and how globalism is to blame especially in what is known as the West. It splits the source of this political change into economic and cultural with an emphasis on the effect of technology. While nationalism waxes and wanes throughout history, no one knows how serious the ability of technology to further polarize the political landscape is. The text is superfluous with reporting of academic studies and repetitive. Several points are repeated throughout the first chapter which makes it frustrating to follow. The first couple chapters are a somber look at the world: you can’t help but feel anxious while reading it. However, I really like how ‘them’ takes a different identity depending on who ‘us’ is. For Democrats in the USA, ‘them’ are the citizens on the Republican side of the spectrum. For working class men, ‘them’ are the immigrants who come to steal their job. The ability of Ian to wear different shoes provides a sense of impartiality and I’m sure most readers identified with what was written.

Developing countries are also under threat from Globalism and technological advances such as in Robotics. Ian is an American who doesn’t think America is at the center of the world. China and India’s economies are growing at incredible pace but both still have low income per capita. Turkey, under the rule of Erdogan, has used Globalism to its own economic advantage. However, Erdogan pits conservative citizens against those who believe in a secular Turkey for his own political gains. Donald Trump did the same in America. This book explores the negative effect of polarizing countries into ‘Us vs Them’.

A symptom of polarization is walls. Walls take different shapes and form. Some don’t take a form at all and exist only in Cyberspace. Compare Trump’s plans to build a physical wall along the Southern US border to China’s blocking of Facebook and Google within its territory. I’m a huge fan of Ian’s ability to create analogies and find common ground between political and economic strategies happening ocean lengths away.

In the end, and it finally came, is a chapter that offers hope that, even with all the darkness looming over our willingness to polarize, there are people willing to fix. These people can be in government or the private sector. In a world changing so fast, governments must adapt, revisit their social contract with their citizens, and change the tax code. The social responsibilities of private for-profit companies is a big as ever. There isn’t a shortage of efforts to reduce poverty, hunger, and remedy the feeling of being left behind and Mr. Bremmer makes a great list of these.

To conclude, this book is a great and easy read for anyone who wants to understand the political and economic climate of today. It doesn’t demonize any side and attempts to understand all positions and points of view. All in all, this is a refreshing but alarming resource for voting people, which should be all of us.

 

 

Xylem Network Model

cav_gif
GIF of the new flowering plant xylem network model showing the process of cavitation. Black vertical lines are vessels and red horizontal lines are intervessel connections (IVCs). ΔP is the pressure difference between the water and the atmosphere. As the pressure difference increases, emboli propagate and embolize some vessels (cyan) while isolating others (magenta).

Without water plants can’t photosynthesize. Without photosynthesis plants can’t produce the sugar required to grow or produce the fruits and vegetables so many organisms depend on, including all of us. To become better informed on how plants will react to our ever-changing climate, investigating the fragility of plant water use and its adaptive capabilities is paramount.

Xylem, the water conductive tissues of plants, uses a delicate combination of physics, biology, and alleged chemistry to move water against gravity. Any attempt to directly observe xylem functioning in detail (such as cutting wood, inserting probes,…) almost always makes it obsolete due to how fragile the water transport mechanism is. Since humanity still heavily needs to understand this process for many reasons, we developed a computational program to mimic xylem function.

We used the object-oriented capabilities of Matlab, a powerful computational tool developed by MathWorks. As shown in the above GIF, water goes “up” from the roots to the leaves through ducts called vessels in flowering plants. However, no vessel spans the whole length of the plant so water has to flow horizontally from one vessel to the other through vessel contact walls. It may seem like a like not to use a single duct to transport all the water from the roots to the leaves until you realize what happens when a prolonged drought makes available water scarce.

When a drought persists and soil water decreases in quantity, the soil and the leaves of the plant start competing for the same water like in a tug of war: the leaves high up and the soil below the plant. The water inside the trunk of the tree, however, is not as strong as the rope you always use and can therefore break. When a water column breaks inside a vessel, an air bubble fills it up and inhibits further water movement (in cyan in the above GIF). This is why it is important that the plant depend on multiple vessels for water. If one vessel is filled with an air bubble, the plant can still depend on the other ones for water. It really is fascinating how, for hundreds of millions of years, plants have relied on such an apparently fragile mechanism.

The model simulates water flow, air bubble formation and its propagation. It elucidates how different anatomical characteristics of flowering plants affect the vulnerability of plants to water scarcity and ensuing bubble formation. We submitted a manuscript that is currently under review. The Matlab code used is online on Github and you can access the all important Readme file on this link.