The Earthwatch Institute lecture tonight was an educational experience, for a whole slew of reasons. I learned a lot about the organization, the talk itself was very well done, and I spoke with some unusually interesting people.
Earthwatch is a slick organization: corporate partnerships, wine receptions before and after talks given at the business school, and a 153-page full-colour glossy book distributed in a ‘treat bag’ to each attendee at the end. This all gives a really interesting glimpse into the world of relationships between private actors. These people aren’t lobbying the state, they are engaging with the scientific and business communities, along with individuals inclined towards certain concerns. Anyone who thinks that regulating carbon emissions is a matter for the leftist fringe should probably meet these people. In the ecosystem of contemporary international actors, they are an unusual species, worthy of further study.
The talk was given by Professor C.G. Rapley, the Director of the British Antarctic Survey. He was well chosen: articulate, funny, and capable of presenting technical material in an engaging and highly effective way. That this is an outset of an international polar year made the choice particularly timely. My transcript of the talk is available on the wiki.
Perhaps the most unusual thing he said – his greatest deviation from the Stern-Gore Axis – was the suggestion that we could (and should) jump-start the demographic transition. This is is transition from high birth and death rates, to massively lowered death rates (due to medicine, agriculture, etc), through massive population growth to the eventual lowering of birth rates and stabilization of the population overall. Rapley alleged that 76m unwanted pregnancies occur each year, worldwide. Giving these people effective contraception and social orders in which they can use it could accomplish a number of good things: he focused on the reduction of future emissions and a reduced push towards urbanization. Of course, the politics of birth control are fiendishly complex, and the possibilities for harm considerable. That said, a world where women have more control over how many children they have would, all other things being equal, be a much better one. Rapley seems to have written more on population for the BBC.
My thanks to all those – both employees of Earthwatch and fellow guests – with whom I spoke at the receptions. Altogether, this evening has reinforced my conception that climate change is the single greatest challenge facing the world today. It has also bolstered my hope that it is something that we can overcome.