It is rare to hear a religious leader mention quantum mechanics as much as this one, and his emphasis and explanations were surprisingly in depth without requiring previous knowledge of Buddhist literature. This is the most down-to-earth Q&A session I have heard from a religious leader at least decade. The topics ranged from old age, sickness and death, technology and conflict. Issues that seem to dominate some areas of life. There is a constant process of relating current scientific knowledge to ancient Buddhist ideas that are at the core of the religion, which keeps the teachings relevant to current specifics, which sort of puts it in the cutting edge of religious development. A large part of that process is clarifying some of the more vaguely defined aspects of Buddhism with what he calls “Critical reasoning” which appears to be a combination of critical thinking skills with the overlay of compassion in all aspects of life. His approach to religious and ethical beliefs emphasize the ways people are the same is vastly more important than the small beliefs that make them different. He answers practical questions such as the meaning of life while first emphasizing that no matter what we do, it will have a limit. Lifespans may be measured in hundreds or even thousands of years if the technology expressed is developed, however we should have no illusions that there is not a limit. With this in mind, it is important to have many perspectives which are firmly rooted in critical thinking skills, which are biased for compassion above all else, when deciding how to treat others. This is how to live life regardless of religious belief. While not expounded on very much, it appears that knowing that there is an end means there will also be new beginnings. Those new beginnings are in some ways, in essence, the reincarnations of the process that creates life. Which he does touch on, as being evolution. So we should show compassion, not just on the personal scale but also on the global scale. At one point he does make a interesting point that, even suppose people lived for a thousand years, who would want to live on a planet ravaged by climate change? Turned into a desert or something else. There are in fact several references to climate change and has integrated it into Buddhist ethics while crediting ancient origins of Buddhism in India. Along with the pervasive message that dealing with climate change is a part of our responsibility to each other, and amid an rise in very tragic human rights violations. He remarks that all major religions, even some Buddhists in Burma, and calls out Aung San Suu Kyi by name. For not condemning and violence. He also mentions that religious strife is a huge problem. People need to live in harmony, he makes several references to humans as “social animals” and so we should act pro-socially, especially towards people of different beliefs. There is even a point where he mentions demilitarization. This summary really doesn’t do it justice. It was one of the most engrossing talks and meshing between secular approaches to self-development and re-prioritization of certain ethical values over others to deal with a myriad of issues facing people the world over today. He touched on purpose not being static, but something that grows out of analysis of out problems with critical thinking skills. By applying compassion to interactions with others and dedicating you life to something greater than yourself, which helps others, will lead you to a path of fulfilment and everyone’s path is different. A lot of surprisingly practical advise and quite a few questions were religious in nature from his panellist Selma Boulmalf who is of muslim faith, Which allowed for several direct questions which demonstrated the deeper differences between Abrahamic religions and Buddhism and a few other eastern religions. It was a rare occasion because he described the belief in heaven as “Useful” to give hope for people who do not understand the complexities of Buddhism. He only tangentially referred to the difference in motivation being that, for those who believe in an afterlife that is somewhere beyond earth, their earthly goals are about reaching that destination and whatever hoops are required to do that. The difference being that in the belief system of reincarnation, the individual can expect to end up right back on earth. Thus the spiritual motivation is to make earth a better place, because the individual benefits from that when they are re-incarnated, and the circumstances of reincarnation are wide and varied which is why compassion is so important, because it’s hard to know if you are dealing with a soul you were attached to in a past life. In a way, both Buddhism and Abrahamic religions are believing that souls return to earth. The primary difference being that in Buddhism, Karma takes effect on earth and not in the afterlife, though sometimes it happens in the next life. He did so in a way that simultaneously emphasized several times the importance of religious harmony. Several times he used India as an example of religious harmony in a melting post. Many of the other panellists did not self-identify, but offered highly secular views. There were also some representatives from Singularity U whom brought up technology and ethics. One thing that was interesting is that he also emphasized religious harmony towards atheists as well, as there’s is simply a different belief system, That is all in just the first session.
See the first session here:
The seconds session starts with a panel with Richard Greer who representing the International Campaign for Tibet. They cover several of the issues facing tibet specifically. He is also careful to highlight issues that face both India and china related to climate change, and that is something they can see mutual benefit for. Then he proceeds to give a talk on why compassion is necessary in our troubled world. Which covers many topics related to compassion.
A little while after that talk ends, there is another one given by Thupten Jinpa, who is often seen translating for the Dalai Lama, which he has done for the last 30yrs. He offers some of his insights into compassion in his own words. He provides insight into how he is able to take the teachings of the Dalai Lama into his everyday life of a father of 2 living a modern life, including things like social media. He coverts many topics, including his work with stanford on training compassion cultivation. He does spend time covering the difference and importance of intention (dentological philosphy) on motivation. While still using that philosophy within a consequentialist framework. to ensure aspects of both are practiced. Which is followed by a engrossing Q&A session.
There are still more sessions planned, as this is only the beginning of his european tour. The version of buddhism practied by the Dalai Lama, tibeten buddhism shares many of the aspects of applying secular concepts to buddhism that neo-Buddhism does. In many ways it is sort of the upstream version of neo-Buddhism, the primary difference being that neo-buddhism seeks to emphasize intigratation future states of technology and how those will change individual relationships to the world.
Sometimes the most vicious fights occur over the smallest differences. Brutal battles have pitted Catholics that kneel in prayer against Protestant sects that stood before the same God. There’s a (possibly apocryphal) story from the U.S. House of Representatives about a senior politician explaining that internal conflict between Congressional chambers was more important than fights between Republicans and Democrats. “Republicans aren’t the enemy,” the Democratic old timer says in one version of the story. “Republicans are the opposition. The Senate is the enemy.”
The scientists and activists working to reverse climate change are no different. The infighting can be savage.
It may be a tautology, but “at the most basic level, anyone interested in addressing climate change knows we have to limit greenhouse gas emissions,” said Noah Kaufman, an economist at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. The problem is, those who share that goal disagree about the best way to pursue it.
The roughest head-knocking has been between the energy wonks who think we should use whatever power sources necessary to eliminate emissions — nuclear, biofuels, carbon-capture — and those who think renewable energy is the only answer.
In November, Mark Z. Jacobson, a Stanford researcher, renewable-energy champion, and a 2016 Grist 50 member, sued a group of scientists for publishing a critique of an influential paper he had written laying out a path for the United States to run purely on renewables. (He later dropped the suit.)
“People tend to either agree on the goals, or on the means — if you want to get something dramatic done you have to agree on both,” said Jane Long, a senior consulting scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund and one of the researchers who critiqued Jacobson’s paper. “I think the kind of changes we contemplate isn’t the kind we can accomplish without alignment of both goals and means.”
Amid all this rancour, it’s easy to forget that all these people are on one side of a climate fight; they agree about more than they disagree.
“Even though [the debate] consumes a lot of my time and other people’s time, it’s sort of beside the point,” Jacobson told Grist. “I’d say there’s no disagreement on 90 percent of our plans.”
So where’s the common ground among all these scientists, academics, and advocates who care about climate change? What are the things that we’re going to need no matter what path we take? Here’s a rundown of broad areas of agreement. Consider it a checklist — or rather, a to-do list — for climate hawks.
You pollute, you pay.
How much do you have to pay to use the atmosphere as a dump for greenhouse gases? For most people and businesses, it’s totally free. Make polluting expensive, and it would cut the amount of greenhouse gases people spew.
“We should all be able to get behind tech-neutral policies to reduce greenhouse gases,” Kaufman said. You could do that by putting a price on carbon — as some 40 countries from Denmark to China have done — or by regulating pollution, punishing companies for releasing methane into the atmosphere. Either one encourages the development of better technologies without causing a fight over exactly which technologies should win.
It’s a pattern that runs throughout history. People assume they can pollute for free until the pollution builds up and becomes a serious problem. Then — under duress — they start paying for the trouble. Consider regular old trash. When neighbors live far apart from each other, they can toss garbage out the window without worrying about the consequences. But it’s a different story in cities.
In 1866, New York City told residents they needed to stop the “throwing of dead animals, garbage or ashes into the streets.” Soon, New Yorkers started paying to get their waste picked up. Without a free pass to pollute, the carriage operators who had been leaving dead horses in the streets were at a disadvantage when a new technology came along that didn’t produce piles of manure and leave carcasses behind. At the time, nobody worried that this new horseless carriage would dump carbon into the air. But today that carbon is piling up.
Putting a price on carbon emissions is the same as charging people for the dead animals and ashes they toss into the road. A tax or a regulation curbing emissions would have the same result, Kaufman said. Both would raise the cost of polluting and also raise the rewards for any modern-day Henry Fords developing revolutionary technologies.
Make everything run on less energy
For the better part of human history, creating light often meant tons of work and environmental damage. In the past, people managed to get their light by burning beef fat, storm petrels (a fatty seabird), and sperm whale oil. These were really crappy, inefficient, polluting ways of getting illumination. (It would have taken me at least 10 storm petrels to write this piece, I’m guessing.) Modern LED lights, by contrast, require a tiny trickle of electricity.
It wastes a lot of energy — not to mention birds — if you have teams of workers slaughtering storm petrels, drying them, sticking wicks down their throats, and delivering them to markets. Improving efficiency means cutting out that wasted time and money.
The United States wastes 70 percent of the energy that powers it every day. That’s a massive amount of energy just waiting to be tapped. A more efficient way would use more energy without emitting more carbon.
“I don’t think anyone disagrees that efficiency will help,” Jacobson said.
The most obvious example is gas mileage. Back in 1950, the average car could travel 15 miles on a gallon of gas. By 2010, it could travel more than 23 miles on that same gallon. Cars could get a lot more efficient, still — for every 20 gallons you put in the tank, only five gallons turn into the kinetic energy moving the car; the rest gets wasted as heat. Other obvious steps: replace incandescent light bulbs, insulate homes, get low-gas-mileage cars off the roads. And much else.
“Radical efficiency improvements make it easier to address the climate problem,” said Glen Peters, research director at the Center for International Climate Research in Norway. On this, Peters mused, “I suspect we all agree.”
More sun and wind
In 1977, solar photovoltaic panels were for wild-haired inventors and eccentric millionaires. Back then, the cost of buying a one-watt solar panel was $77; today the cost has fallen to 30 cents. Year after year, the price of solar has cratered faster than the experts predicted. The same is true, to a lesser degree, with wind energy. In many places, wind and solar are simply the low-cost option, which means that building more can save money and also reduce emissions.
There was general agreement among all the climate researchers I talked to that it makes sense to switch to renewables when it’s the cheapest carbon-free option. The fierce disagreement comes when they talk about paying for renewables when they’re more expensive than, say, nuclear power. Jacobson and a few other scientists think that going 100 percent renewable is the cheapest option. But the majority of researchers think that it would get very expensive to build enough renewables to power the entire country through the darkest days of winter.
“I’ve heard people arguing for 50, 60, 80, and 100 percent renewable,” said Melanie Nakagawa, who worked on climate policy in the Obama administration and now heads up climate strategy for a growth equity fund for climate-related technology at the investment firm Princeville Global. “At some point that percentage matters from a policy perspective,” she explained, but worldwide we’re not close enough to any of those percentages to chill the renewables market. Renewables — mainly hydropower and biofuels — currently account for 10 percent of the country’s energy needs.
Electrify (nearly) everything
Back when President Obama was in the White House, it was Kaufman’s job to go through the various climate plans and scenarios coming from different parts of the executive branch and make sure everyone in the administration was up to speed. He noticed that all the plans to reduce emissions advised plugging a lot more of the country into electricity.
Electricity currently powers a quarter of the U.S. economy. The other three quarters are cars and trucks using gasoline, factories using quadrillions of British thermal units to forge metals and refine petroleum, and buildings heated by gas or propane.
Switching more of these cars and furnaces to run on electricity would allow us to tap into low-carbon energy from renewables and nuclear plants. A little over 1 percent of cars on the road run on electricity right now. To have a shot at keeping global warming under 2 degrees C — the goal set in the Paris Agreement — 10 percent of cars on the road would need to be electric by 2030, according to one scenario plotted by the International Energy Agency.
It’s part of a two-step recipe for eliminating emissions that has become almost a cliche among energy wonks. Step one: Add more low-carbon electricity (solar, nuclear, hydro, wind) to the grid. Step two: Electrify everything.
“There’s broad agreement that we need to dramatically expand electricity to transportation and industry,” said Trevor Houser, climate and energy expert at the research firm, the Rhodium Group. There are some debates around the edges about just how much electrification is practical — maybe not everything — but the consensus is mighty broad.
More electric storage and transmission
Electricity has no shelf life. Unlike a can of tuna that can spend years in hiding, electricity needs to be bought the moment it’s made. Make more electricity than people want at any particular moment, and you can cause fires. Make too little, and you can cause brownouts. That’s why big batteries are so appealing. But even the giant batteries that Tesla is buildinglook tiny if you consider the amount of storage we need to keep the lights on when the sun goes down.
If someone figures out a way to extend the shelf life of electricity on the cheap, it will help in every carbon-cutting scenario, whether it’s 100 percent renewable or 100 percent nuclear.
The other way to handle the mismatch between electric supply and demand is to send electricity farther afield. If it gets really windy in Wyoming, and the turbines there start producing too much juice, the state could send that extra electricity to big cities in California.
Well, it could if a major power line connected the two states.
“The transmission system we have today wasn’t built to get to zero carbon,” said Dan Kammen, Director of Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. “Those power lines don’t go to the best wind areas in the mountain states, they don’t go to the best solar areas in the Southwest.”
Most clean-energy scenarios rely on new transmission wires to connect the places with too much electricity to the places with too little, balancing things out.
Everyone I talked to agreed that the government should be spending more money researching the most challenging problems that stand in the way of weaning ourselves off carbon. It might help to think of climate change as a national security issue, many of them say.
A few years ago, Constantine Samaras, who studies solutions for climate change at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University, pointed out on the New York Times’ Dot Earth blog that the government budget doesn’t treat climate change like a true threat. “In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the R&D budget for counterterrorism grew to almost $2.7 billion in 2003,” he wrote, more than a 500 percent increase in two years. The research and development budget for energy technology and climate change was flat. “We correctly reacted to counterterrorism with enhanced R&D after 2001,” Samaras wrote. “Yet on energy and climate change we’re effectively just muddling through.”
Where should research money go? There’s widespread agreement that we should look into a low-carbon solution for air travel and trucks making long-distance hauls. That appears to be where the agreement stops. When I asked what else deserves funding, I heard a long list of options including advanced nuclear reactors, fusion, and turning air into liquid fuel. The consensus fractured.
Ideally, climate and energy experts could sit down and hash out a consensus on a master plan that would, say, allow us to build only the power plants we really need. But experimentation, failure, politics, and infighting seem to be inescapable elements of any ambitious human endeavor. Success is forged in the crucible of conflict, I guess.
But if we get too wrapped up in these captivating fights — all over how we produce electric power — we’ll miss some big opportunities. “We’d be better off if we took some of the creative energy expended on that debate in the power sector and applied it to other sectors — which, by the way produce 75 percent of the emissions,” the Rhodium Group’s Houser said.
That’s exactly the issue: These disagreements concern just a quarter of the pollution problem that’s driving climate change. The sooner we can agree on a way forward, the quicker we can move on to the rest of the problem. And there’s so much agreement among these experts already: They all are trying to cut greenhouse gases, and would like to put a price — or a penalty — on emissions. They’re all for efficiency, electrification, storage, and better power lines. They support renewables that bring down prices. They all want more money to start working on the next generation of innovations.
So … Kumbaya, right?
Not quite. We can’t simply bury the divisive debates. But maybe we can make those debates more fruitful. The EDF’s Long thinks it would help if we stopped talking so much about specific technologies — 100 percent renewable versus nuclear reactors — and started talking more about the things we need those technologies to do: generating heat, supplying inexpensive energy, delivering electricity that can surge on and off to in fill the gaps.
“If we do that, people will be able to see better that there are problems with every choice,” Long said. “So what poison do you pick?”
And like that, sidestepping one debate plunges us into another one, just as crucial and inescapable. Still, the people on all sides told me that, as they debate their choice of poisons, they’d rather not choose poisonous rhetoric.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” ~ Melody Beattie Buddhist Temple, Lhasa, Tibet
The world of scholarly communication is broken. Giant, corporate publishers with racketeering business practices and profit margins that exceed Apple’s treat life-saving research as a private commodity to be sold at exorbitant profits. Only around 25% of the global corpus of research knowledge is open access, or accessible to the public for free and without subscription, which is a real impediment to resolving major problems, such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Recently, Springer Nature, one of the largest academic publishers in the world, had to withdraw its European stock market floatation due to a lack of interest. This announcement came just days after Couperin, a French consortium, cancelled its subscriptions to Springer Nature journals, after Swedish and German universities cancelled their Elsevier subscriptions to no ill effect, besides replenished library budgets. At the same time, Elsevier has sued Sci-Hub, a website that provides free, easy access to 67 million research articles. All evidence of a broken system.
The European Commission is currently letting publishers bid for the development of an EU-wide open-access scholarly publishing platform. But is the idea for this platform too short-sighted? What the Commission is doing is essentially finding new ways of channelling public funds into private hands. At the same time, due to the scale of the operation, it prevents more innovative services from getting a foothold into the publishing world. This is happening at the same time as these mega-publishers are moving into controlling the entire research workflow–from ideation to evaluation. Researchers will become the provider, the product, and the consumer.
A global community to coordinate and regain control–to develop a public open-access infrastructure–of research and scholarly communication for the public good is long overdue. The issues of governance and ownership of public research have never been clearer. Another isolated platform will simply replicate the problems of the current journal-based system, including the “publish or perish” mentality that perverts the research process, and the anachronistic evaluation system based on corporate brands.
Researchers are still forced to write “papers” for these journals, a communication format designed in the 17th century. Now, in a world where the power of web-based social networks is revolutionizing almost every other industry, researchers need to take back control.
The European Commission has called for full, immediate open access to all scientific publications by 2020–something often mocked for being unrealistic, and that current growth trends suggest we will fail to achieve. But it is unrealistic only if one focuses on the narrow view of the current system.
If we diversify our thinking away from the superficial field of journals and articles, and instead focus on the power of networked technologies, we can see all sorts of innovative models for scholarly communication. One ideal, based on existing services, would be something much more granular and continuous, with communication and peer review as layered, collaborative processes: Envisage a hosting service such as GitHub combined with Wikipedia combined with a Q&A site such as Stack Exchange. Imagine using version control to track the process of research in real time. Peer review becomes a community-governed process, where the quality of engagement becomes the hallmark of individual reputations. Governance structures can be mediated through community elections. Critically, all research outputs can be published and credited–videos, code, visualizations, text, data, things we haven’t even thought of yet. Best of all, a system of fully open communication and collaboration, with not an “impact factor” (a paper’s average number of citations, used to rate journals) in sight.
Such a system of scholarly communication requires the harmonizing of three key elements: quality control and moderation, certification and reputation, and incentives for engagement. For example, it would be easy to have a quality-control process in which instead of the closed and secretive process of peer review, self-organized and unrestricted communities collaborate together for research to attain verification and validation. The recklessly used impact factor can be replaced by a reward system that altruistically recognizes the quality of engagement, as defined by how content is digested by a community, which itself can be used to unlock new abilities within such a system. The beauty is that the incentive for researchers switches from publishing in journal X to engaging in a manner that is of most value to their community. By coupling such activities with academic records and profiles, research assessment bodies can begin to recognize the immense value this has over current methods of evaluation, including its simplicity.
All of the technology and traits to build a hybridised scholarly commons infrastructure already exists. It is up to academic communities themselves to step away from their apathy and toward a fairer and more democratic system for sharing our knowledge and work. That is, after all, what research is all about. The question of publishing reform is not theoretically or conceptually complex. The future of scholarly communication depends more on overcoming social tensions and the training to defer to a powerful system embedded in global research cultures than on breaking down technological barriers.
Members of the academic community ought to hold themselves accountable for the future of scholarly communication. There are simple steps that we all can take: Many have already done so:
Sign, and commit to, the Declaration on Research Assessment, and demand fairer evaluation criteria independent of journal brands.This will reduce dependencies on commercial journals and their negative impact on research.
Demand openness. Even in research fields such as global health, 60% of researchers do not archive their research so it is publicly available, even when it is completely free and within journal policies to do so. We should demand accountability for openness to liberate this life-saving knowledge.
Know your rights. Researchers can use the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Rights Coalition (SPARC) Author Addendum to retain rights to their research, instead of blindly giving it away to publishers. Regain control.Support libraries. Current library subscription contracts are protected from public view by “non-disclosure clauses” that act to prevent any price transparency in a profoundly anti-competitive practice that creates market dysfunction. We should support libraries in renegotiating such contracts, and in some cases even provide support in canceling them, so that they can reinvest funds in more sustainable publishing ventures.
Help to build something better. On average, academics currently spend around $5,000 for each published article–to get a PDF and some extra sides. A range of different studies and working examples exist that show the true cost of publishing an article can be as low as $100 using cost-efficient funding schemes, community buy-in, and technologies that go a step further than PDF generation. We can do better.
Use your imagination. What would you want the scholarly communication system to look like? What are all the wonderful features you would include? What can you do to help turn a vision into reality?
It is feasible to achieve 100% open access in the future while saving around 99% of the global spending budget on publishing. Funds could be better spent instead on research, grants for under-privileged students and minority researchers, improving global research infrastructure, training, support, and education. We can create a networked system, governed by researchers themselves, designed for effective, rapid, low-cost communication and research collaboration.
Scholarly publishers are not just going to sit back and let this happen, so it is up to research funders, institutes, and researchers themselves to act to make a system that represents defensible democratic values, rather than rapacity.
Jon Tennant is a palaeontologist and independent researcher and consultant, working on public access to scientific knowledge. He is based in Berlin, Germany. This article was republished under a Creative Commons license from Aeon. Read the original here.