Big Science, Too Big to Tackle Climate Change?
Picture Credit: Mark Witton
- February 14, 2019
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The Nature paper, Large teams develop and small teams disrupt science and technology by Wu et al. demonstrates that between over the period 1954–2014, after analyzing 65 million papers, patents and software products smaller teams have tended to disrupt science and technology with new ideas and opportunities, whereas larger teams tend to develop existing ones.
The American Institute of Physics climate timeline shows that Fourier calculated in 1824 that the Earth would be far colder if it lacked an atmosphere and the subsequent climate milestones.
The year 1988 was pivotal point in the climate timeline. It was the year James Hansen told a U.S. Senate committee he was 99 percent certain that record temperatures were not the result of natural variation; the Toronto conference called for strict, specific limits on greenhouse gas emissions; UK Prime Minister Thatcher was the first major leader to call for climate action and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established.
In 1958 Charles Keeling accurately measured the CO2 concentration in the Earth's atmosphere at 315 ppm and the mean global five-year temperature average at the time was 13.9°C. His famous curve that plots CO2 concentrations at Mauna Loa Observatory shows annual increases of 1.55 ppmv and 406 ppmv as of November 2018.
The correlation between CO2 concentrations and increased temperature is shown by the following graph by the World Economic Forum.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is an intergovernmental body of the United Nations, dedicated to providing the world with an objective, scientific view of climate change, its natural, political and economic impacts and risks, and possible response options. It is supposed to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change, its implications, and potential future risks, as well as to put forward adaptation and mitigation options.
It has written five reports, is in the process of producing its sixth even as emissions and temperatures rise unabated.
It is the ultimate large climate team and as Wu et al. point out these kinds of structures don’t come up with new ideas and opportunities, they tend only to develop existing ones.
The main idea of the IPCC is, a 97% consensus that humans are causing global warming but there is very little consensus on how to stop and reverse it.
Bill Gates has said, “we need innovation that gives us energy that’s cheaper than today’s hydrocarbon energy, that has zero CO2 emissions, and that’s as reliable as today’s overall energy system. And when you put all those requirements together, we need an energy miracle.”
He has pledged to commit $2 billion himself but he has long been a proponent of the government funding for basic scientific research that can lead to the discoveries that solve these problems and can be developed commercially but the last thing government wants is disruption as is needed to solve climate change.
Governments bend over for lobbyists instead leading to the kind of fraud and corruption currently in the news in Canada.
Not only are small teams more likely to solve global warming, they are less inclined to condone or promote fraud and corruption.
They are too busy focusing time and limited resources on the problem.
To ensure we don’t become dinosaurs, we need to start looking to small teams that aren’t afraid to disrupt the status quo and probably have very little to lose themselves.