A Quick Check-In from Falling Walls

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Science and schmoozing at the Falling Walls reception, Berlin's Museum of Communications

Berlin’s third annual Falling Walls conference just finished up, and it was a curious and mostly fascinating mix of 15-minute presentations on everything from economics to evolution, computing to catalysis, magnifying time and fixing social messes and turning iron into platinum. Even Angela Merkel stopped by, using the opportunity to talk about–what else?–debt and the need for Europe to shift course. The Twitter stream is pretty interesting; check it out at #fw11.

You can get a rundown and a feel for the conference blog. Here’s a quick take from that site on one session I attended.

I’ve watched a lot of climate models run, but never before had I seen one set to live musical accompaniment. Until now, that is–thanks to Alejandro Litovsky of Earth Security Initiative, a UK-based group that’s calling attention to the link between environmental crises and security risks. Litovsky brought along his friend Anders Scherp, who played guitar and sang a slightly haunting ballad as an NCAR model displayed rainfall patterns.

Litovsky’s point was that we need a radical shift in how we understand risk, and how that understanding translates into financial policy. Changing patterns of rainfall in the Amazon, for instance, will have a big impact on Brazil’s energy security since the country relies heavily on hydropower. But, said Litovsky, traditional investment risk models don’t understand “systemic risk”–so they don’t take into account how deforestation changes rainfall patterns in the Amazon as a whole, and how that in turn will influence Brazil’s electricity production.

So how to better communicate this type of interconnectedness? Litovsky proposed “a little experiment,” a way to “try to understand how does it all fit together and what does it mean in terms of the earth’s security.” The remaining minutes of his talk were taken up by Scherp’s musical accompaniment to the climate model. I couldn’t agree more with Litovsky’s point that disruption of the Earth’s systems represents a real security threat, and one which we desperately need to communicate and address. The music, said Litovsky, is meant to move us emotionally rather than rationally. I’m not sure it quite worked for me, but he might be onto an interesting idea.

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