Being wicked

There’s been an interesting discussion on Twitter about how to frame anthropogenically-driven climate change. In particular, should it be framed as a wicked problem? A number of people involved in the discussion had a problem with this framing. One very simple reason was that if you consider the standard definition of a wicked problem it is

a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize.

Many, therefore, object to framing climate change as a wicked problem because it implies that it’s impossible and we don’t really know what’s required. Dealing with anthropogenically-driven climate change may not be easy, but it’s certainly not impossible, and the requirement is pretty straightforward; get net anthropogenic emissions to zero, or pretty close to zero. In fact, some would argue that we do know how to address it; impose a carbon tax based on an estimate of future costs, discounted to today. This should allow the market to develop the optimal future energy pathway.

Those defending the wicked framing suggested that it applied only to the socio-political aspects of the problem, not to our scientific understanding (which is pretty clear). Okay, but again this potentially implies that it’s a problem we can’t solve. Others, however, suggested that there are many examples of wicked problems for which there are solutions. Okay, but this suggests that the definition isn’t very clear, or consistent. Others suggested an even more extreme definition; a problem for which you don’t know the solution in advance and for which you can’t learn from your mistakes. If a solution doesn’t work, you can’t modify things and then fix it.

In many cases, it can be very useful to describe a complex issue with a few simple terms. However, it’s important that the terminology is well-defined. It’s no good if different people use the same terminology to describe different scenarios; that doesn’t simplify, it confuses. Also, if some terminology is already perceived in some way, it is very difficult to use it in a different way, even if you try to be very clear as to your intended meaning.

So, I can’t really see why we would want to describe climate change as a wicked problem. I think the science is pretty clear as to what we need to do if we wish to address anthropogenically-driven climate change; get net anthropogenic emissions to zero. Doing so may well not be easy, but we already have numerous technological solutions, many of which could be implemented now (in fact, some are being implemented). We also have policy options, such as a carbon tax, that would incentivise a change in energy infrastructure. None of this makes it easy, and there are clearly many complications, but framing it in a way that could be perceived as it being impossible, would seem rather counter-productive.

Links:
Less science, nore social science! (A post about Reiner Grundmanns’s Nature Geoscience Comment about Climate change as a wicked social problem.)

Advertisements
This entry was posted in advocacy, Climate change, economics, Policy, Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

65 Responses to Being wicked

  1. So, I can’t really see why we would want to describe climate change as a wicked problem.

    Yes, adjectives, such as wicked perhaps don’t do justice to the important phenomena.
    And top of the atmosphere radiance changes driven by GHGs imply energy gain.

    However, this quote, irrespective of RF changes, is important to understand wrt climate change.

    Peixoto and Oort in The Physics of Climate:

    “Thus, the whole climate system must be regarded as continuously evolving with parts of the system leading and others lagging in time. The highly nonlinear interactions between the subsystems tend to occur on many time and space scales. Therefore, the subsystems of the climate system are not always in equilibrium with each other, and not even in internal equilibrium.”

  2. TE,
    That it may never be strictly in equilibrium does not somehow imply that there are no risks associated with forcing it well out of equilibrium.

  3. verytallguy says:

    Equilibrium is a much abused term, which has a very specific meaning in thermodynamics but is widely used in other less well defined ways.

    As used in climate, a better term would possibly be “quasi steady state”, but “quasi steady state climate sensitivity” or QSSCS is a bit of a mouthful, to put it mildly.

  4. > So, I can’t really see why we would want to describe climate change as a wicked problem.

    I can’t argue with that, though my grounds would be that added “wicked” simply adds nothing helpful but does add jargon to confuse the unwary.

    > I think the science is pretty clear as to what we need to do if we wish to address anthropogenically-driven climate change; get net anthropogenic emissions to zero.

    Oh! And you were doing so well. Perhaps this is a deliberate mistake to make “wicked” seem plausible again? Your problem is that you’ve wrapped too much up into “address”. You’re thinking of “address” in terms of “limit warming to 2 oC” or something like that. But the (physical) science doesn’t tell you that. And indeed “get net anthropogenic emissions to zero” isn’t an answer in itself either, because you haven’t specified a timeframe or a method.

  5. WMC,
    If we keep emitting CO2 into the atmosphere, it will continue to accumulate and the climate will continue to change. If we want to do something about this (address it) then we need to stop emitting CO2 into the atmosphere. I think that is indeed what the science is telling us, and does not require specifying a target, or a timescale. You can, of course, choose to interpret what I’ve said in some uncharitable way, but I’m not really that interested in playing those kind of games.

  6. Magma says:

    In response to the contrarian claims that climate change is a “wicked problem” I offer the following paragraph from Harry Frankfurt’s 1986 essay On Bullshit
    [not sure if that’s on the list of words that triggers automatic moderation, but Frankfurt is an emeritus professor of philosophy from Princeton, so it must be a respectable scholarly sort of word]

    “One who is concerned to report or to conceal the facts assumes that there are indeed facts that are in some way both determinate and knowable. His interest in telling the truth or in lying presupposes that there is a difference between getting things wrong and getting them right, and that it is at least occasionally possible to tell the difference. Someone who ceases to believe in the possibility of identifying certain statements as true and others as false can have only two alternatives. The first is to desist both from efforts to tell the truth and from efforts to deceive. This would mean refraining from making any assertion whatever about the facts. The second alternative is to continue making assertions that purport to describe the way things are but that cannot be anything except bullshit.”

  7. Actually, let me clarify something that I maybe didn’t make clear in the post. One of the definitions of a wicked problem is that it doesn’t have a stopping rule. Well, anthropogenically-driven climate change essentially does; stop emitting CO2 into the atmosphere. Of course, if we want to do so without exceeding some target temperature change, that would require staying within some kind of carbon budget and would set some kind of rough timescale, but simply stopping it requires getting net anthropogenic emissions to zero (or close).

  8. wmconnolley says:

    > climate will continue to change. If we want to do something about this (address it) then we need to stop… kind of games.

    I think you’re mistaking “games” for “caring about what words actually mean”.

    To “address” a problem can mean many things. It can mean to stop the problem occurring. Or it can mean learning to avoid the problem. Or learning to live with the problem. Insisting that the word only has one meaning – the one you happened to first think of without actually thinking about it very much – isn’t helpful.

  9. WMC,
    You could always ask for some clarification. I was trying to avoid anything too specific. There was an if and a net and a many complications. All I was trying to get at was that the scientific evidence provides plenty of information as to what would be required if we want to do something about AGW. Stopping it would require getting emissions to zero (or close). Reversing it would probably require negative emissions. I guess we could also think about slowing it, which would require emitting less in some timeframe than we might otherwise do. I’m admittedly ignoring non-CDR (carbon dioxide removal) options which may well be an option, but would probably be the option of last resort.

    There are, of course, uncertainties as well, but the above is probably a reasonable representation of what the scientific evidence indicates. We also already have various technological solutions and others that we could develop (CCS, for example). We have a policy option (carbon tax). Maybe the biggest problem is actually getting some kind of effective policy implemented. It could be reasonable to describe that as a wicked problem. However, given that even those who seem to have relevant expertise don’t seem to even agree on the definition of a wicked problem, I can’t see how doing so provides any clarity that couldn’t be provided using words we mostly all understand (which was really the main suggestion in the post, anyway).

  10. Hank Roberts says:

    Is there a name other than “wicked” for the “monkey trap” kind of problem?
    https://www.google.com/search?q=monkey+trap+nuts+jar
    That’s what I see a lot of well-off Americans caught by — the unwillingness to let go of what they’re currently grasping to escape a dismal future.

  11. RICKA says:

    I don’t think it is possible to stop emitting CO2 into the atmosphere.

    60% of the world energy production emits CO2, not to mention manufacturing and so forth.

    I think we may slow down our emissions, but will still put all the CO2 emissions into the atmosphere that can be readily mined or pumped out of the ground.

    We are just stretching out the time period over which we emit the CO2, not ceasing the emissions of CO2.

    That is not science – just my personal opinion.

    Without widespread new nuclear power production, which seems politically unfeasible at the current time, I don’t see how we ever get to zero emissions.

    On the other hand, we should learn a lot about the climate from our current experiment.

    Making lemonade from lemons.

  12. Rick,
    I think it’s possible. Whether or not we choose (or, find a way) to do so on some relevant timescale is, of course, another matter.

  13. Examples of difficult problems are on the Millennium Challenge site:
    http://www.claymath.org/millennium-problems

    Receive a million $ to solve any one of these, one of which is analytically solving the Navier-Stokes equation, which forms the foundation of every GCM.

  14. ” is that it doesn’t have a stopping rule”

    Well, that’s another one of the Millennium Challenge problems — the P vs NP problem.

  15. TTauriStellarBody says:

    “Receive a million $ to solve any one of these, one of which is analytically solving the Navier-Stokes equation, which forms the foundation of every GCM.”
    And nearly every modern aircraft design.

  16. JCH says:

    It implies the people who are trying to address the problem are evil: wicked. Bjorn Stevens is a “good” guy, which means anybody in her cult can decide anybody else is a “bad” guy.

  17. Dominic lavelle says:

    Hi there, I followed the twitter conversation and this blog post – I’d like to make a few points which I hope will help.

    1. The science of climate change forecasts clearly the impacts to the environment if we emit varying levels of carbon over time (within a degree of error that’s within a reasonable range) – tick

    2. The engineering solution(s) to climate change (ie to prevent it/reduce it to a manageable level) are also known. Tick.

    3. Given the risks involved the global action against climate appears slow. It is still very possible that we, as a species, will not act fast enough and runaway global warming will cause 90% of species to become extinct including humans. (WTF! How can this be, given points 1 and 2 above!)

    Given the pretty horrific downside risks of inaction why isn’t more being done to limit climate change? (Momentum is building, but things could and should be happening much faster)

    I would argue it is because of the type of problem climate change is, that makes it difficult for humans to act. In particular it is the PSYCHOLOGY of climate change that makes it very difficult for humans to get their head around the problem emotionally. (There are 5 specific psychology issues according to the book “don’t even think about it” by George Marshall – it is an excellent book). He uses the term “wicked problem” in his book to summarise how these issues interact. This may or may not be a useful term… I think I agree with you that “wicked problem” could be better defined (at least to a lay person such as myself.)

    BUT… the more important point is that to effectively fight climate change we need to understand the psychology of it – this is essential and it often gets missed in discussions.

  18. “And nearly every modern aircraft design.”

    Which is why DPY thinks he is such an authority on the topic, i.e. he works at Boeing

    The way Navier-Stokes is discussed on the Millennnium Problem web site:

    “This is the equation which governs the flow of fluids such as water and air. However, there is no proof for the most basic questions one can ask: do solutions exist, and are they unique? Why ask for a proof? Because a proof gives not only certitude, but also understanding.”

    What is happening with current research is that scientists are starting to look at these problems from a topological perspective, where they can use symmetry and dimensional reduction to make the problems perhaps easier to solve. Brad Marston at Brown is doing some of that work with respect to climate behaviors

    I agree and what I am finding is that the most fruitful line of research is to concentrate on equatorial phenomena where the biggest simplifications can be made. Navier-Stokes can be simplified and then solved at the equator. That may not count towards the prize reward though.

  19. Wrong video, this is by Marston

  20. Dominic lavelle says:

    Hi there, I followed the twitter conversation and this blog post – I’d like to make a few points which I hope will help.

    1. The science of climate change forecasts clearly the impacts to the environment if we emit varying levels of carbon over time (within a degree of error that’s within a reasonable range) – tick

    2. The engineering solution(s) to climate change (ie to prevent it/reduce it to a manageable level) are also known. Tick.

    3. Given the risks involved the global action against climate appears slow. It is still very possible that we, as a species, will not act fast enough and runaway global warming will cause 90% of species to become extinct including humans. (WTF! How can this be, given points 1 and 2 above!)

    Given the pretty horrific downside risks of inaction why isn’t more being done to limit climate change? (Momentum is building, but things could and should be happening much faster)

    I would argue it is because of the type of problem climate change is, that makes it difficult for humans to act. In particular it is the PSYCHOLOGY of climate change that makes it very difficult for humans to get their head around the problem emotionally. (There are 5 specific psychology issues according to the book “don’t even think about it” by George Marshall). He uses the term “wicked problem” in his book to summarise how these interact. This may or may not be a useful term… I think I agree with you it could be better defined (at least to a lay person such as myself.)

    BUT… the more important point is that to effectively fight climate change we need to understand the psychology of it – and adapt our solutions and communications accordingly – this is essential and it often gets missed in discussions.

  21. Dominic lavelle says:

    Sorry typo above … The science of climate change forecasts clearly SHOW the impact…

  22. Dominic,

    BUT… the more important point is that to effectively fight climate change we need to understand the psychology of it – and adapt our solutions and communications accordingly – this is essential and it often gets missed in discussions.

    Yes, I mostly agree with this. This is certainly not an argument against studying other important aspects. It’s partly a suggestion that simplistic framings that are not necessarily well-defined and that can be interpreted as the problem not having a solution might be counter-productive.

    There does seem to be this tendency amongst those who promote some of these other framings to suggest that we should move away from highlighting the science because it doesn’t tell us what to do specifically, doesn’t tell us how to address the socio-political issues, and is sufficiently well understood anyway. I don’t disagree with this, but my issue is that the scientific evidence seems – in my view, at least – to be a key point that we can’t simply ignore. The reason we’re considering doing something to address AGW is because of what the scientific evidence indicates and indicates what is required if we want to do something about AGW (i.e., if we want to stop AGW we need to find a way to get net anthropogenic emissions to ~ zero).

    So, it seems to me that how it’s framed should be consistent with the scientific evidence and other socio-political aspects of the issue do not somehow supercede this, even if they are also important.

  23. TTauriStellarBody,
    I’ve always wanted to ask (assuming you’re the same person who comments at the Guardian) why you selected that username.

  24. Andreas says:

    Supposed climate change is a wicked problem. The crucial point is: What can we learn then? What does it help?

    In my opinion it changes nothing.

  25. Dominic lavelle says:

    “It’s partly a suggestion that simplistic framings that are not necessarily well-defined and that can be interpreted as the problem not having a solution might be counter-productive.”.

    Very true 🙂

    Regarding your other point… it might (might not) be confusion about what people are trying to say. More science on the subject is clearly a good thing! E.g. it should help policy makers refine their policies. …. however more science (more data, more graphs, more accurate forecasts etc etc) has been shown *not*, in itself, to help change the publics mind about climate change. – to do that there needs to be a compelling narrative . Of course you are absolutely right that the narrative needs to be consistent (based on) sound science

  26. John Hartz says:

    The “wicked” problem confronting the human race is its embrace of “perpetual growth of consumption” according to Jeremey Lent*

    Fifteen thousand scientists have issued a dire warning to humanity about impending collapse but virtually no-one takes notice. Ultimately, our global systems, which are designed for perpetual growth, need to be fundamentally restructured to avoid the worst-case outcome.

    What Will It Really Take to Avoid Collapse? by Jeremy Lent, MAHB, Jan 2, 2017

    *Jeremy Lent is author of The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning, which investigates how different cultures have made sense of the universe and how their underlying values have changed the course of history. He is founder of the nonprofit Liology Institute, dedicated to fostering a sustainable worldview. More info: jeremylent.com.

    Note: The MAHB Blog is a venture of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere.

  27. “Supposed climate change is a wicked problem. The crucial point is: What can we learn then? What does it help?”

    The hypocrisy or disconnect is that Curry labels climate change as a wicked problem — that according to her is apparently impossible to solve — yet she runs a company called Climate Forecast Applications Network which sells climate forecasting services to clients.

  28. Joshua says:

    I think of “wicked problems” as being very, very complicated problems. Perhaps that is because of many years of living in Somerville, and other towns in Massachusetts, where the term “wicked” is used as slang to mean “very”

    I think of climate change as a “wicked problem” in the sense that the skills needed to address (high damage) risk over long time horizons in the face of uncertainty are very, very problematic to get a handle on – especially when the policy questions involved are inextricably linked to ideological polarization. Humans are just not very good at addressing such risks, for a whole host of reasons.

    Yes, some terms which tend to have rather straight forward meaning in most contexts tend to take on subjective and agenda-driven definitions in a very complicated contexts, but then again in a kind of feedback loop, subjective definitions is a feature of wicked problems. People can use arguments over definitions as a kind of proxy for the arguments over the problem. What fun!

  29. JCH says:

    i’m pretty sure I was browsing on CargoCult Etc. the first time Professor Curry used the term on her blog, and I immediately looked it up. Maybe she was familiar with it for years, but for some reason – black hats; white hats – it seemed to me she had gleefully stumbled upon it.

  30. [Chill, and slow down on the drive-bys. -W]

  31. ATTP wrote: “There does seem to be this tendency amongst those who promote some of these other framings to suggest that we should move away from highlighting the science because it doesn’t tell us what to do specifically, doesn’t tell us how to address the socio-political issues, and is sufficiently well understood anyway.”

    Ironically, the main reason we need to keep talking about the science is that there are some that argue the science is insufficiently well understood as a method of avoiding addressing the socio-political issues (which is the real stumbling block). If we didn’t have contrarians making bogus scientific arguments (correct arguments would be most welcome!) there would be less need for public communication of the scientific ideas (would still be a good thing though).

    The classic example of this sort of thing is the response to studies of the scientific consensus on climate change. If it weren’t for people claiming there is no consensus, there would be little need for studying it or communicating it to the public. For those that don’t want communication of the consensus, then the best thing to do is to stop complaining about it (or at least come up with a better way to deal with claims that there is no consensus, which is known to be a good strategy for avoiding action, c.f. smoking).

    Personally, I think “wicked” is just the sort of “research buzzword” that gets invented as a label for the sort of thing some (sub-)field of research tends to be interested in. In my field, we have “big data”, “deep learning” as the current buzzwords, the meaning of which tends to be somewhat elastic. There is nothing particularly wrong with this, it is just human nature, and helpful in getting research grants (unfortunately I am more interested in “small data”, which has interesting problems of its own, and “shallow learning”, which is useful for some of the things “deep learning” doesn’t do so well).

    I don’t think climate change is a wicked problem in a scientific sense (as Prof. Curry seems to argue), but it may well be a wicked problem from a socio-politico-economics perspective, but we have known that for some time (I still like Mike Hulmes book on why we disagree about climate – you can discuss these issues sensibly without buzzwords).

  32. izen says:

    Climate change is a ‘wicked’ problem in exactly the same way smoking is a ‘wicked’ problem.

    We know the effects of our actions, despite attempts by interested parties to spread scientific obfustication.
    We know what needs to be done to avoid the worst risks.

    So why this?

    http://www.healthdata.org/news-release/despite-declines-smoking-rates-number-smokers-and-cigarettes-rises

    “Globally, smoking prevalence — the percentage of the population that smokes every day — has decreased, but the number of cigarette smokers worldwide has increased due to population growth”

    https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-global-co2-emissions-set-to-rise-2-percent-in-2017-following-three-year-plateau

    “Much of the slowdown in the growth of global emissions in recent years has been driven by a combination of reductions in the US and China, as well as relatively little growth in emissions in other countries. This changed in 2017, with little-to-no reductions in US emissions and a sizeable increase in Chinese emissions.”

  33. Dominic,

    Regarding your other point… it might (might not) be confusion about what people are trying to say.

    Yes, there certainly are some who are simply trying to argue that we know enough to move forward and actually make some decisions. However, there are others who are trying to imply that we’re so uncertain that we can’t really make any decisions yet, and others who seem to want to promote various other factors as somehow superceding the scientific information. I think it’s quite easy for those who intend the former to somehow be interpreted as suggesting the latter.

  34. Dikran,

    Personally, I think “wicked” is just the sort of “research buzzword” that gets invented as a label for the sort of thing some (sub-)field of research tends to be interested in.

    I agree. It can be useful to have a simple term, but not if it’s not clear what it represents and not if it confuses more than clarifies. We are talking about the socio-political aspects of the topic and hence about aspects that we should be able to describe in a way that most would understand. We don’t necessarily need some kind of simple buzzword.

  35. I agree, while buzzwords may be a useful short-hand within a research community, they don’t necessarily mean anything outside it, and in this case too easily hijacked by those wanting to make it more “wicked” than it already is.

  36. Roger Jones says:

    Here is what we wrote in Foundations of Decision Making, IPCC AR5 Working Group II Report

    “Complexity is an important attribute for framing and implementing decision-making processes (very high confidence). Simple, well-bounded contexts involving cause and effect can be addressed by straightforward linear methods. Complicated contexts require greater attention to process but can generally be unravelled, providing an ultimate solution (Figure 2-2). However, when complex environments interact with conflicting values they become associated with wicked problems. Wicked problems are not well bounded, are framed differently by various groups and individuals, harbor large scientific to existential uncertainties and have unclear solutions and pathways to those solutions (Rittel and Webber,1973; Australian Public Service Commission, 2007). Such “deep
    uncertainty” cannot easily be quantified (Dupuy and Grinbaum, 2005; Kandlikar et al., 2005). Another important attribute of complex systems is reflexivity, where cause and effect feed back into each other (see Glossary). For example, actions taken to manage a risk will affect the outcomes, requiring iterative processes of decision making (very high confidence). Under climate change, calculated risks will also change with time as new knowledge becomes available (Ranger
    et al., 2010).

    In complex situations, sociocultural and cognitive-behavioral contexts become central to decision making. This requires combining the scientific understanding of risk with how risks are framed and perceived by individuals, organizations, and institutions (Hansson, 2010). For that reason, formal risk assessment is moving from a largely technocratic exercise carried out by experts to a more participatory process of decision support (Fiorino, 1990; Pereira and Quintana, 2002; Renn, 2008),
    although this process is proceeding slowly (Christoplos et al., 2001; Pereira and Quintana, 2002; Bradbury, 2006; Mercer et al., 2008).”

    Wicked problems are solvable, but need to be addressed with a set of methods and techniques that you otherwise might not use. Problems need to be bounded in order to take action. Different participants need to be given agency to play their own part. The system needs to be reflexive, so that information flows back to inform next steps (the lit is not all the same on this – some of it says that wicked problems are one shot – we disagree). Values-based approaches need to be focused on areas of agreement, not disagreement. And so on. There is a very serious literature on decision making that commenters seem to overlook in their desire to go by their own gut feel.

    Wicked problems are not an invitation to fatalism. They are an invitation to look the dragon in the eyes and get cracking with your mates to get something done. And your frenemies. And your frenemies’ enemies. And if there are a bunch of shitheads who refuse to play ball (but only play climateball), ignore them.

  37. Andrew Dodds says:

    John H –

    I’m always a bit skeptical whe people throw terms like ‘perpetual growth’ around. We can already see, for instance, that first world per-capita energy consumption has been flat (or close to flat) since the 1970s, so given that world population seems to be leveling off, we can seen an end to growth in energy usage. Likewise for many other resources; there is a finite constraint to our physical needs.

    Growth in non-physical stuff – computer programs, for instance – can go on pretty much forever and with it economic growth. Perpetual growth is only a problem if you make some very dubious assumptions about the nature of that growth.

    The ‘wicked problem’ with global warming in particular is purely political – we’ve had the technical means to decarbonise our electricity supply and our stationary energy use (heating et al) for decades. And we haven’t because of a large scale lobbying/media campaign aimed at stopping action, because such action would by necessity destroy the coal, oil and gas industries; the problem being that whilst the benefits of action on global warming are diffuse and mainly consist of ‘bad things not happening’, the industries that would be stopped face an existential threat; they are more highly motivated.

  38. BBD says:

    because such action would by necessity destroy the coal, oil and gas industries;

    Just watch the gas industry ensure its survival by inserting itself into the energy mix (as new CCGTs) to smooth W&S intermittency… The oh-so-enticing bridge to nowhere, brought to you by US shale gas and Russian gas etc.

  39. John Hartz says:

    Andrew Dodds:

    From the synopsis of Lent’s article that I cited above:

    …our global systems, which are designed for perpetual growth, need to be fundamentally restructured to avoid the worst-case outcome...

    As detailed in the article , the g;obal systems are the socio-economic-political systems that the human race has created and functions within. He concludes that thease systems must be changed if the human race is to mitigate manmade climate change on the global scale required. In this regard, he echoes what Naomi Klein and others have articulated.

  40. Roger,
    What you say seems perfectly reasonable. However, the issue I was really getting at was whether or not there is some merit to specifically describing this as a wicked rather than simply describing it in a bit more detail. There seems to be some perceptions of wicked problems that may mean that using it as a descriptor could be counter-productive (impossible to solve, for example).

  41. Peter Jacobs says:

    @Stoat

    Solution: Get net anthropogenic emissions to zero.
    Timeframe: As fast as possible, with any time being better than never.
    Method: Transitioning the global economy to low GHG technology.

    This is usually the part where someone comes back with a demand of yet more specificity, but I don’t think that actually is required in any formal sense to address the question of whether climate is usefully characterized as “wicked” whereas something like air pollution is characterized as “tame” (per Grundmann).

    Is not the burden on the person demanding more specificity to demonstrate that such is required to address the utility of wickedness as a label/managerial frame for climate?

  42. Hank Roberts says:

    P.S.: a recommendation (you know how to find this sort of thing)
    https://www.fictionriver.com/volumes/how-to-save-the-world/

    June 2013. How To Save The World Edited by John Helfers. The second original anthology in the Fiction River line, How to Save the World brings together eleven of today’s brightest authors, presenting their answers to solve a pressing problem facing the human race….

  43. John Hartz says:

    We (the US population) must acknowledge and change the socio-economic reality described by Alberto Gallo* below. If we cannot, we will never be able to get our act together re mitigating climate change on the scale required.

    The American Dream is broken. Paul Ryan, speaker of the House of Representatives, recently stated that “in our country, the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life.”

    Yet the idea that every American has an equal opportunity to move up in life is false. Social mobility has declined over the past decades, median wages have stagnated and today’s young generation is the first in modern history expected to be poorer than their parents. The lottery of life – the postcode where you were born – can account for up to two thirds of the wealth an individual generates.

    How the American dream turned into greed and inequality by Alberto Gallo, World Economic Forum (WEF), Nov 9, 2017

    *Alberto Gallo is portfolio manager and head of macro strategies at Algebris Investments. Before joining Algebris, Alberto set up and headed the Global Macro Credit Research team at RBS, leading idea generation across credit markets. Previously, he was a Global Credit Strategist at Goldman Sachs in New York. Prior to that, he initiated and ran the Global Credit Derivatives Strategy team at Bear Stearns. He is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper.

  44. Roger Jones says:

    ATTP,

    My take, which I was implying but didn’t say straight out is that by labelling climate science itself as dealing with a wicked problem (the climate being wicked, complex), Judith is appealing to fatalism.

    This is pretty much line as saying climate is a complex, nonlinear system and can’t be understood properly, much less being managed through emissions reduction.

    In that case, your right, both terms are being used for a certain style of dog whistling, or stealth advocacy, if you like. I was just pointing out that acknowledging and confronting “wicked” and “complex” are both useful things to do.

  45. Roger,
    Yes, that is indeed one of the problems with how some people try to frame this.

  46. Michael Lloyd says:

    @John Hartz

    Please keep the articles coming.

  47. John Hartz says:

    In my prior posst, I cited two articles about the “wicked state” of the socio-economic-politial systems we are currently living within. Economist Minouche Shafik* sets forth a plan for healing our dysfunctional systems in the following article…

    We live in increasingly divided societies, in which the social contracts that bind us are fraying. One driver is globalisation, which has intensified competitive pressures. Another is technology, which has increased the returns to highly skilled labour, and exacerbated inequality.

    Technology has also transformed our awareness of what else is happening around the world. It has changed the way we communicate and organize, often in ways that divide. As a result, social sustainability – society’s internal cohesion and ability to hold together over time – is in jeopardy.

    How do we overcome these divisions? Part of the answer lies in rethinking the systems that bind society together and that look after those adversely affected by structural changes. Societies have always had mechanisms for looking after the young and the old, for spreading income over the life cycle, and for looking after those who have fallen on hard times, with some combination of support from family, community organisations, the market and the state.

    A leading economist has a plan to heal our fractured societies by Minouche Shafik, World Economic Forum (EF), Jan 2, 2018

    *Minouche Shafik: BA in Economics and Politics, University of Massachusetts Amherst; MSc in Economics, London School of Economics; DPhil in Economics, St Antony’s College, University of Oxford. Taught at Wharton Business School and Georgetown University. Formerly with senior management group, International Finance Corporation as Vice-President, Private Sector and Infrastructure, World Bank. 2004, Director-General, UK Department for International Development, responsible for country programmes. Since 2008, Deputy Managing Director, International Monetary Fund. 2014, Deputy Governor, Markets and Banking, Bank of England. September 2017 – present, Director, London School of Economics.

  48. Steven Mosher says:

    Says difficult or impossible.

  49. JCH says:

    Says solvers are bad people.

  50. If we spend more time discussing the meaning of a term (like wicked) than putting it to useful work, it rather suggests that it has limited utility. But in respect of the statement “climate change is a wicked problem”, which I will de-wickedize as “climate change is an intractably complex problem”; I do think it is too imprecise. So my take is to separate this it 3 sub-problems that reflect the IPCC structure: The Physical Science Base, Mitigation and Adaptation. The first thing is to replace ‘climate change’ with ‘man-made global warming’.

    1) Is the physical science base for man-made global warming intractably complex? No, this is effectively now done. The work continues to investigate greater levels of granularity and to explore scenarios, attribution, etc. but there is nothing intractable here. This is where the “climate-change inactivists” (as David Mackay termed them) like to focus their efforts, because it aims to block moving on to the more important (2) and (3). #TheScienceIsIn #GetOverIt

    2) Is the mitigation of man-made global warming intractably complex? No, at a global scale we simply need to reduce the emission of GHG from principally energy production, but also from agriculture, etc, to net zero as fast as possible. There are simple policy prescriptions (like a carbon tax). But it is complex in as much as in the absence of top-down solutions, we need hundreds of bottom-up solutions (e.g. Project Drawdown), but we also need immediate reductions in consumption in high-consumption ‘west’. People know this but are in denial (in the traditional psychological sense). There are big challenges here, but like with smoking and drink-driving, not impossible. Some solutions are here, now and off-the-shelf. But it is also true that ‘solution wars’ keep being had “do we need some nuclear or not, and if so how much?”, “can we transition to renewables fast enough?”, etc. I discussed ‘solution wars’ here >
    https://essaysconcerning.com/2017/12/10/ending-the-climate-solution-wars-a-climate-solutions-taxonomy/

    3) Is the adaptation to man-made global warming intractably complex. Well, this is where the answer may be, maybe. For one thing, even if we stopped adding GHGs to the atmosphere tomorrow, there are decades, centuries even, for the current warming of the Earth system to play out. Impacts are already with us. Effects like uncontrolled mass migration will be almost impossible to deal with. Solutions will be found, but will they respect justice and equity? Seeing how things have played out so far, I am not optimistic. And here the word ‘wicked’ will be properly used, for our lack of care to those least able to deal with the consequences of man-made global warming.

    Wicked in that sense.

  51. Susan Anderson says:

    Some history of the American slang term “wicked” which AFAIK comes from my part of the world as in “A Wicked Good Time”. I think it was adopted by Andy Revkin in an attempt to appeal to a broader population, though there may be more to it. It’s a little too cute. It does, however, address the difficult scientific, social, and political issues that infest efforts to persuade 100% of humanity that we have a problem and no good is going to come of running away from it. Relying on magic, wealth (we’ll all get rich and fix it then, meanwhile the poor need the fossil that is displacing and hurting them in record numbers), killing the messenger, undreamed of technology (and existing technology with way too many likely unintended consequences), and on and on doesn’t do it. The hard patient work of accepting reality and working together to solve problems is unwelcome in this looting predatory otherblaming time.

    Well, I got carried away there, but between wanting to be as nice and intelligent (and literate) as aTTP, with his patience and knowledge, and being endlessly outraged and disgusted, I’m beginning to wonder where to turn.

    An OT aside, but you could say yesterday in Boston was a case in point. I went out to take a picture at high tide, and got caught in a slow surround of surging slush as the combination of low pressure, high tide, and wind turned my dooryard from land to slush and water, 10 years ahead of when I thought it would happen. An object lesson in how low pressure increases sea level rise. Yes, my artists coop sealed it out, but a few of those and we’re in trouble. Does humanity have sense? No, to seaward of me (and lower) is “the most valuable real estate in the world” (one version) which has 30 or more new highrises and skyscrapers on it.

    We all need to pay attention and get weaving!

  52. John Hartz says:

    This storyboard article plows new ground in communicating climate science. Does it work for you?

    Show this cartoon to anyone who doubts we need huge action on climate change by Alvin Chang and David Roberts, Energy & Environment, Vox, Jan 5, 2018

    Correction:This story focuses on a scenario from climate scientist Joeri Rogelj, which would give us a 66 percent chance at limiting warming to 2 degrees, which would requires no emissions by 2065, followed by negative emissions. But a previous version of this story said we would need to reach no emissions by 2050, which is part of a scenario in which we give ourselves a 50 percent chance at staying under 1.5 degrees warming — a far less realistic goal.

  53. Susan – your comment (on high value, vulnerable real estate) reminds me of something Amitav Ghosh wrote in ‘The Great Derangement: Climate change and the unthinkable’:

    “It is surely no accident that the colonial cities like Mumbai, New York, Boston, and Kolkata were all brought into being through early globalization. They were all linked … through patterns of trad that expanded and accelerated Western economies. These cities were thus the drivers of the very processes that now threaten them with destruction. …
    It isn’t only in retrospect that the siting of some of these cities now appear as acts of utter recklessness: Bombay’s first Parsi residents were reluctant to leave older, more sheltered ports like Surat and Navsari …”

    He goes on to discuss many histories, such as Henry Piddington’s warning to the East India Company not to build the new city Port Canning in the Matla river due to extreme cyclone (a word he coined) risk. They ignored him. The city was badly hit and abandoned within a few short years.

    Today, just as Piddington experienced, and the wise old Parsi experienced … the messenger gets shot in the name of progress and grrrrowth.

  54. John Hartz says:

    Here are a couple of articles that go into detail about the winter storm so eloquently described by Susan Anderson…

    How climate change could counterintuitively feed winter storms by Chris Mooney, Energy & Environment, Washington Post, Jan 4, 2018

    Winter storm 2018: almost the entire East Coast is covered in snow by Brian Resnick, Science & Health, Vox, Jan 5, 2018

    PS – Mooney’s article is one of many like articles that have published in the past few days.

  55. Greg Robie says:

    This may be a stretch, but systemically, there is no problem [in the power-with view of what constitutes social power]. The laws of physics shape the environment in which biology adapts … or doesn’t. The power-with truth is rather simple. To the degree avoiding extinction as a conscious species feels rational, don’t go and get too big for ones britches.

    To engage in talk about what constitutes the most truthful adjective for a perceived problem, such is an endeavor that has a high probability of being, at best (referencing “Bad Company” lyrics*), a sword fight. Because of how motivated reason functions socially relative to britches sizing (affecting irrational behavior, ie, religious-like), the most reasoned adjective I’ve imagined for the dynamic we’ve set in motion with the Industrial Age’s creation of the Anthropocene under an increasingly unmitigated GREED-as-go[]d, is “religious”. Combine a trusted perception of power-over as power, with trusted (ie, religious-like) irrationality, and, concerning any perceived ‘problem’, a rumble in this jungle should be expected; a repeat of history should be anticipated; doing the same thing over and over again with the expectation of getting different results should garner a crowd.

    Concerning how hard it appears to be to be a sapient self-conscious species within a power-as-power-with reality, an example regarding the above stretch: the power-over type argument referenced in this post regarding the carbon tax mechanism for redressing the ________ ‘problem’. My read of Section III, paragraph 38, subsection (f) of the Paris Agreement is that it ports the cap and trade with offsets of Kyoto into the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, the language in Article 6 describes offsets for cap and trade in everything but name. In addition, my read of the framing of support for “non-market” approaches to mitigation and adaptation is such that this to is to be vetted within the construct of the mechanism of Cap & Trade w/ Offsets. (Section III, paragraph 40 & 41; Article 6, paragraphs 8 & 9). The guidelines for this are to be based on the recommendations of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice. Incorporating this work into the COP framework brought into force under the Paris Agreement is explicit: “The Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement shall adopt rules, modalities and procedures for the mechanism referred to in paragraph 4 of this Article at its first session.” (Section III, paragraph 40; Article 6, paragraph 7). Only the unanticipated ‘early’ ratification of the Agreement had this first session remaining open. This business of finalizing the details/rules for a cap & trade with offsets and no cap is inevitable.

    Have I missed something?

    If I haven’t, how is an argument for a policy mechanism, which is not the agreed to mechanism, not disingenuous; an example of motivated reasoning; a red herring and, functionally, just a differently framed defense of CapitalismFail; irrational; not significantly different than JC’s affect? I would suggest that a rational way to step outside the mental and linguistic framework of power-as-power-over, and learn to swim in the muddle of power-as-power-with, is to re-religion (conclusion of https://paulbeckwith.net/the-miracle-of-the-momentthe-terror-of-the-now/).

    … Or a religious _______? And a need to [try to] hang onto a sense of humor … [together]!

    * https://youtu.be/zclItQT66kQ … and I just read in the description for this video that the cords of this song are the same as Joni’s “Woodstock”, or an [auditory] example of conflicts concerning human nature (big fish eat little fish, power-over ‘adult’ vs a we’re all a child of go[]d thing, born of a privileged power-as-power-over dependency), and, but for trusted motivated reason concerning our shared ’religion’ of CapitalismFail, the potential for delving rationally into a maturing paradox together?

  56. Susan Anderson says:

    You are too kind. I am certainly pleased that our mayor’s uncompromising mention of climate change made the BBC! We got off lightly. Boston is mostly on made land, and the “improvement” of the formerly waste land in the “Seaport District” is pricey foolishness. Tonight it will get down to about 0F (-18C). Tomorrow it will be colder

    The New York Times had a particularly straightforward pithy video about “bombogenesis” (the message is clear in less than 15 seconds, remarkable). Certainly Boston is facing some “wicked” times.

  57. Ragnaar says:

    It is a wicked problem. Some say we do A, B and C. A lot of people don’t want to do these things.

    From above:
    “For that reason, formal risk assessment is moving from a largely technocratic exercise carried out by experts to a more participatory process of decision support…”

    So the quote captures where the wicked begins and stands to this day. The technocrats carried the football to the opponents 20 yard line. No luck after that. So the participatory experts joined in to help. They pointed to the other team’s coach and how rich he was and that their mascot is a parody of a Native American. They then recruited anyone from the left they could find, the more outrageous the better. They then lined up more victims than a plaintiff’s attorney could. Proclamations of cheap, clean and natural as daisies energy were made.

    The deplorable football team had listened to the left’s criticism for decades. But could they win at this game? A, B and C was close enough to everything they had been told is wrong with them. The deplorables were fighting their old enemies once again.

  58. John Hartz says:

    Solving the “wicked” problem of climate change in male-dominated societies and instittutions may very well be impossible. I sincerely hope that this new UN initiaitve gets the attention and traction it deserves.

    The UN’s new Gender Action Plan focuses on women achieving equal representation in government across the world by addressing climate change issues.

    Empowering Women Could Reduce Climate Change by Jessica Williamson, Vice Impact, Jan 4, 2018

  59. Willard says:

    Two comments have been caught in Spam: Greg’s and Dominic Lavelle’s. Thanks to Greg for the tweet.

    If the problem persists, contact Akismet:

    https://akismet.com/contact/

    Sorry for the inconvenience.

  60. Greg Robie says:

    Between Willard and akismet, there is much appreciation owed for the quality of this comment stream of this blog. IMO, the occasional perceivable slight of being moderated is a small [& instructive] price to pay. So, fifth try [venture into risking instructive feelings 😉 ]:

    This may be a stretch, but systemically, there is no problem [in the power-with view of what constitutes social power]. The laws of physics shape the environment in which biology adapts … or doesn’t. The power-with truth is rather simple. To the degree avoiding extinction as a conscious species feels rational, don’t go and get too big for ones [collective] britches.

    To engage in talk about what constitutes the most truthful adjective for a perceived problem, such is an endeavor that has a high probability of being, at best (referencing “Bad Company” lyrics*), a sword fight. Because of how motivated reason functions socially relative to britches sizing (affecting irrational behavior, ie, religious-like), the most reasoned adjective I’ve imagined for the dynamic we’ve set in motion with the Industrial Age’s creation of the Anthropocene under an increasingly unmitigated GREED-as-go[]d, is “religious”. Combine a trusted perception of power-over as power, with trusted (ie, religious-like) irrationality, and, concerning any perceived ‘problem’, a rumble in this jungle should be expected; a repeat of history should be anticipated; doing the same thing over and over again with the expectation of getting different results should garner a crowd.

    Concerning how hard it appears to be to be a sapient self-conscious species within a power-as-power-with reality, an example regarding the above stretch: the power-over type argument referenced in this post regarding the carbon tax mechanism for redressing the ________ ‘problem’. My read of Section III, paragraph 38, subsection (f) of the Paris Agreement is that it ports the cap and trade with offsets of Kyoto into the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, the language in Article 6 describes offsets for cap and trade in everything but name. In addition, my read of the framing of support for “non-market” approaches to mitigation and adaptation is such that this to is to be vetted within the construct of the mechanism of Cap & Trade w/ Offsets. (Section III, paragraph 40 & 41; Article 6, paragraphs 8 & 9). The guidelines for this are to be based on the recommendations of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice. Incorporating this work into the COP framework brought into force under the Paris Agreement is explicit: “The Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement shall adopt rules, modalities and procedures for the mechanism referred to in paragraph 4 of this Article at its first session.” (Section III, paragraph 40; Article 6, paragraph 7). Only the unanticipated ‘early’ ratification of the Agreement had this first session remaining open. This business of finalizing the details/rules for a cap & trade with offsets and no cap is inevitable.

    Have I missed something?

    If I haven’t, how is an argument for a policy mechanism, which is not the agreed to mechanism, not disingenuous; an example of motivated reasoning; a red herring and, functionally, just a differently framed defense of CapitalismFail; irrational; not significantly different than JC’s affect? I would suggest that a rational way to step outside the mental and linguistic framework of power-as-power-over, and learn to swim in the muddle of power-as-power-with, is to re-religion (the conclusion of https://paulbeckwith.net/the-miracle-of-the-momentthe-terror-of-the-now/).

    … Or a religious _______? And a need to [try to] hang onto a sense of humor … [together]!

    * https://youtu.be/zclItQT66kQ … and I just read in the description for this video that the cords of this song are the same as Joni’s “Woodstock”, or an [auditory] example of conflicts concerning human nature (big fish eat little fish, power-over ‘adult’ vs a we’re all a child of go[]d thing, born of a privileged power-as-power-over dependency ‘infant’), and, but for trusted motivated reason concerning our shared ’religion’ of CapitalismFail. It is such conflicting adaptations to power-as-power-over the hold the potential for a delving rationally into a maturing paradox together?

  61. Michael Hauber says:

    Perhaps climate change communication is a wicked problem?

  62. John Hartz says:

    Michael Hauber: The following article suggests that it may very well be.

    Which works better: climate fear, or climate hope? Well, it’s complicated, Opnion by Lucia Graves, Climate Change, Guardian, Jan 4, 2018

  63. Steven Mosher says:

    greg robie. cool bot.

  64. TTauriStellarBody says:

    @…and Then There’s Physics new solar systems are a fun part of astronomy and many user names can easily become either jokes or ways of finding out who you are in the real world.

    I thought it was obscure enough to say little to most people.

  65. TTauri,
    Thanks. Given that there aren’t that many who’ve worked on TTauri stars, I wondered if you were someone I knew. Seems not.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s