Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"But I'll take your bet, your gonna regret, 'cause I'm the best that's ever been."


I have some obscure "hobbies."  For example, I like to guess what sorts of feelings and responses advertisements try to fetch.  When I can't make any sort of conclusion, I suppose that I am not the target audience.  I get really excited when I meet someone that admits an affinity or dislike for a particular commercial because I think it tells me something about that person.  Indeed, commercials are one of my favorite topics.

In line with the above, I like to make note of job postings sent out by an academic department to their student listserves.  These are regulated and often have a one or a handful of gatekeepers.  So, I tend to assume that whatever goes out on the listserve is symbolic of the direction that the department hopes their students go.  It is symbolic of the ideals supported by the department.    

In 2005, I proudly graduated from the Climate and Society program.  The cost of doing so was debt accrued in 1 year that amounted to ~50% of the cost of attending a Texas state institution for 4.5 years.  Benefits were also substantial: I met some awesome people, saw some cool things, and garnered a healthy skepticism of climate science, the UN, economists, and anything "Ivy League."

It should be noted that the Climate and Society graduate program is the baby of the IRI at Columbia.  Being in the program, I got the feeling that the intent was to rapidly teach many individuals how to use the climate forecasts so they could go forth and do just that.  Slap a Columbia certification on 'em and you got yourself someone with legitimacy. 

Anyways, long story short, I'm on their listserve.

Several moons ago, I got an email from the Climate and Society graduate program listserve advertising a job that was forwarded by one of the program's graduates.   The job was for a "Manager, Insurance Program" with Ceres.  An excerpt,

Organization
 ... 
The insurance industry performs two distinct roles in the global economy—risk management and investment—making it both subject to the impacts of climate change and an essential driver of climate action.  As risk experts, insurers have special credibility in delivering messages—via the media and directly to the companies and individuals they insure—that affirm the reality and impact of climate change.  Insurers also are some of the largest investors in the world, controlling more than $23 trillion in global investments. US insurers hold more than a quarter of this total, making them a critical source of capital for the global economy to transition toward a low-carbon future.  Ceres is the only sustainability NGO with deep expertise on the insurance industry...
(Bold mine)

Description & Responsibilities

Ceres is looking to hire a manager focused on the insurance sector... The manager position offers a unique opportunity to move a key sector of the economy toward action on this century’s most pressing environmental issue... Specific duties include, but are not limited to the following:
·     ...engaging with a range of insurance industry actors, including large insurance and reinsurance companies, insurance regulators, catastrophe modelers, and climate scientists on climate change and insured losses.
  ...
·       Effectively communicating to a broad range of actors, including the broader financial community, equity analysts and bond rating agencies, about the risks that climate change poses for insurers.
  ...
·       Writing research reports and other multi-media communications to reach companies and stakeholder groups with timely information on Ceres’ industry programs and sustainability issues...
So it is interesting to me to see the ways the program seeks to have climate information used.  That C&S has suggested that its graduates go into insurance, backs the IRI's involvement in insurance, generally and edges the program and its sponsoring research group towards a position of policy advocacy... or maybe puts them squarely in such a place.

Columbia has close ties to the UN, which also backs the insurance to address climate change issue.  Maybe it is ultimately just towing the company line, as the UN is all about the carbon market and the insurance that can stabilize its existence.

I remember the first day of class.  It was also the first day of the program!  A well known, brilliant climate scientists asked us something like, "Do scientists have an ethical obligation to society?"  It wasn't until many years later, and more debt :-), did I realize the true depth of this loaded question.

3 comments:

  1. It's interesting that you note that the move toward embracing insurance "edges the program and its sponsoring research group toward a position of policy advocacy". I would argue that the program is already there.

    From my perspective, any assertion that climate information should be applied to inform decision-making is already a form of advocacy - which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It just comes along with a lot of assumptions about what kind of value that such information might (or might not!) provide and for whom. Making that explicit is key.

    Interestingly, a recent article put out by Lisa Dilling and Maria Carmen Lemos (2011), which considers opportunities and constraints for climate knowledge, lists the creation of "Information Brokers" as one strategy for making climate science more useful for policy. They note that:

    "The role played by brokers bridging science
    and use suggest the need to foster the education and training of a new kind of professional that is at least literate but ideally fluent in what it takes to understand both contexts."

    I would say that the Climate and Society program does a pretty good job at doing just that! Now, the question is, whether or not this will actually influence how climate science is integrated within policy decisions. I guess only time will tell...

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  2. Ooooh, a comment! Yay :)

    I think you bring up some good and well articulated points. And I suppose I agree that the program does a good job in producing individuals that understand both contexts. But the focus tends to be that it can be used and less on the question of how and when to use it and who benefits from it- the "ought" aspects.

    Several instances exist where climate predictions had a negative value for society. That is to say, just because we can do something (predict and use a prediction) doesn't mean we should.

    The C&S home webpage argues the following,
    "For drought-stricken farmers of the developing world, for shantytown dwellers at the mercy of hurricanes and mud slides, for governments trying to make the most of limited resources as they strive for development, and for the multibillion dollar insurance and food industries, this new scientific knowledge can offer better ways to respond to the problems and opportunities created by a varying climate."

    In most if not each of the instances mentioned, climate prediction has proven detrimental at times. Yet, it assumes the use of the science will result in "better" decisions. As you point out, it is a broad assumption about value, which from what I gather, is being encouraged.

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  3. I agree completely! Value judgments are lurking pretty much everywhere within the excerpt you found...

    For example, the way that the issue is framed (i.e.,"drought-stricken" farmers or shantytown dwellers at the "mercy" of hurricanes) seems to imply that these are powerless actors who lack agency in managing their own risks and should therefore somehow be "saved" by climate information. This seems to assume that the outcomes of climate info application will necessarily be positive and uniform across scales and sectors. For example, it's interesting that farmers in developing countries and multibillion dollar insurance industries are juxtaposed, with both being assumed to benefit.

    Also, as you mention, the idea "new scientific knowledge can offer better ways to respond to the problems and opportunities created by a varying climate", is fraught with all sorts of implied values. On whose terms will "better ways" of responding be judged? Better for who or for what? Most any policy decision will result in winners and losers...

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