Tom Dietz – Human Dimensions of Global Climate Change

Tom Dietz –

University of Victoria (Centre for Global Studies), June 2 2009, 3 pm

  • ESPP at Michigan involved 180 faculty from across 40 departments.
  • Indisciplinary graduate program – involves a lot of translating and communicating between disciplines.
  • sustainability science – moving towards Pasteur’s quadrant – coping with “disciplinary wind” (e.g., blue chip journals) and “stakeholder gravity” (e.g., crisis and operating concerns).


  • rethinking sust to measure progress
  • sust dev is an “ambiguous semantic capsule” – Dobell)
  • most indicators are problematic
  • tradeoffs between human wellbeing and environmental impacts

How Do We Assess Sustainability?

  • most are bad. Some are useful
  • GPI (Daly / Cobb) – difficult data implementation task
  • Millenium Capital Assessment (World Bank) – adjusts wealth emasures for natural and intenagible and produced capital
  • data still limited

Dietz’ Alternative

  • MEA / Sustainable Science logic – Hom much environmental impact do we have to produce human well being?
  • how to measure human well being? e.g., UNDP = life expectancy+education+GDP per capita
  • emerging literature on happiness or life satisfaction; data limitations
  • DALE (disability adjusted life expectancy) useful but data
  • how to measure environmental impact? complex ecosystem dynamics. Ecological footprint is useful consumption based concept. Accounts for tradeoffs and different types of impacts
  • economic intensity (EFP per unit of GDP) – strong downward slope since 1960
  • Equity (EFP per capita)
  • Ecosystem focus (total EFP)
  • Sustainability (EFP per human wellbeing)
  • Sust discourse has been useful but has limits in explaining trajectory
  • most indicators are problematic

America’s Climate Choices (National Academies)

NAS: “we may be expensive … but we’re slow!”

Current study being conducted (not at liberty to say much about it until review). Various input possibilities.

Geoengineering is interesting because – like anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, it is a type of human activity that will have an impact on the climate. But it is different because, unlike greenhouse gases, it is not accidental but rather a purposeful attempt to say “ah, we know how this works, we can fix the climate problem.” Geoengineering seems to be a sleeper issue – most smart people will not have heard much or anything about it. But I wonder whether there will be a significant public backlash against future geoengineering proposals. So the problems will be social and political, not scientific – and the questions will be not “can this work” but rather “should we be doing  this?”


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