Prime example: Discussing Global Climate Change

13 04 2010

It is difficult to engage people in thinking about big issues with long-term consequences. Such topics are often abstract, futuristic and extremely technical. Global warming and climate change are topics that could be called “wicked problems”.

Regardless of your personal stance on the issue (belief, unbelief or otherwise…) I was impressed with a recent interview on the Diane Rehm Show with Dr. Margeret Leinen, Founder and CEO of The Climate Response Fund. She is in the nitty-gritty of technical research on climate change and discussed a conference held last month that brought together various interested parties to establish guidelines for climate research.

Leinen explained, “We have been concerned for some time that there were lots of venues where scientists could talk amongst themselves about the science but there weren’t any venues and there weren’t any discussions emerging where the people concerned about risk management, governance, ethics, economics, international law, [or] public opinion could come together with the scientists to talk about that. So we sponsored a week-long conference modeled on a very famous early conference in the ‘70s that looked at recombinant DNA … The thing that it had in common was that the scientists voluntarily came together and said, We’re very concerned about this research; help us understand what kinds of guidelines are necessary.”

This explanation caught my attention as a significant move to bring together various stakeholders to discuss processes surrounding climate research. Agreement on process is critical to credibility and acceptance of research results. Furthermore, research on climate change is dealing with ethical and legal questions since the environment does not belong to one entity, but has implications for all.

What are the pros and cons of utilizing a conference format to address global (literally and figuratively) problems? What other strategies to take on “wicked problems” have you seen?