BOSTON - For reasons obvious to most of you, I tend to stay away from writing about climate change science because, frankly, I don't understand enough about it. I also am sick of people using confusion around the number on either side of the political spectrum as a means of delaying development of green IT policies or clean energy technologies and policies. But felt it worth writing about a project that was discussed last week at the EmTech@MIT emerging technologies conference that I attended at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.
The collaborative initiative, which includes the University of Chicago, Argone National Laboratories, and the Computation Institute (with "support" from the MacArthur Foundation) is called CIM-Earth. That's an acronym for Community Integrated Model of Economic and Resource Trajectories for Humankind. Even though the word "climate" isn't in the name, the effort is meant to create an "open model for studying the socio-economic dimensions of climate change and climate policies."
Elisabeth Moyer, atmospheric sciences professor for the University of Chicago, says that her team started advocating CIM-Earth after discovering that many of the people currently modeling the potential economic impact of climate and energy polices were using spreadsheets to do so, a method she believes is inadequate to address the scale of potential scenarios. What's more, many people collecting climate data are doing so on their own. "We believe the scale of the requisite modeling framework is larger than any that is achievable by an individual research group," Moyer said last week during an on-stage interview at the EmTech conference.
CIM-Earth hopes to combine the best available resources in computational science (aka the grid computer resources that are available across the nation to academic institutions and government agencies) with the economic science we need to make decisions.
The group is trying to pull in every imaginable constituent including electric utility executives, government budget offices, state legislators and industrial executives who are trying to understand how energy costs might change in the future. Indeed, one of the biggest unknowns associated with encouraging development of the smart grid and potential clean energy technologies is that we don't have a true understanding of the potential transition costs of doing something or of doing nothing. "There are people who need to know the outcome of the various policies we could adopt. The single greatest need is, in absence of policy, is an understanding of the transition costs," Moyer says.
She adds: "We say this framework should be big and it should be open."
I tend to agree. We need to know more about the economic impact of action or inaction, and use that knowledge to make reasonable, pragmatic decisions.