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# Energy and the environment - what physicists can do

I've made slides for a colloquium talk I'm giving Wednesday 17 April 2013 at the Perimeter Institute:

I'm pretty happy with them but I'd love comments. I believe the talk will be videotaped, so I'll only announce it to the world (on the blog, and G+) when that video is available.

Preparing this talk made me oddly optimistic. In 2011 I gave a talk saying solar power needed to grow by a factor of 120 to reduce carbon emissions by one gigatonne per year. I updated that information and now it only needs to grow by a factor of 30. That's still a lot, but it's pretty rapid progress. Something similar but less dramatic happened when I updated the information on wind power. Of course it gets harder to grow by larger factors from a bigger starting-point.

Another thing that made me happy is that it's easier to list things physicists can do than mathematicians.

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1.

Lee Smolin, a physicist at the Perimeter Institute, writes:

Dear John, We'll overlap just Wednesday and Thursday because the next week starts my book tour for Time Reborn which I'll need to get ready for. So to start, can we book Wednesday evening dinner? I'd like also to introduce you to some political scientists I've been collaborating with on climate issues, let me see if I can set that up for Thursday.

One thing this physicist has done is written a book on the reality of time arguing for the openness of the future and hence the possibility of influencing the future through the invention of novel solutions to problems-with climate change as my key example.

Looking forward to talking,

Lee

I'll also be talking to Tobias Fritz about a paper we're slowly working on: a category-theoretic characterization of relative entropy that should serve as a sequel to our earlier paper A characterization of entropy in terms of information loss.

Comment Source:[Lee Smolin](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Smolin), a physicist at the Perimeter Institute, writes: > Dear John, We'll overlap just Wednesday and Thursday because the next week starts my book tour for _[Time Reborn](http://www.amazon.com/Time-Reborn-Crisis-Physics-Universe/dp/0547511728)_ which I'll need to get ready for. So to start, can we book Wednesday evening dinner? I'd like also to introduce you to some political scientists I've been collaborating with on climate issues, let me see if I can set that up for Thursday. > One thing this physicist has done is written a book on the reality of time arguing for the openness of the future and hence the possibility of influencing the future through the invention of novel solutions to problems-with climate change as my key example. > Looking forward to talking, > Lee I'll also be talking to [Tobias Fritz](http://users.icfo.es/Tobias.Fritz/) about a paper we're slowly working on: a category-theoretic characterization of relative entropy that should serve as a sequel to our earlier paper [A characterization of entropy in terms of information loss](http://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/a-characterization-of-entropy/).
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2.

I was wondering what the "reality of time" was supposed to mean, but the link makes it a little bit clearer:

The fact that time is real may seem obvious. You experience it passing every day when you watch clocks tick, bread toast, and children grow. But most physicists, from Newton to Einstein to today’s quantum theorists, have seen things differently. The scientific case for time being an illusion is formidable. That is why the consequences of adopting the view that time is real are revolutionary.

And

a book on the reality of time arguing for the openness of the future and hence the possibility of influencing the future through the invention of novel solutions to problems-with climate change as my key example.

I'm a little bit curious (in a mildly skeptic manner) how the nature of time (I suppose argued in a quantum gravity context?) would be linked to climate change -- though I'm not curious enough yet (or rather too skeptical) to order the book to find out.

Comment Source:I was wondering what the "reality of time" was supposed to mean, but the link makes it a little bit clearer: > The fact that time is real may seem obvious. You experience it passing every day when you watch clocks tick, bread toast, and children grow. But most physicists, from Newton to Einstein to today’s quantum theorists, have seen things differently. The scientific case for time being an illusion is formidable. That is why the consequences of adopting the view that time is real are revolutionary. And > a book on the reality of time arguing for the openness of the future and hence the possibility of influencing the future through the invention of novel solutions to problems-with climate change as my key example. I'm a little bit curious (in a mildly skeptic manner) how the nature of time (I suppose argued in a quantum gravity context?) would be linked to climate change -- though I'm not curious enough yet (or rather too skeptical) to order the book to find out.
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3.
edited April 2013

Regarding solar PV, I guess you've seen the "news story" where the closest to the authors I can find is here. This says that "worldwide solar PV installations" are likely to become net energy positive by 2015, and almost certainly by 2020. (Unfortunatley I haven't yet found a link to anything that looks like an original report.)

Of course the mainstream press decide on a story their readers will be "confirmed in their disgust by" and then writes something that stretches the original to breaking point to match it, such as this article.

Edit: changed second link to be Daily Mail article I originally intended.

Comment Source:Regarding solar PV, I guess you've seen the "news story" where the closest to the authors I can find [is here](http://news.stanford.edu/news/2013/april/pv-net-energy-040213.html). This says that "worldwide solar PV installations" are likely to become net energy positive by 2015, and almost certainly by 2020. (Unfortunatley I haven't yet found a link to anything that looks like an original report.) Of course the mainstream press decide on a story their readers will be "confirmed in their disgust by" and then writes something that stretches the original to breaking point to match it, [such as this article](http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2303968/The-worlds-solar-power-wont-save-ANY-energy-2020.html). Edit: changed second link to be Daily Mail article I originally intended.
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David - I too am very skeptical about the link between Smolin's work on time and anything about climate change... even after he explained the former to me. I suspect he was just feeling a bit guilty and wanting to claim this work was somehow relevant to environmental problems. He actually has done work that's directly relevant to climate issues. For 3 years he was in a little group of people thinking about tipping points. When the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) team made a bunch of data available, that group was hoping to analyze it and look for potential tipping points and other patterns. They started digging into the data, which is apparently a huge quagmire of complexity, managed to independently confirm that the temperature in Greece has been going up... and then got tired and disbanded. He himself didn't work with the large data sets; two members of the team work on gravitational waves and were better at that. But he concluded that it's impossible to be a half-time or quarter-time climate scientist.

For me, one good thing about Lee Smolin's interest in climate change is that he introduced me to Manjana Milkoreit, who works on climate issues at the school of international relations at the University of Waterloo. She knows a lot about 'people issues', which are of course very important. She sent me a huge pile of emails this morning and I will try to digest them, and put as many as I can here.

Comment Source:David - I too am very skeptical about the link between Smolin's work on time and anything about climate change... even after he explained the former to me. I suspect he was just feeling a bit guilty and wanting to claim this work was somehow relevant to environmental problems. He actually _has_ done work that's _directly_ relevant to climate issues. For 3 years he was in a little group of people thinking about tipping points. When the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) team made a bunch of data available, that group was hoping to analyze it and look for potential tipping points and other patterns. They started digging into the data, which is apparently a huge quagmire of complexity, managed to independently confirm that the temperature in Greece has been going up... and then got tired and disbanded. He himself didn't work with the large data sets; two members of the team work on gravitational waves and were better at that. But he concluded that it's impossible to be a half-time or quarter-time climate scientist. For me, one good thing about Lee Smolin's interest in climate change is that he introduced me to [Manjana Milkoreit](http://www.balsillieschool.ca/people/manjana-milkoreit), who works on climate issues at the school of international relations at the University of Waterloo. She knows a lot about 'people issues', which are of course very important. She sent me a huge pile of emails this morning and I will try to digest them, and put as many as I can here.
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5.

I know the comment about Smolin and time even sounds to me like something I'd say, I didn't actually say that -- Frederik was the one who's a little skeptical about that. I was just linking to stuff about "energy cannibalism" in relation to solar PV.

Comment Source:I know the comment about Smolin and time even sounds to me like something I'd say, I didn't actually say that -- Frederik was the one who's a little skeptical about that. I was just linking to stuff about "energy cannibalism" in relation to solar PV.
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6.
edited April 2013

Whoops - I thought both those comments were from you, David! We're probably all skeptical about the link between "the nature of time" and global warming.

But I was also interested to hear that someone has attempted to figure out when the cannibalism will stop.

Comment Source:Whoops - I thought both those comments were from you, David! We're probably _all_ skeptical about the link between "the nature of time" and global warming. But I was also interested to hear that someone has attempted to figure out when the cannibalism will stop.
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7.
edited April 2013

No problem: I know I come across as overly negative but I really try only to be "negative" in the sense of applying "Feynman-esque scientific standards" to stuff (ie, where I think what's been said/done doesn't actually demonstrate the conclusions drawn from it) and not be negative just in general. As I think I've mentioned on your blog, one of the downsides of doing some "theory building" about computer performance is that it's very easy to formulate hypotheses and test them and discover they're wrong; as such I'm actuely aware how easy it is to build (partly from evidence) a nice theory that nonetheless isn't a good fit to new data. (I'll also admit that occasionally I can't resist making jokes which sometimes involve negative views.)

Anyway, I screwed up the copy/paste of the second PV article link above: I've fixed it so it now points to the Daily Mail article I intended.

Comment Source:No problem: I know I come across as overly negative but I really try only to be "negative" in the sense of applying "Feynman-esque scientific standards" to stuff (ie, where I think what's been said/done doesn't actually demonstrate the conclusions drawn from it) and not be negative just in general. As I think I've mentioned on your blog, one of the downsides of doing some "theory building" about computer performance is that it's very easy to formulate hypotheses and test them and discover they're wrong; as such I'm actuely aware how easy it is to build (partly from evidence) a nice theory that nonetheless isn't a good fit to new data. (I'll also admit that occasionally I can't resist making jokes which sometimes involve negative views.) Anyway, I screwed up the copy/paste of the second PV article link above: I've fixed it so it now points to the Daily Mail article I intended.