Thursday, August 28, 2008

Back at school

Unity College's Fall 2008 semester is well and truly up-and-running, and as usual my only respite for time to think is to awaken very early. Don't feel too bad for me. I'm generally so exhausted by the end of each work day at 4 or 5pm that I go to bed at 8.30, am asleep by 9, and waking up at 3 or 4am is no great hardship. And 80% of my weekends are free.

After I get up in the wee hours, I like to I do a few minutes of chores (let out our dogs, clean the floors because of the Piddlesome One, put away last night's dishes), make some strong coffee, and generally by 3.30 or 4.30 am I have my feet up, the laptop running, and am doing some real academic work.

What is "real academic work?"

Well, I have three or four general areas with which I would like to remain more or less conversant. Conversant to me means "can discuss issues with experts." So I may not wish to perform actual primary research in any of these areas, but when I go to conferences and meet and talk with people who do this research, I want to be able to comprehend and integrate what I hear into my own teaching and thinking.

The areas I want to keep up with are:
*climate change and climate change mitigation
*energy, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and enhanced conventional energy (clean coal, clean nukes, CCS, etc). Include efficient agriculture in this.
*the geopolitics and economics of all of the above

This makes for a fair amount of reading, and increasingly I find myself using faster-paced web resources than the traditional scientific literature. The old way to do this reading was to subscribe to journals and to write away for reprints. These days the sheer volume of authoritative information available on the Internet has to my mind eclipsed the traditional journal. I hardly ever need a paper copy of anything. A good book is still a comfort. But for serious study, it's all at my fingertips right here in my home. the pace is faster, and often scientists report results informally via blogs and personal web pages for colleagues to peruse before peer review.

Most scientists have grasped this change, I think, and begun to adapt their work habits. It sure is pleasant to be able to follow a new thread of thought by studying several documents of different provenance at once, and make your own mind up.

Or leave it open.

My latest read is an update from Jim Hansen, the NASA climatologist. I like to read Jim's stuff because it integrates all three of my areas so well. His latest is partially a report on a trip to Europe and Japan to consult with the governmental leaders. Lobby them would be more accurate. It also contains details of his latest thinking on carbon mitigation wedges. All great and fascinating stuff.

Read Jim's piece by downloading it from his webpage here.

1 comment:

Chris said...

As someone involved in education, I've found most interesting discussion, viewpoints and links to other ideas on climate change, adaptation and mitigation at Worthwhile for all returning students (and faculty members of course)