The Azimuth Project is designed to create a focal point for scientists and engineers interested in saving the planet, and make clearly presented, accurate information on the relevant issues easy to find.
The Azimuth Project includes:
The Azimuth Library — a growing set of articles on relevant science and technology.
The Azimuth Forum — a discussion forum for the project.
The Azimuth Blog — a blog.
The Azimuth Code Project — a software project.
We’re in serious trouble — for a short rundown, read this. It sounds pompous, but “saving the planet” is a convenient shorthand for tackling the complex set of environmental and technological problems we face today, such as:
If you believe some of these problems are important, and you want to solve them, we can use your help.
Many of the problems we face are fundamentally political in nature. But the world can’t wait for politicians to take action. There are lots of things scientists and engineers can do now, such as:
Develop better sustainable energy sources, possibly including biofuels, geothermal power, hydropower, nuclear power, solar power, wind power, and wave and tidal power. What are their relative merits? How can we speed their deployment to reduce carbon emissions and beat the day of peak oil?
Study geoengineering technologies to control global warming, perhaps after global warming has reached dangerous proportions and before the above safer strategies have matured. How helpful or dangerous are ocean fertilization, stratospheric sulfate aerosols?, cloud reflectivity enhancement?, cloud seeding or space sunshades??
Develop methods to preserve biodiversity and prevent extinction. How can we better understand ecosystems and catalogue species?. How can we combat deforestation, ocean acidification and dead zones, and preserve genomes of endangered species??
Educate the public — and for academics, our students. Explain the science clearly. Explain the alternatives.
The projects listed above are just a few of the many that are already underway. How will the Azimuth Project help? We’ll catalyze these efforts by making it easier for scientists and engineers to tackle environmental problems. We want it to be easy for them to:
see the overall structure of the environmental problems we face
access detailed information on all these problems
learn about open questions
find good projects to work on
find the people who are working on them
find relevant technical information
discuss ideas with people in many different fields
So, our goal is not to replace or compete with existing sources of information, but provide a synoptic view—a bird’s-eye view—of the information that exists. Specialists already know the facts in their own speciality. We want to make it easy for any scientist or engineer to understand the whole problem of saving the planet, and understand specialist literature in many subjects. After all, saving the planet is perhaps the ultimate interdisciplinary problem.
While many groups are trying to prevent global warming before it gets worse, there is a powerful array of political and economic forces lined up against them. This makes it easy to fall into apathy. But this apathy is a serious mistake. It comes from a shallow analysis of the situation.
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the groups trying to prevent global warming, in fact fail. What next? Will the world come to an end? Will everyone die? Will all species go extinct? The answer is obviously no.
If the world were certainly coming to an end, we’d be off the hook. We could say: “Nothing I do will really have any effect, so I might as well just relax and enjoy myself”.
But we are not off the hook. Even if a disaster of some sort is certain, there are different degrees of disaster, and it’s our responsibility to minimize the disaster.
It’s quite likely that politicians and the mass of citizens will take significant action on global warming only when things get quite bad. By then, even drastically slashing carbon emissions won’t improve the climate for hundreds of years. Emission reductions will be necessary to keep things from getting worse, but not sufficient to make things better. So, presumably we’ll do a mixture of:
(Here ‘geoengineering’ includes actively removing CO2 from the atmosphere as well as various potentially riskier strategies to cool down the Earth — including strategies that could backfire and make things a lot worse.)
When we think about this carefully, we see there’s quite a spectrum of possible futures to consider, ranging from slightly bad to quite bad to very bad to very very bad. We should work hard to avoid the worst end of that spectrum.
And we need to do it now, because people don’t always get better at optimizing their collective behavior when things get worse. When people are struggling to survive, they often do things like start wars. And then we’ll wish we’d taken action sooner.
Do you want to help with the Azimuth Project? Great! We need you! You can write articles, contribute information, pose questions, and more. Your special expertise is very valuable. To see what we’re doing and which projects have top priority, see Open Projects. Also check out the Azimuth Forum so you can log any changes you make to Azimuth Project pages, and join the conversation there.
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