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Coffee with Climate Scientist Richard Alley

Coffee with Richard Alley

Author Steven Johnson, in his book Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation says: "Good ideas may not want to be free, but they do want to connect, fuse, recombine. They want to reinvent themselves by crossing conceptual borders. They want to complete each other as much as they want to compete."

Perhaps that is what led me to finally get together for coffee with Penn State's one and only Richard Alley, famous climate scientist, author, speaker and host of EARTH: AN OPERATOR'S MANUAL. Dr. Alley is a much decorated and heralded scientist whose experience includes three field seasons in Antarctica, eight in Greenland, and three in Alaska. He has served on the National Research Council’s Panel on Abrupt Climate Change and participated in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which was co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize).

Talking with him, I got the feeling he surpassed my understanding of physics and math probably when I was in 5th grade. But he is a brilliant communicator, obviously used to speaking with the thick-headed like myself and using terrific analogies, metaphors and visuals. He also has an impressive understanding of economics (and, oh by the way, is good buddies with the Yale economist Bill Nordhaus, winner of this year's Nobel Prize for his work on climate change and its effects on the economy)

But this object of his research and study, namely the planet we all call home, is being heavily...influenced we might say, by an entity I do know something about: business.

"Without science," I said, "businesses will set goals they can achieve whose attainment won't really help either the business or the environment. Without the science, the environment becomes an abstraction, a spreadsheet, a dashboard, a report, a good speech at a conference--disconnected from the real, living breathing world."

It was quite an energetic, super caffeinated 50 minutes before Alley needed to zip off on his bike to some video shoot. Ideas for collaboration were flying. How students from our different colleges might work together. How our faculty might work together (imagine climate scientists working with finance faculty or supply chain or marketing/communications!). Before he could go, I asked him if he would be interested in speaking with businesses, helping them understand the science of climate change (perhaps set science based goals as 500 companies have done).

He said: "Absolutely!" Best two bucks I have ever spent on coffee. I can't wait to see what we do next.

Back to Steven Johnson to close us out:

"...frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, reinvent. Build a tangled bank."

Here's to getting out of our lane once in a while. You meet some great people. Encounter fresh ideas. And the coffee is great!

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