Planning for floating cities

A Dutch architect is taking inspiration from designing houseboats and thinking about cities built to float on the water:

Olthuis, who along with building partner Dutch Docklands, designed a section of floating islands for Dubai’s man-made Palm Islands development project, has also created a patent which scales up the technology used for a houseboat to floating structures big enough to hold cars, roads and houses.

“Water is a workable building layer or a floating foundation and if you turn water into space, which is a dramatic change of mindset, there’s a whole new world of possibilities,” Olthuis told Reuters…

“It is just a floating foundation, mostly made of concrete and foam which is quite stable, heavy, and goes up and down with waves and up and down with the sea level,” he said.

The floating city of the future is still a dream, but Olthuis’s firm, WaterStudio, which he started a decade ago, designs buildings and floating structures which try to combat the challenges posed by rising sea levels.

Sounds interesting but I imagine it is a ways away from being used for large-scale development.

The article suggests it is currently being used in one setting and is envisioned for another key use: it is currently for the wealthy but could be used in the future to help combat the rise of the oceans due to global warming. I wonder if it might have more practical uses today: imagine new tourist, residential, and commercial destinations built in major cities like New York or Chicago that are out over the water (not just in the water or relatively close to shore). What about relieving overcrowding in some cities by building out over the water? What about being able to put essential infrastructure out on the water (power plants, water treatment facilities, etc.)? If cities weren’t as limited by land and could utilize the water surface as well, this would encourage new opportunities.

“Scientists and scientific studies have a minimal effect on public opinion” about global warming

While one might think that scientific data and reports are convincing, a sociologist argues that these matter little in the debate over global warming:

“Scientists and scientific studies have a minimal effect on public opinion,” says Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle, lead author of a new climate attitude study in the Climatic Change journal. “What really drives public opinion on climate change are the ways that political elites describe the science.”…

In the current Climatic Change journal, Brulle and colleagues looked at 74 public opinion surveys from 2002 to 2010, in a bid to figure out the contradiction in opinions between experts and everyone else…

“The science doesn’t matter because the science isn’t the real issue,” Brulle adds. “It’s about politics and money.” All we have with climate change, he suggests, is politicians taking sides in an economic debate over whether we should spend money to address climate change, or not (with one side very strongly opposed), and hiding behind a smokescreen of debate about settled science to avoid making those issues clear.

Brulle is suggesting that instead of debating how much we should respond to global warming (which seems like an interesting debate to have in itself), the debate has turned to the credibility of the actual science. So if conservatives admit that there is warming, then they would have to admit that money needs to be spent on fighting it and they don’t want to do that? There seem to be two issues here: the actual data and then the value judgments about what should be done.

I’ve been seeing reports on Brulle’s findings for several months now. If he is correct, are politicians taking notes about how to change public debates? At the same time, I imagine it is more difficult to make the case for spending money on environmental concerns with such economic issues (see the Keystone pipeline debate).

I wonder if there are other areas where there is something similar going on and scientific studies have little impact. If there is a common view that science is the province of liberals and elitists, how many people will trust what it has to say?

Where are the social scientists to explain the global warming debate?

Amidst all of the political discussions regarding climate change and global warming, one social scientist suggests a sociological analysis of this public issue has been lacking:

But something is missing: academic explanations of why people flout reams of scientific conclusions, bristle at the notion of cutting carbon and regard climate change as a sneaky liberal plot.

“The social sciences are glaringly missing,” says Andrew Hoffman, an expert on the sociological aspects of environmental policies at the University of Michigan, for which he’s researching climate denial. “That leaves out critical questions about the cultural dimensions of both defining the problem and finding solutions.”

He provides unvarnished reasons for that. One concerns his colleagues’ dismissal of the conservative movement. They deny the deniers, he seems to say, by tending to “ignore the far right.” More broadly, social scientists — like sociologists, psychologists and communication researchers — are generally disengaged from public policy debates.

The story goes on to suggest that some research suggests that this debate may be similar to the debate over abortion: both sides attempt to frame the issue and then influence enough lawmakers to make their side heard. This seems like easy pickings for sociologists interested in social problems. Notwithstanding the science, how have both the supporters and skeptics’ movement been formed, framed, and publicized?

If this social scientist is correct, this means there are some real opportunities for sociologists to provide some overarching analysis of this important public debate.

Quick Review: Be Very Afraid

Robert Wuthnow is a sociologist of religion and culture and I was intrigued when I saw one of his recent books at the public library: Be Very Afraid: The Cultural Response to Terror, Pandemics, Environmental Devastation, Nuclear Annihilation, and Other Threats. A few thoughts about the book:

1. The book examines four threats: the nuclear threat, terrorism after 9/11, global pandemics, and global warming. Each threat has a chapter where Wuthnow provides an overview of the history and then a second chapter that provides more of an analysis. Each of these subjects is interesting and the historical chapters are decent overviews of the social construction of and response to each of the problems. The historical chapters tend to focus on popular culture (movies in particular) and government responses.

2. The primary theoretical aim is to demonstrate that people are not paralyzed or immobilized by such threats (as some have suggested) but rather are spurred into action. For governments and larger organizations, this means the development and expansion of agencies and procedures to deal with threats. Average citizens go about ways of making sense of the situation and preparing themselves. Wuthnow suggests action and searching for solutions is the typical human response to such situations and analyzing these patterns of response is revealing.

3. While the cases are interesting as is the theory, I feel this work could have done more to analyze each case and provide an overarching perspective on threats at the end. I also would have liked to see more of a summary of the interview data that Wuthnow and his team collected (mentioned in the first footnote to the Introduction) – how did this personal-level data fit with the broader social history of each threat?

Overall, an interesting work that left me wanting a little more explanation. These cases suggest that when a new threat arises, both bureaucracies and individuals will respond with action. But what kind of action – is it dependent on the particular threat, the particular culture, or some other factors?