The Elephant on the Horizon

For at least the past decade the specter of global climate change has been an elephant on the public’s horizon, growing larger every year as it draws a little bit closer.  Now that it is close enough to be simulated–as I reported in my last blog– and perceived as a real elephant, a number of scientists and engineers who work in environmental risk analysis and operations management have begun to size up what that elephant will look and feel like when it’s standing in front of us. 
As two recent news items point out, these practical people are trying to anticipate the practical issues the elephant will drag in with it.  And this is a matter of computational mathematics.  Reporting on the research of a team from Lethbridge University in Alberta, Canada, and the University of New South Wales in Canberra, Australia, The International Journal of Mathematics in Operational Research examines the question of how to figure out where the people who are likely to be displaced by rising sea levels and desertification should go.   They have developed an decision evaluation algorithm to optimize relocation strategies.

In a second effort based right here in Ithaca, two Cornell professors, a climatologist and a horticulture specialist, have begun advising Congress and agricultural policy makers on how farmers can respond to local climate change to keep agriculture a sustainable part of the landscape.   Apparently looking up at the elephant as if it were standing right next to him horticulturalist David Wolfe commented, “We are the first generation of humans in modern history to face this kind of predicament, and it creates a serious problem for decision-makers of all kinds."

The elephant nods sympathetically and asks if the professor and his human relatives know about operational risk software.  

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