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Author, physicist, climate scientist. Expert on natural resource security issues. Environment executive. Legendary ocarina player - www.giulioboccaletti.com

Since the dawn of agricultural societies, humans have been developing institutions and technologies to master the natural world and harness its power. The big question for the age of climate change is whether this defining political and institutional challenge can continue to be met democratically.

President Joe Biden’s administration is working hard to reclaim America’s role as a global leader in sustainable development. But success will depend on whether it can lay the political foundation for a new relationship between society and the environment.

Activists and policymakers alike are demanding more investment in technologies to reduce the environmental footprint of…


Last April, Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Upper San Leandro treatment plant in Oakland, her Californian hometown. The American Jobs Plan, she told her constituency, will deliver over a hundred billion dollars for the upgrade of U.S. water supply infrastructure. In truth, the investment plan, one of the largest in a generation, is far more ambitious than that. Across all proposed expenditures, it includes not just the upgrade of all water piping, but also remediation, flood protection, ecosystem restoration, and the climate proofing of economic activities. All these initiatives place water at the heart of recovery and resilience.

The…


An effective response to the climate crisis requires a debate on the limits and scope of state power

In January, amidst the global COVID19 pandemic, the Netherlands hosted a digital Climate Adaptation Summit. At the event, many government leaders framed post-pandemic recovery in terms of adaptation to a changing climate.

The topic seems to be widely embraced at this point. US President Biden ran his campaign promising that every dollar spent toward rebuilding would be used to “withstand a changing climate.” He appears to be making good on that promise. As part of its response to the COVID19 crisis, the European Union too has established a 672 billion Euro Recovery and Resilience Facility, supporting measures including adaptation. …


I wrote a book. It is a history of the relationship between society and water. Its scope is ambitious: a planetary story that begins when people first became sedentary, ten thousand years ago, and reaches the present. It is a story of people, a story of institutions. Above all, it is a story of ideas.

The book’s title — Water, A Biography — captures its central theme. A biography referred to an inert substance is possible because water, as we experience it, is entirely dependent on our social life. Floods matter because our urban homes are caught in them. Storms…


The world of water resources is of substantial political relevance. Ensuring that water is available where and when needed for food production, energy conversion, or urban living is foundational to modern life.

It is also a field of arresting complexity. For example, water managers need to supply enough irrigation water to satisfy grain demand — itself driven by demographics, taste, economics — while the rainfall that feeds its sources is subject to seasonal, interannual, and decadal variability. …


China’s scientific and engineering knowledge gives it a distinct advantage in framing how best to manage the Mekong Basin and share its resources

China has been ramping up its investments with the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation mechanism, which — according to American officials — is an attempt to compete with the Mekong River Commission ( MRC).

A competition over who dominates scientific and technical knowledge of the river indicates an escalation in the complexity of challenges confronting the Mekong and an evolution from what seemed to be a largely domestic focus of China’s economic interests in its upper reaches.

Concerns for how…


How the work of one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century laid the foundation for our modern relationship with the planet.

Geopolitics on the move

Sixty-six years ago, this day exactly, America found itself celebrating one of founding fathers of modern meteorology. For the very first time, on Dec 17th 1956, the coveted cover of Time magazine went to a meteorologist.

This was not the first instance that a scientist had earned such public recognition. Since the inception of the magazine in 1923 there had been a steady stream of science celebrities gracing its cover. …


Lessons in sustainability from two thousand years ago.

A Roman archetype

“Apart from better sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health … what have the Romans ever done for us?” Reg did not mention “sustainability” in Life of Brian. No surprise: it wasn’t much of a buzz word when Monty Python filmed in 1979.

The Romans would not have been familiar with the word “sustainability” as it is used today. After all, it is a reaction to industrial modernity and the consumption economy. …


Most people accept that Earth’s climate is changing. Many also readily accept that change is the direct result of human activity. What to do about it is the inevitable next question.

Part of the answer is a matter of daily debate. Most (but not all) of the problem is due to carbon dioxide, a long-lived greenhouse gas, which has altered atmospheric composition enough to interfere with the planet’s energy balance. Its principal artificial source is fossil fuel combustion.

Given how central coal, petroleum, and natural gas have been to modern industrialization it should be no surprise that economic emancipation from…


A warning

When Hannah Arendt, the German-American philosopher, reflected on the dawn of the nuclear age, she observed that a world that relegates existential questions to technical and scientific language alone — solely the domain of men and women in white coats who say “trust me” — is a world in which people have lost the ability to author their own life. She was writing soon after Sputnik had unleashed a potentially terminal arms race, and she feared the risks of a technocratic state that keeps people out of the political processes on existential grounds.

“Speech is what makes man a political…

Dr Giulio Boccaletti

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