Sunday, November 25, 2012

Introduction to Sustainability

In the last week of October, i finished my yet another coursera course - Introduction to Sustainability taught by Dr. Jonathan Tomkin of UPenn. I am quite glad that i took (and finished) this course, although i would have liked it even better if i was more rigorous at it. 

Introduction to Sustainability adds a scientific basis to the the concept of sustainability. For example, we know that over-population is bad but can we define it quantitatively? What has been the historic impact of population on other indicators say,  nutrition (food) or what are the projections of population growth of our planet. Primarily, this course helps you go one level down and adds more data/background to concepts that one agrees with (more or less)  and helps you make informed arguments.

Here in this article, i would like to talk/refer to concepts/articles that i found to be informative.

1. The Tragedy of Commons  - I may have heard of this phrase before but i never knew its meaning or origins before this article - http://www.garretthardinsociety.org/articles/art_tragedy_of_the_commons.html. Please read the article completely to understand the phenomenon. Having read and understood it, to take everything around us and give a foundational reading and to name it so aptly, it was almost like a intellectual "Eureka" moment.

2. Climate change and Global warming - Do you believe in Global Warming? Yes, i do. Many Republicans/Americans/even a few academicians do not believe in it, do you know why? Because they are morons.  I never understood how come anybody will not believe in Global warming.  This course clarifies this concept by explaining (a) many  natural processes that participate in keeping our environment as it is.  (b) How do we measure past / present data ,  (c) Why the skeptics do not believe in global warming and (d) Why they are wrong or in other words, why indeed there is global warming. A recommended link - http://climate.nasa.gov/keyIndicators/index.cfm#globalTemp

3.   Geo-engineering - A process by which we can slow down global warming artificially. See this ted talk - http://blog.ted.com/2007/11/13/david_keith/. What followed was an interesting discussion on why we are even discussing techniques such as this when we do not know its unintended consequences.

4. From the energy lecture, i am sharing the TED talks which are very interesting -
http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_and_the_magic_washing_machine.html
http://www.ted.com/talks/rob_hopkins_transition_to_a_world_without_oil.html
http://www.ted.com/talks/stewart_brand_proclaims_4_environmental_heresies.html

5. Policy and how to evaluate - Pigovian Tax, Externalities - Positve and Negative, Willingness to Pay and Willingness to Accept, Property Rights, Command and Control Regulations, Incentive based Regulations, Cost benefit analysisPrecautionary Principle, Polluter pays

6. Economic Invisibility of Nature - http://www.ted.com/talks/pavan_sukhdev_what_s_the_price_of_nature.html

7. Shocking -
http://www.ted.com/talks/capt_charles_moore_on_the_seas_of_plastic.html
India's water crisis
9 billion-people question and No easy fix


At the end of the class, the general sentiment was that everyone agreed that we are in a very bad shape but there is small hope. A hope that comes from the fact that atleast we understand the problem, there is a wider acknowledgement about it and we will act on the knowledge that we have now.  The greatest fear is that perhaps it may be too late by the time we come to our senses.

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