When you consider where technology is going to take the human race you cannot avoid the impact of how to do that without “sustainable development”. To understand what was meant by the phrase “The Age of Sustainable Development”, I took a 14 week online class from Columbia University, in New York City, by that same name. The class was taught by a world renowned Professor Jeffery David Sachs, an advisor to the UN and world governments on the topics of economic development, environmental sustainability, poverty alleviation, debt cancellation, and globalization (ref: Bio). I joined the class on week 14 and binged my way though it in 5 long days. It was actually one of the better classes I have taken through the MOOC Online Global Program which I highly recommend to anyone who wants to get a good education on many different topics from around the world. Most classes are video lectures and usually in English with written course material too.
The Age of Sustainable Development class syllabus was quite diverse in the topics that it addresses in just a 14 week period. For me the common thread through all the topics of discussion was the species called humans. That is, the ‘abundance’ of people was the primary reason why we had to look at existing and future development as sustainable or not. It seemed to me that the Professor focused on sustainable development goals that needed to be agreed upon by the world to balance sustained socio-economic growth with the sustainable use of natural resources and the conservation of ecosystem services. For those of you who might be familiar with Agenda 21, this class pretty much followed that ideology. I will leave it up to you to research Agenda 21 to find out what the world has planned for you. Without being too critical about Agenda 21, let me leave you with this one thought: What is a zebra? – A horse designed by a committee based on a consensus.
There was one chapter (week) that sparked my interest more than the other weeks and that was the discussion about planetary boundaries. The earth is a finite object floating around the sun 365+ days a year. The sun had a beginning ~4.5 billion years ago and it will have an ending ~5 billion years from now. How scientists know this I can not answer and take it on faith. However, if we look at the tiny little speck of time that we do know about, we can understand that there are some planetary boundaries that we should be aware of. For example, do we have limits on how much energy here is, how much food we can produce or how many people can the biosphere actually sustained, just to name a few.
Prof. Sachs’ identification of the ‘problems’ that have been created by unsustainable development were excellent. It is always very easy to define the problems primarily because it has already happened. The challenge is always to determine the better solutions for the future. Keep in mind, there may not be a right or wrong solution and there definitely won’t be the best solution. What we always need to strive for is better solutions for what is not working well.
However, the Prof’s solution to address sustainable energy development was focused on the wrong mitigation for climate change. He suggested solutions of wind and solar in the lectures that were way more complex than the problem itself. Why replace the entire infrastructure of fossil fuel worldwide when you only have to change one thing – DO NOT BURN the hydrocarbons, just extract the electrons. Better yet, replace the entire electricity generation process with advanced nuclear power plants. It solves the 24×7 ‘always on’ availability and reliability of sustainable energy and still utilizes the existing infrastructures.