From Earlham Cluster Department
Technology and Sustainability Talk
I found Charlie’s presentation to be very engaging and thought it offered an informative look at the changing role of sustainability in an easy to understand format which integrated nice anecdotes, history, and current events. While I remembered some of the things from other in-class lectures it was good to hear them again and I felt that I had gained a better grasp on what sustainability means in the status quo after hearing Charlie’s presentation. I thoroughly appreciated the fact that he went into the presentation on the assumption that the audience agreed with the FACT that climate change was occurring and that human behaviour had some effect on this change. If I were to change anything I would maybe try to make the talk a bit shorter but I also cannot think of anything that I would cut from it, in fact the presentation seemed a bit rushed towards the end so perhaps shortening it is not the best idea. I like that Charlie chose to look at sustainability from a more objective view than many other talks on climate change do, he recognised that some solutions presented as “sustainable” aren’t necessarily so and some not really viable at all. It would have been interesting (were the talk to be given in the U.S.) to look at current policy natives (if any) that are either being debated, have passed, or that have failed.
Science at Kew
Much scientific research occurs at Kew and aids in global conservation. One of the main projects by Kew is their Millenium Seed Bank Partnership which is working to save those plant species risking or near risking extinction. Currently 60,000-100,000 plants are facing extinction (source: Kew.Org) so this partnership to preserve and maintain these species is vitally important and is one of the benefits of Kew research. Society should support Kew because of work like this, which is helping to save seed species worldwide, if critical plants become extinct it affects our air, our food, and the livelihoods of nearly all people worldwide. The Kew website notes the importance of the plants they work to save each day quite nicely by noting, “We need plants, because plants are useful. Plants provide the air we breathe, they provide clean water, fuel, building materials, fibres, resins and we all rely on plants for food.” Kew also understands that a key part of climate change and conservation is maintaining plant diversity and they work towards this in many locations worldwide. Plant diversity not only helps remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere but can also help by negating the negative effects such as deforestation and extinction of other non-plant species. This commitment to plant diversity is seen in the vast array of exhibits at Kew garden demonstrating the impressive varieties of healthy plants Kew has at their gardens and how they are working to maintain this diversity in their other locations around the world, such as the colorful plants seen in the “Tropical Extravaganza” exhibit. The long-term benefits of the science at Kew are increased and healthier plant and bio diversity, a reduction in the negative effects of climate change, and the prevention of species extinction. The short term benefits are education and conservation both on a community level and at their various sites around the world and through the information available on their website and at their enormous on-site library.
Reflections on Climate Change
The question isn’t whether climate change exists but rather what can we do to deal with the status qupo and inherent changing climate of the future. The main point that I took away from the last few weeks of studying climate change was that something needs to be done and that we cannot continue to consume and consume in the ways that we have (and which has only increased) and expect the results on the climate to someday turn around. So the question than becomes what do we do, it is easy to not feel like recycling your one plastic bottle will make much of a difference or taking your coffee in a to-go mug as opposed to a paper cup each morning but collectively if society moves towards a more sustainable and less hyper-consumptive culture we will begin to see our negative impact on the planet decrease. It is absurd for us to assume that we can continue to build this culture based on consuming and expect the rest of the world to follow this western model of development without vast environmental impacts that will someday be absolutely devastating, as seen in each medium of climate change we have looked at in the previous weeks. The medium I found most effective was the theatre because it presented the information in a way that I found to be engaging and easy to listen to. While I enjoyed the Atmosphere exhibit and found it to be extremely comprehensive I felt a bit overwhelmed by all of the different kiosks and interactive activities (perhaps it was just my ADD).
When comparing the message of climate change to that back in the States and also that at Earlham I think there are certainly both similarities and differences. As touched on in my Greenland review I find my first inclination (despite this not being true) is to think about climate change as a politically charged issue as opposed to something of science. This certainly seems like the American mindset to have, which makes sense when we have countless politicians and “journalists” telling us climate change is nothing more than a scare tactic or hoax and denying the overwhelming scientific evidence. I find the culture towards climate change in the UK to be much more accepting of the fact that it is occurring and mostly of the fact that it is in some way caused by the actions of humans, something unfortunately not as widely accepted in the States. In the UK the greater question seems to be not IF we should do something but WHAT should we do in regards to climate change, which is not exactly how it is debated on the floor of the senate. I find that the attitude of the UK is much more similar to that seen at Earlham, I think one would be hard-pressed to find an Earlham student that denies the existence of climate change and thinks that inaction is an option.
I enjoyed the production of Greenland and found it to be an interesting medium to present such an issue. While miy first inclination is to find it odd to see a “political issue” presented with such a slant and sponsored by the national theatre the more I think about it climate change really should not be a political issue, or rather it is not a political issue—its an issue of science and facts. What has made it a political issue is the spread of misinformation by the media and other not so scientifically affiliated individuals and politicians. I digress…back to Greenland—I felt that it presented a nice intro to climate change with many facts being integrated in a way that was entertaining and palatable for us not so science-y individuals. Overall I felt that I pretty much knew most of the information that was presented in the play (from classes, news articles, readings, etc.) but it provided a nice refresher course on climate change in a new and engaging format.
I really enjoyed the Atmosphere exhibit at the National Science Museum but found the sheer amount of information to be a bit overwhelming and felt over-stimulated by the amount of lights and engaging kiosks. The exhibit seemed to offer a pretty all-encompassing overview to climate change both covering its history, current events, and possible solutions. I thought it was interesting to find out how ancient ice cores are analyzed to figure out the carbon dioxide and temperatures at the time of their presence. The most engaging kiosk that I found was the climate modeling game in which you worked as a climate modeler and were promoted to new levels based on how realistic and applicable your model was. I liked this kiosk and found it engaging because I felt interested in learning what made an accurate climate model for the future and was engaged because of the simulation style game it presented the information in. My least favorite kiosk was the one that was like a book that you flipped through and more information would appear on the computer screen in front of it. This was my least favorite kiosk because I found it to be very text heavy and not very engaging. I feel like the science and technology element was very present in the kiosks and throughout the exhibit both looking at the science behind climate change and the technological innovations scientists are looking towards as solutions for its affects.
I think the three most important challenges facing society in the near term are access to lifesaving medical treatment, alternative energy sources, and accessibility/availability of clean water. Access to medical treatment is growing increasingly important as the medical problems facing society grow more and more complex. Currently drug companies have few incentives to research and create low cost medication and treatment for diseases affecting much of the developing world such as malaria, AIDS, etc. As for profit companies they are less interested in providing medication to those that can least afford it and more interested in creating new drugs marketable to the already prescription heavy industrialized north. The future demands that drug companies and researchers look for solutions to help those most in need not just those with the deepest pockets. The global reliance on the finite resource of petroleum urges us to find alternative energy sources to fuel the future. There is simply not enough oil in the world to sustain our consumption. Like oil water is also a finite resource which is already not accessible to some parts of the world where it is most needed. Finding new sources of clean water is essential as we move into the future. In addition to clean water sources it is also critical that we develop solutions to make sure everyone has access to some source of clean water, whether this is coming up with cheaper more effective water-purifying technologies or more efficient ways to build wells in rural areas, something must be done.
As far as medical treatment science can provide research about key medical issues such as cancer and the causes surrounding it whereas technology could use this research to create new more efficient medications to treat disease and other medical problems. Technology can be further applied by looking at better ways to distribute medication to those most in need, i.e. by producing generic AIDS medications in countries most affected by the disease you can be quicker in getting the drugs to those most in need. Science can be used when seeking out alternative energy sources by researching new forms of energy and technology could be used by converting this energy into a usable form that is accessible by consumers. Technology can also compare new forms of energy against old forms to determine which is most efficient for the differing needs of the globe and least detrimental to the environment. Science can be used to research how much clean water is left on the planet and where it is located and technology could be used to actually seek out these water sources and distribute them to those most in need. Technology can also be used to innovate new ways to purify water and make it suitable for drinking.