Swarm Theory & Sustainability: What does it take to be sustainable? Top-down political action? Bottom-up grass-roots movements? More electric vehicles? These approaches are all too narrow. As I see it, the direction of the global human society is the weighted sum of each individual decision.
This concept is swarm theory applied to sustainability: like fish in a school, each individual bases actions on a small set of rules, and individual actions move the group. The mass’s direction is determined by initial conditions and the values held by each unit. Embedding the necessary tenets is the role of education, both formal and otherwise.
Pinning the requirements for a sustainable society on a single factor passes the buck to others. We, as professors, policy-makers, and plebians, will make the decisions that direct our society. We must acknowledge such potential and act accordingly.
The Nitty Gritty: Paper or Plastic, Who Cares? A stop at Trader Joe’s affirmed a trend that’s infiltrating grocery stores nationwide: After placing my California-made cheese in a backpack, I received a raffle ticket for taking neither paper nor plastic. An incentive for being green, great!
Bags are all the rage in greening the grocery industry. Hawaii has banned plastic bags. Sodexo’s compostable bags scream “green”. Reusable bags are even career fair swag. But as I see it, these are ways to deceive consumers’ sense of environmental responsibility.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that I’ve got the smallest shot at that raffle prize, but I’d gladly trade winnings for a bike rack in front of the store. A 5-mile round trip via car dwarfs the impact of even the most plastic-y bags. Though we should appreciate the rewards, it is our duty to rise above the basic “green” standards set for us.
Locally Sourced: Paradigms, Predictions and Jewels? The first offering of a new experimental course winds to a close, yet it is in need of a healthy dose of notoriety. The course: Paradigms, Predictions and Joules (PPJ), a mix of AHS and science. The main act: Rob Martello in collaboration with Wellesley Geoscience professor Dan Brabander. The goal: Connect historical case studies with scientific principles to analyze current and future directions of sustainability.
An example to connect science and sustainability: societies represent order in an otherwise chaotic world, much like a neat stack of papers on my disheveled desk. According to the laws of entropy, order is maintained only through the consumption of energy. Societies must use energy to further their existence without over-consuming and writing their own demise, a poorly defined if vitally important goal.
The course’s use of historical case studies, energy modeling software, and must-read environmental literature make it a far-reaching experience. Along with a chance to interact with non-Oliners, it comes with heaps of enthusiasm and two much-needed AHS credits.
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