IIASA day trip

Aug 10, 2018 by

Our AEMS class on August 1st(at a IIASA institute in Laxenburg) included two lectures on sustainable development, in addition to a world climate change simulation game. All of our activities throughout the day were about providing insights into how to achieve valuable socio-economic goals in an environmentally sustainable way. Valuable background information is needed to help people assess the complex dynamics of socio-economic and environmental issues. These issues themselves need to be understood in a global context so the appropriate responsibilities and solutions can be determined.

One new thing which we learned from the first lecture, “Reflection on how to draw system boundaries and implications” with Arnulf Gruebler, was that user behavior can be more effective than technological efficiency at reducing global resource footprint. The central point of the lecture was that changing human behavior can quickly make a major contribution to the issue of sustainable development. The [LED] low energy demand scenario can satisfy the need to reduce climate changes global heat increase to 1.5 celsius without sacrificing living standards. Because human behavior has such a significant impact on CO2 emissions, creating incentives for energy efficient behavior has the ability to make a significant contribution towards the goal of sustainable development.

The second lecture of the day was from Brian Fath on the topic of regenerative economics. One of the central points of the lecture was that our natural resources have been poorly conserved in the past because our consumption patterns were misguided and disproportionate to the growth rate of nature. Another central point was that there is an important distinction to be made between growth and development. Development can occur without growth. The reason why this distinction is important is because we cannot grow the economy sustainably without growing our population under the current system. One of the conclusions which we came to because of the lecture, is that humanity needs to be able to develop, or improve our quality of life, without economic growth in order for sustainability to be achievable. However, we are uncertain whether or not global population growth will slow down and stabilize. This is the key assumption on which the model is built. Another one of the key points of the lecture, was that the economy exists within the natural boundaries, and therefore it is subject to natural cycles and patterns that are observed in natural sciences.

The last learning activity of the day was an interactive game called world climate simulation. The game divided participants into different groups such as the USA, the EU, other developed nations, China, India, and other developing nations. These different groups had different needs, interests, and responsibilities, each relative to their own economic circumstances, size, and CO2 emissions. The game provided us with a thought provoking metaphor for the current global situation in regards to climate change mitigation. The game also gave us an idea of the complexity and diversity of interests which need to be balanced in order for a global solution to come into practice.

It was very difficult for participants to put themselves into the shoes of different societies. This shows us that one of the challenges we face as a global community is the difficulty of understanding and empathizing with the perspective of other societies on how climate change should be addressed. The main topic of discussion in the game ended up being how to collect and the distribute money for climate change mitigation, as opposed to focusing on environmental policy. The solution proposed during the discussion was that both the developing and developed world would commit to significant CO2 emissions reductions and that the developed world would contribute significantly to funding these efforts in the developing world. This solution uses money as an instrument for inspiring concrete action for climate change mitigation. While money is not the sole tool for this process, nor an exclusive subject for consideration in this solution, it serves in this case as a method for making up for the disproportionate contribution of CO2 into the atmosphere by developed nations.

Written by: Eric Bleys and Greg Simkow

Based on the lectures by: Arnulf Gruebler (“Reflections on how to draw system boundaries and implications when they are drawn “incorrectly”), Brian Fath (“Flourishing within Limits: Using ecological systems’ principles for regenerative economics”) and Helga Kromp-Kolb (“World Climate Simulation”)