Thursday, July 16, 2009

MIT Sustainability Minor : Review

So I've read through the proposal for the Sustainability minor.

Core Subjects
The Dynamics of Socio-Ecological Systems

This would be a new interdisciplinary class taught by an ecologist and ecological biologists... Key concepts from population ecology, conservation biology and human demography ... with a review of important bio-physical cycles.

-> Honestly, this class sounds kind of boring. I'm not sure how useful this information can be for a career except as basic background information. I'm also least familiar with this subject. Perhaps it would be good if the blurb mentioned what fields of study or careers these concepts lead into. It sounds like these are the kinds of tools that would be useful for measuring and tracking environmental data? Or perhaps these concepts are most useful for providing a new model of the relationship between humans and everything else so that it's easier to understand and explain to others the need for sustainability. At it is, this sounds like a typical old-school environmentalism class.

The Environmental Impacts of Engineered Systems: Designing Sustainable Mega-Cities

The focus would be on ways of designing more efficient and less environmentally damaging infrastructure in the largest cities in the developing world.

-> This seems pretty straightforward and makes sense to me. One thing, though, is I wonder if it can be also relevant to large in the developed world. That way, the knowledge and skills acquired can really be relevant to local issues. Most MIT graduates will still be working in the US after all, and plus the developed world is still the largest contributor to pollution and CO2 emissions, etc.

Governance and Markets: Law, International Regimes, and the Economics of Ecological Problems

This would be a new interdisciplinary class taught by economists, lawyers, political scientists and public policy specialists from various parts of the Institute. The focus would be on the ways in which markets and governance systems can be used to protect and create natural and social capital.

-> This class sounds really interesting, although difficult to implement.

Environmental and Occupational Health Implications of Sustainability

This would be a modification of an existing course in Biological Engineering and would be taught by Professor William Thilly and Dr. Robert McCunney.

-> This class sounds really good.

Comments on classes in general :
I noticed that there weren't any course 6 type classes except perhaps systems design. One issue with course 6 is that a lot of the material we are taught are in the context of making certain types of products: audio amplifiers, robotics, image processing. The material is most relevant to commercial electronics companies and defense contractors. What I really wish we had when I was an undergrad in course 6 are course 6 classes that are relevant to sustainability: energy harvesting (wind, solar), smart grid management, wireless sensor networks, low power design, systems modeling.

1 comment:

I, Lynnbot said...

There are many aspects to sustainability. I think what you want is really specialized and engineering focused. I think it'd be important to learn about ecology and conservation, to provide background biology and information for why we should care about ecosystems and living systems in general. But it'd be important to emphasize the application, the reason for learning about it. Actually, if you want to get engineering people more interested in ecology, focus on biomimicry. I just got a book called Biomimicry:

Basically, it states that we should look to nature for models for engineering applications. And maybe we can also look to nature for social organization, for waste reuse, etc.

So, that could make the class work better.

Sustainable mega-cities makes sense - hopefully it talks about how to transition into a sustainable city also.

Governance and markets sounds like the class I need to take! By need I mean need and want! Difficult to implement is right. I should think about that a little and comment more on it.

Not sure how the last class would work - is it focused on the effects to the environment or occupational health if we chose to implement sustainable policies?