Aleah T. Stewart-Souris

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It seems to me, based on the past reading we have done, that the world is essentially evolving from a collection of many closed populations to one open population, which is something vastly unlike anything that we have faced before. Although it opens possibilities for the integration of all sorts of resources, it also adds a huge amount of dependencies on groups of people that are not in our control. We have to find ways to communicate and share that works despite of language barriers, religious and cultural differences and major recourse and wealth discrepancies. This seems to be the main issue brought up in many of the readings and is at the core of the theory of the commons. The idea that people within each of these subsets will act in ways to get what is best for them or their people, at the disservice of others, is a bit upsetting but based on historical evidence, seemingly true. However, as the world shifts towards an open population, the greater good of the people becomes the greater good of the world.

I think it is important to elaborate on what I think it would mean for the world to exist as a successful open population. I definitely do not think it means the transformation of the world into one uniform society or government. Excluding instances of human rights violations, I am supportive of the sovereignty of nations. In general I do not think that we have the right now tell people how they must govern themselves. I believe this not only because I think it is wrong morally but also because I think it would significantly hinder efforts to make trusting and productive connections between nations.

What I would like to see is the acknowledgment that, for the most part, we as a human race, are reaching a point where, globally, we must all rely on each other. This is certainly clear in the case of global warming. It has reached a point where the action of one nation has the potential to have serious affects on the world. Therefore, we must learn to rely on each other in a way that is respectful of the needs and desires of all involved. I feel like conflicts often arise due to one party trying to force the other to conform or at least agree with their point of view. With such distinct differences in all people, it is inefficient and inconsiderate to try to work in that way. Although this is all stating the obvious, it is clearly an extraordinarily difficult thing to do.

I love the idea of one open population because of the amount of information sharing that it could facilitate, and is already facilitating. Because of wonderful advancements in technology and the ability of the Internet it is getting easier and easier to communicate with people around the world. This is exciting because it creates opportunities to bring together people who can use the collective knowledge of many cultures. These collaborations can lead to exciting discoveries that may have been impossible to make without the bringing together of many perspectives. The Internet has also shown to be crucial in facilitating social change. This has recently been seen in the Arab Spring, where the Internet has been hugely important in the toppling of tyrants and dictators.

I think my general inclination is to be excessively optimistic and perhaps disregard the hardships and look past the potential obstacles that will definitely arise in trying to obtain these goals. My hope for a one successful open population hinges on the assumption that all people would want an open population. This is certainly an unreasonable assumption, of which I would never claim to have any answers. I do, however, think that this is the most important challenge to tackle in order to make any progress towards a more sustainable world. We are in the midst of a huge transition. There are certainly things to be nervous about like the extreme Internet censorship being talked about in Iran, something I know too little about to properly comment on. However, there is also plenty to be excited about.

Astewart-souris 07:29, 5 March 2012 (UTC)

  • It sounds like you're translating the logic of the tragedy of the commons by looking at whole local/regional populations (rather than individual herdsmen, say) as the 'players' who will (have to) act in self-interest. That is a very interesting idea. But the next step would be to see how the idea of 'regulating' the commons translates into your model of interacting groups/populations/nations in a global commons; is there an equivalent to Hardin's 'coercion' tools (taxes, laws, economic structures) that can be applied between these groups to prevent over-exploitation of the Commons?Kwoods 14:37, 11 March 2012 (UTC)
  • The idea that we're transitioning from a lot of separate communities into one large global one is really intriguing. And I think you are right to kind of question your optimism about it, because because its so large, there are a lot of though exciting, differing opinions on globalization and all of the connotations and implications of living in an interconnected world. Do you think the positive aspects of having an open world community outweigh the potential bad parts, such as the Tragedy of the Commons? Or do they balance each other out? Ktrop 22:21, 11 March 2012 (UTC)

Second Point and Counterpoint Response:

In the Will Limited Land, Water, and Energy Control Human Population Numbers in the Future paper, the mention a concept that I was really interested by. It was when they were talking about the “global economic cost” of erosion per year. Although I have some questions about how that number was arrived at, I think that it is a very effective way to conceptualize the potential effect a global event can have on the world. In the context of the paper, it makes it much easier to understand the severity of soil erosion around the world. There is a lot of energy spent on explaining the extent of the damage erosion causes, however, the scale is so large, it is difficult to imagine what is really going on. Perhaps this is a personal thing, but it is much easier for me to grapple with how intense the effect erosion has on the planet when it is put in terms of money.

Right away I wondered if this idea could be applied to other global situations. As someone who sometimes has trouble grappling with such massive scale events, assigning them monetary values puts them in terms I have an easier time understanding. Not only would it make it easier for me to understand the potential effect certain occurrences can have, it would also make all these very different events much easier to compare by converting them all to the same unit so to speak. I would be very interested in seeing how those numbers would compare to that of soil erosion.

However, since I was slightly skeptical of how that number was attained, I checked the paper that was sited for the number. In R. Lal’s Degradation and resilience of soils, it stated that there is not much information available on the global economic cost of erosion. There were some references of yield reduction and costs on smaller scales than the whole globe. Then there is one sentence about the global cost. The $400 billion dollar cost represents the cost of the loss of 75 billion tones of soil per year. They say that five dollars are lost per ton. Three dollars for the nutrients lost and two dollars for the water lost in the soil. Although this clears up some of my questions about how they arrived at the final number, I still wonder how they came up with the monetary values for nutrients and water lost per ton. However, they did not site any sources for these numbers. (Lal 1997)

Lal, R. (1997). Degradation and Resilience of soils. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London

  • I find the point that you made about putting all natural loss into a more understandable monetary value intriguing. I too believe that when articles and reports put numbers on loss, the reality of the situation becomes all the more palpable. However, this is where I, personally, reach a conundrum. In an ideal world, people would not need a solid and scary monetary value put on climate change in order to take it seriously - the idea of the climate change itself should be enough. However, our society puts an embarrassingly large emphasis on a person's dollar value, and this mindset is what I believe is reflected in these reports. Do you think that a level of reeducation of our is what is necessary for the severity of the actual change to be taken seriously, or do you think that a change in the way that the media presents it would be good enough? Rjackson
  • You make a good point: wrapping our mind around numbers in the millions, billions, and trillions in units that are new to us (like degradation of soils) is extremely difficult. We could guess that the lack of information and exact numbers for how much soil is lost is because of the difficulty in obtaining the data, never mind analyzing how much is lost and how much it would cost. This brings up some suggestions for affecting positive change in the environment. It appears that we need reliable ways to collect data, and asses how much they cost us on not just a monetary level, but on a social level. This is an important aspect of environmental work that can easily be overlooked, but will be necessary for seeing what needs to change and what is being depleted and how fast. We can also work on our own understanding of large numbers, by figuring out what makes sense to us and bringing them to a scale we can understand. Fabbott-lum 20:08, 27 March 2012 (UTC)
  • I agree that in some ways, assigning a monetary value to issues like climate change and the degradation of soil should be unnecessary. However, I think that creating a system that allows a comparison of the two would be hugely beneficial. Although dollar amounts does not need to the unit used, it is a concept that we are all familiar with, which would, in turn, help ensure a more universal understanding of the problems. In many cases, it seems that education is the first thing that must happen in order to minimize the amount of damage caused. If these complicated issues where put in terms that are so familiar, it may facilitate a much more wide spread understanding of them. Astewart-souris 06:13, 29 March 2012 (UTC)
  • You say that it's easier to think in terms of money than large numbers of some other unit. That may be true -- but there's another challenge in thinking about the 'cost' of soil erosion, and that's the necessity of comparing it to the costs of other things (for example, to the cost of doing something to stop it -- or to decide whether it is a higher or lower priority than some other problem). Should we spend X dollars to prevent soil erosion? How do you decide, if not on the basis of how much the erosion is costing us? Or should you spend the X dollars on something else (reducing carbon emissions, say)? How do you compare the benefits of the two possible expenditures? when resources are limited, we have to make choices about how to allocate them; that requires comparisons... Anyhow, you're getting on to the topic of cost-benefit analysis -- which we will talk about explicitly later in the term... Kwoods 17:08, 12 April 2012 (UTC)

Page 3

While reading chapter 7 of Plan B 4.0, I couldn’t help but think back to the idea that grabbed my interest for the last response. In order to address the hugely expansive and overwhelming topic of global poverty, a lot of information had to be packed into a small chapter. By the end of the paper, I was having trouble sorting out all of the challenges that we must face in order to deal with poverty. I also had a lot of trouble identifying what must be addressed first. Every problem they talked about seemed like it should take precedent over the one it followed. I found myself again be interesting in coming up with a way to compare all of them. I do not think that monetary values would work in this situation and I certainly do not know what would be appropriate. However, since many of the issues are so circularly connected, it would helpful to have a unified way to look at all of them.

I will not even try to figure out which one of the issues they address should be of top priority. However, I was particularly struck by the examples they gave of successful, or close to successful, eradications of diseases. The numbers they give about polio and the awful guinea worm disease were refreshing among all the other horrible statistics. However, they also mentioned several instances where the vaccinations was fought and not administered. The first time was due to incorrect information that caused a fear of the vaccine however, the other times were due to violent opposition of it, most recently by the Taliban.

This got me thinking about what role groups like the Taliban play in the idea of the commons. I am not sure if vaccinations count as a common pool resource but I feel, even if they are not, a similar way of thinking can be applied. I think that at one point, it was said that groups like that fit into the free loader category, which are those who are completely self-interested and will not cooperate. However, they seem like more than that. I think that actively resisting aid is kind of like purposefully damaging the commons.

I decided to read some more about the Taliban’s resistance to the vaccine. Luckily, according to an article published by the Boston Globe in January, the Taliban is no longer resisting the vaccines. However, this seems to be a very recent decision. The article says that there are now only 76 cases of polio in Afghanistan, which is much than reported in 2010 but it is still much lower than what is talked about in the Plan B reading. Astewart-souris 12:52, 29 March 2012 (UTC)

  • That's really interesting what you found out about the Taliban! I don't know if vaccinations are necessarily a common pool resource. As shown by the lack of availability in some cases, they are sadly not so common as hoped. As well, I think if everyone used vaccines to their own advantage, I don't think the resource would be depleted, they would just have to make more..? Though I suppose that could mean a lack of resources in another case, to make the vaccines. I think groups like the Taliban or just people's aversions to vaccines here in the U.S. definitely do affect how the 'commons' is used, one way or another. Ktrop 20:47, 3 April 2012 (UTC)
  • Maybe the Taliban role here is less 'free-loader' (using the common resource for personal gain but not contributing to maintaining it) than a strategy for social control? But maybe the more interesting thing is why they changed their strategy; looking into that might prove instructive. How can an obstructionist group be 'shifted' to support your agenda (even when it's a group with which one has profound differences)? Is it just a matter of their coming to understand the costs and benefits? Or is there some other self-interest at work? Kwoods 17:13, 12 April 2012 (UTC)

Page 4:

Based on all of the readings, it is clear that it is going to take years for us to fully experience the effects of climate change due to what we have already done. The difficult question that arises it how much of our resources should we be committing to preparing for the effects and how much should go to preventing the effects? It seems defeatist to begin planning for global warming however, it seems that it may be necessary. There are problems that are beginning to arise that are not preventable, therefore it is crucial to create ways to survive with those problems.

A big example of that happening is in the Netherlands. A large percentage of the Netherlands is below sea level, which means that, for them, even slight elevations in sea level could dire. Instead of working to reverse the rising sea levels, architects there have been developing ways to continue living there even as the levels rise. One way that they have done this is to create houses that are not anchored to the ground and instead are able to lift off the ground if the rivers flood, which is predicted to happen every twelve years. Measures like this, I think, have to be made otherwise areas will become inhabitable. In the NPR article, they speak with a couple that moved to one of the floating houses because they were already having issues with flooding. At that time they were living in regular houses and had to evacuate several times before they decided to move. In the Netherlands, they are trying to find ways of working with encroaching water, however, some in some places it is a lot more extreme and whole groups of people are having to relocate because, for example, the island they were living on is melting so extremely that it is not safe to live on it anymore. This means that millions of dollars are being allocated to these types of things, which means that there is less money to go towards finding ways stop more events like this from happening.

What I think it boils down to is finding a balance of both. In some ways this feels like an easy way out however, we read somewhere that it is going to take ten years for us to feel the full effects of the greenhouse gases that we have already put into the atmosphere and at the same time, we are still adding to that. At this point, it seems irresponsible to not make some preparations for the future. That is not at all to say that we should stop working on preventative measures. That would also be an extraordinarily irresponsible move. This creates the difficult situation of having limited resources and needing to plan for even more variables. I certainly do not have the authority to make claims on what the balance should be but it clear that one needs to be found.

Palca, Joe. "Dutch Architects Plan for a Floating Future." NPR. NPR, 28 Jan. 2008. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <>.

Astewart-souris 20:40, 22 April 2012 (UTC)

The Sustainable Energy – without the hot air article addressed two things that are particularly interesting to me.

First, it confronted one of the things that I have the most trouble with, which is that it is difficult to relate things that are, not only on such a huge scale, but also that may not be easily compared on their own. By converting everything into “personal units” it really helps to clarify how truly effective or ineffective a solution is, especially relative to other solutions. It also helps show how ineffective our current way are.

Second, it outright stated that it wasn’t going to use “super-accurate numbers” and instead use approximate ones. It is becoming increasingly clear that, although extensive research has been done and progress has been made, it is still unrealistic and probably impossible to ever be able to talk about this subject with exact certainties. Therefore it makes the most sense to be open about that and not need to be completely certain about projections and numbers to utilize them. At this point, I think, that things have become critical enough that it is important to use the information that we have available to us now and begin to make major decisions about how to handle it.

I think the combination of both of these things (the unification of terms using simplified or approximate numbers) can be hugely helpful with improving a more universal understanding of the problems we have created and the difficulties that we face because of them. This in itself could make a huge difference in the way we conduct ourselves. We have seen in class some data about the global consensus on climate change, which shows a surprising amount of disbelief and complete lack of exposure to the information. I think this is a huge problem. To tackle this as a global problem, I think there has to be a much more unified global consensus on it.

Although it makes the point of focusing on solutions on a country scale, this method is also very helpful with the smaller scale single person/single household possibilities. The best example of this is comparing that actual effectiveness in the different way to be green. By showing how inefficient turning off your cell phone charger is compared to driving a car allows for more accurate assessment of what should be the highest priority. This is necessary on a small scale and a large scale because there are so many things that need to be done and so many things that can be done that, at this moment, we are going to have to prioritize in order to get anything done at all. Being able to, as accurately as possible, compare all of the options is critical in making these decisions.

Astewart-souris 10:00, 7 May 2012 (UTC)

  • I felt the same way when reading this article. I think the use of honest and relatable language to assess these global issues allows the author to reach a wider audience and enables him to successfully communicate his qualms. This is something that should continue to expand if we strive for this "global consensus" about global warming.Gblumenthal 20:39, 7 May 2012 (UTC)

Page 6:

The role of biodiversity in our future

In a lot of ways, dealing with the role of biodiversity in our world exists outside of a cost benefit analysis, which forces us to consider it in an emotional context, which, unfortunately, can get fuzzy and complicated. Since it is not a subjective approach, a multitude of problems arise. Still we have evolved into a species that is able to contemplate our role in the world and how we impact it and those also inhabiting it. This has put us in a difficult position because it imposes a responsibility on us that other animals (to my limited knowledge) do not experience. This means that we must accept that responsibility and do something. However, to me, biodiversity is not a human right as we have sometimes said in class but a reality that we are a part of and we, as beings able to think about it, must preserve it.

The question must now become “How do we put a value on specific biodiversity?” instead of “Do we put a value on biodiversity?” We have seen a clear unbalanced approach to animal preservation. Millions of dollars are being spent on saving single species of animals while whole regions of species are being are being ignored. It seems like an unconscious scale has been set up that is some sort of combination of the size, cuteness and importance of the animal. I find this problematic. Although I appreciate that an animal like the California Condor is still around, unfortunately I think it may be more important to spend the money in ways to create more widespread conservation.

We are now brought back to the same problem that comes up with every issue we discuss. There is not enough money to do everything that needs to be done therefore a method for choosing how to spend what there is to its maximum ability must be developed. Unfortunately this seems to lead back to a cost benefit analysis, which I really do not think can be applied to this type of issue.

At this point, we have to think about the prevention of extinction and also how to deal with the fact that a lot of it is unavoidable. This is where things like the gene banks we learned about in class will become necessary. Although at first mention, they seemed like a defeatist and almost lazy approach to the future of biodiversity, on second thought, they may be hugely helpful in the long run. The reality is that we are going to loose a huge amount of the world biodiversity and having the potential to bring it back is a hopeful thought and may be our only option.

Astewart-souris 04:23, 21 May 2012 (UTC)