(Source: Ismail Sadiron/EyeEm/Getty Images via Harvard Business Review)
Things are happening around each one of us on all scales; we better pay attention. Two weeks ago (November 21st), I started a series of blogs focused on what I can do after my approaching retirement in order to continue to be productive (for my sake–not for the sake of the world, although the two are loosely interconnected). I was hoping to get some input from you about these decisions. My focus, in my two previous blogs on the issue, was on using the IoT (Internet of Things) to help retrofit old infrastructures such as housing, schools, and hospitals in a way that aids with environmental mitigation and adaptation to climate change. When I raised such issues with colleagues and friends, I got answers in the form of “You don’t need IoT for such use and you don’t need to give advice to anybody about how to use it; just try to improve the insulation of the structures to get more economical heating and cooling.” I think that we can do better.
Taking housing as a relatively “simple” example, actions such as improving insulation are helpful. However, better insulation doesn’t equip a building for the quick resilience needed in response to high-frequency or time-sensitive events. Depending on occupancy (leaving for the weekend or having emergency guests) and major weather events, our energy needs shift. We need economical ways to quickly and efficiently adapt to these changing circumstances. I think that the key IoT technology that can help here is “smart” energy metering. Such technology exists today, but it needs major improvements (many of which are probably already on the way). I thought that I would use this blog to focus on this technology.
However, as usual, current events intervened enough to convince me to change my plans. So, today I’m refocusing on the changing reality that affects me, and I’ll return to the issue of changing technology in future blogs when reality feels a bit more settled. In this decision I was driven by the following reality changes:
- The start of the COP28 in Dubai, UAE
- The re-ignition of the Hamas-Israel fighting
- The meeting of Israeli President Herzog with World leaders in Dubai
- The fast-approaching end of the Fall semester in my school, which will mean both the beginning of finals and my scheduled retirement.
The first three subjects, with the links included, are now global events that have a major impact on me but on which I can not have any meaningful impact. I am left with a need to explain the connection between those three and the last one on the list, over which I do have influence.
The two climate-related courses that I taught this semester have a common element in their structure, resulting in an important common element in their final examinations. The first half of the semester is dedicated to the basic interdisciplinary background of climate change. Neither of these two courses has prerequisites, so it is my responsibility to fill this gap. The second part of the semester is dedicated to presenting developments based on recently published material. Recent reports probe their comprehension not through their text but through their data presentation. I give students a choice of two out of four graphs on different topics and ask them to write everything they know about the context of the data. This semester’s report is a recent one from IEA (International Energy Agency). It attracted considerable attention with its predictions that 2030 will see the peak of global fossil fuel use, after which renewable and nuclear energies will take over to complete the global energy transition. It is a long (350 pages), comprehensive report with many sections and figures. To avoid being hated by my students, I am limiting the scope of the final to only a small, manageable list of sections. The key question in such a report, on which I spend some time in class, is how the report tries to predict the future. This report uses three scenarios to try to predict the future of global energy use. The three scenarios are abbreviated as STEPS, APS, and NZE, and their definitions are given below:
- STEPS – The Stated Policies Scenario (takes into account the measures that have actually been put into effect or are at least being implemented in order to achieve announced energy and climate policy goals).
- APS – The Announced Pledges Scenario(takes into account all climate commitments made by governments worldwide, including the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)).
- NZE – The Net Zero Emissions by 2050
The NZE scenario is self-explanatory: achieving global completion of the energy transition away from net carbon emissions.
Figure 2 – Global total energy demand by fuel and scenario, 2010-2050
Figure 2, taken from the middle of the report, shows the essence of the report’s conclusions in terms of fossil fuels peaking around 2030 and the differences in using the three scenarios as predictive instruments. One concrete example of the sensitivities of the predictive tools is in territory familiar to all of us – the changes in governments and policies that have taken place between the Paris COP21 meeting in 2015 and now. At least in democratic governments, changes in governments can lead to relatively high-frequency changes in policies that often lead to starkly different futures in which changing building insulation will not help much and IoT is needed for a faster response. Future blogs will expand on this topic.
COP28 started officially last Thursday, November 30th, and is scheduled to conclude next week, on Tuesday, December 12th (the same day as next week’s blog post). The finals for the two climate-related courses are scheduled for December 18th and 19th. The final decisions of the COP28 meetings will be adopted at the conclusion of these meetings. Almost all available public communications tools are now full of news and information about climate change and I strongly encourage my students to follow as much of it as they can. To help in this, I am modifying my rules for their final to include one graph generated through the COP28 meetings. Next week’s blog is designed to help them prepare by providing some graphs that will be among the possible choices in the final.
One of the two courses in which we discuss climate change is targeted at honor students as part of their requirements. The second half of this honors course is to research whether students can (or are willing to) help to introduce the Climate Action Plan into the now-updated College Strategic Plan in my school. To help the students in their project I wrote 4 blogs starting on October 10th, this year, that address some aspects of this issue. Such an effort is part of the more general concept of using campus changes as a laboratory for various courses that I discussed in earlier blogs (search for Campus as Lab).
On October 7th this year, an attack by Hamas on Israel resulted in 1,200 Israeli deaths (mostly in Israeli villages not far from Gaza), and the kidnapping of more than 200 Israelis. Not surprisingly, Israel has retaliated with its full force, with three stated objectives: returning the kidnapped Israelis, destroying Hamas as a military and governing organization, and restoring security to Israel. The retaliation has included massive bombardments that have killed thousands of Gazans. It is not surprising that these events have raised massive demonstrations throughout the world, with major participation on university campuses. My campus is no exception.
My background during the Holocaust has been described in earlier blogs. In September 1945, immediately after WWII, I went to Israel (British Palestine at the time) as a refugee. I grew up there, all my formal education was acquired there, and I have friends and family there. I care for Israel but I never included political discussions in my class and almost never mentioned the conflict in my classes. The distance between Gaza and NYC is close to 6,000 miles (more than 9,000 km) yet, almost every student has a strong opinion about the situation. Many of them have joined demonstrations for one side or another. The resolution of this conflict will have no direct impact on most of their lives. Mitigation and adaptation of anthropogenic climate change, on the other hand, will have a strong impact on the lives of almost all students, worldwide. My question to my students was whether they could find and mobilize some of the same political enthusiasm that they show for the remote conflict between Israel and Hamas to help minimize the impact of climate change. I will report the answer to this question after the end of the semester.