State of the Planet

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Watch: a Positive Vision of Sustainability

How do we transition to a sustainable economy in a positive and effective way? How do we maintain and improve quality of life without destroying the planet? With a growing population and global economy, future generations will still require air, water and food, all of which require functioning ecosystems.

In this video, Steven Cohen, executive director of the Earth Institute, discusses a positive vision of sustainability—one that avoids the gloom and doom rhetoric so often seen in headlines—and focuses on the technology, ingenuity and innovation that can build a sustainable economy.

Cohen places great emphasis on renewable energy, framing energy as the core of the sustainability challenge. He argues that we need a source of renewable energy that is cheaper and more convenient than fossil fuels; current renewable technologies are good, but need to be better. We need breakthroughs in solar cells and other energy storage technology for it to be less expensive and more convenient. The technology must be so attractive that its adoption is virtually effortless. Along with the technology to get there, we also need the rules and regulations to govern our new reality and a community that supports this transition.

Cohen then looks to the interdisciplinary efforts found right here at the Earth Institute. We have researchers and practitioners from all backgrounds—engineering, biology, law, health, finance, policy, etc.—working together to solve the world’s global sustainability problems. Sustainability is a multi-disciplinary field and solutions therefore require multidisciplinary expertise. A sustainable economy can be compatible with economic growth, but only if we do a better job of understanding and managing environmental impacts of production and consumption. We are going to need to learn and think our way out of the crisis we have created. This will require a detailed knowledge of our planet’s systems that we do not yet possess. It will require ever more sophisticated models of the impacts of human production and consumption. This means that massive resources must be devoted to earth observation, research and development of sustainability technology and a range of scientific, policy and management education programs. The research, education and outreach activity that is found at the Earth Institute is exactly the kind of work that is needed to develop sustainable solutions.

Watch the full video here. 

Steve Cohen is the executive director of the Earth Institute and a professor in the practice of public affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs. This presentation was given during the Ross Institute Summer Academy 2015. The video was produced by the Ross Institute.

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