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Economist Wins Tyler Prize for Lifetime of Work

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The Executive Committee of The Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement today announced the selection of Sir Partha S. Dasgupta, PhD, as the 2016 Tyler Prize Laureate. He is recognized for developing economic theory and tools to measure the relationships between human and environmental well-being, poverty, population, economic growth and the state of natural resources. Dasgupta is the Frank Ramsey Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Cambridge.

“Sir Partha Dasgupta’s contributions to economics have driven fundamental and ongoing changes in the international conversation about sustainable and just development, and use of natural resources,” said Tyler Prize Executive Committee Chair Julia Marton-Lefèvre, the Edward P. Bass Distinguished Visiting Environmental Scholar at Yale University.

“From co-chairing the committee that advised Pope Francis on the scientific basis of climate change to helping shape the Sustainable Development Goals, Sir Partha’s work has ensured that we keep in mind both people and the way we use our natural resources to benefit present and future generations,” added Marton-Lefèvre.
                              
Dasgupta’s work challenges the conventional thinking on how nations measure their well-being and places an emphasis on population and environmental sustainability.

“We have long measured the progress of nations in terms of what they produce and consume as expressed in the gross domestic product (GDP),” said Dasgupta. “We need to be working with an entirely different measure. GDP doesn’t tell us if we are growing in a way that benefits all in society, including future people; it ignores factors like inequity and whether we are using our natural resources in a way that can also benefit future generations.”

Since its inception in 1973 as one of the world’s first international environmental awards, the Tyler Prize has been the premier award for environmental science, environmental health and energy.

“Sir Partha’s work to create a framework for sustainable development and his commitment to addressing poverty and the environment have made him unsurpassed among environmental economists in the world,” said Simon Levin, the 2014 Tyler Prize Laureate.

As the winner of the Tyler Prize, Dasgupta will receive a $200,000 cash prize and a gold medallion and join the ranks of Laureates that include Edward O. Wilson, Jane Goodall, Jared Diamond, Paul and Anne Ehrlich, M.S. Swaminathan, Thomas Lovejoy, Jane Lubchenco and Madhav Gadgil. A full list of past winners is available at www.tylerprize.usc.edu/pastlaureates.html. The Prize, awarded by the international Tyler Prize Executive Committee with the administrative support of the University of Southern California, honors exceptional foresight and dedication in the environmental sciences and policy—qualities that mirror the prescience of the Prize’s founders, John and Alice Tyler, who established it while the environmental debate was still in its infancy.

Chasing Questions in Economics: From the Streets of Calcutta to the Vatican

“I didn’t have a big vision or an agenda when I started my career,” says Dasgupta. “This has been a 40-year chase in which I started with narrow problems and then found that I needed to understand them in a larger context.”

For Dasgupta, one part of this chase began while walking the streets of Calcutta to see his parents. “I saw women begging and some had children with them. It was part of life,” explained Dasgupta. “On one occasion I saw a baby about a year old lying next to her mother with flies on her face. It was a moving sight, but I began wondering why she wasn’t swatting the flies away.”

Thinking about how this girl was using—or not using—very limited energy led Dasgupta to explore broader questions on the relationship between nutrition and health and what they meant for human productivity. These interests expanded quickly to the use of and value placed on natural resources, population, and sustainability.

Forty years later, Dasgupta is recognized as a leading global expert for his work studying economic and environmental issues and incorporating other disciplines. Notably, Dasgupta co-chaired the joint report for the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences—entitled Climate Change and The Common Good—which served as the scientific basis for Pope Francis’ call to action on climate change, the encyclical on the environment (Laudato si’).

Rethinking a Nation’s Ledger: Challenging Our Understanding of Wealth and Economic Growth

Dasgupta’s work across economic questions led him to recognize that a more comprehensive and complex measure of national and economic well-being is necessary to help governments craft better economic and development policies.

“Judging the wealth and health of countries using GDP captures just a moment in time and not where the country is headed. It’s like judging the current and future prospects of a household by only noting its annual expenditure on goods and services and not enquiring whether that expenditure was drawing down the household wealth,” explained Dasgupta.

Instead, Dasgupta and colleagues advocate that nations should measure their “inclusive wealth,” which includes not only the value of a country’s infrastructure and tools for production—such as roads, buildings and factories—and education and health of its citizens (human capital), but also the value of natural capital (environmental health, ecosystems, sub-soil resources). Inclusive wealth measures a nation’s potential productivity.

Dasgupta and his colleague Karl-Goran Maler showed that future generations will have a higher quality of life if an economy’s inclusive wealth grows at a faster rate than its population. “It’s no good talking about sustainable development without moving to a system that incorporates inclusive wealth,” said Dasgupta.

Dasgupta serves as the Scientific Advisor to the Inclusive Wealth Project, a UN-sponsored initiative that seeks to measure the wealth and long-term sustainability of countries. This approach, he argues, must be put to work in global discussions around sustainability, including the recently agreed upon UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“We can’t trick ourselves into thinking that reaching the SDGs benchmarks—such as no poverty or no hunger—is success alone. We have to reach them through smart development policies or that success will be fleeting,” said Dasgupta. “We’ll only know if we’ve done that by asking whether the development policies that will be adopted to meet the SDGs will raise inclusive wealth at a faster pace than the population grows.”

Engaging Diverse Perspectives to Answer Big Questions: From Environmental Stewardship to Population

Over the course of Dasgupta’s career, he has collaborated with experts from many other disciplines, including ecologists, epidemiologists and anthropologists. While Chair of the Board of the Beijer Institute, Dasgupta and colleagues brought together economists and ecologists from around the world to address problems of environmental stewardship and helping the world’s most disadvantaged people.

“Sir Partha had the intellectual leadership to help bring together partners that had never worked together in this way,” said Levin.

In 2013, Dasgupta chaired a diverse expert committee for India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which constructed a framework for measuring India’s national well-being that incorporates not only economic output, but also the health and value of environmental and natural resources.

“Doing economics is like peeling an onion. ‘Why’ is a persistent question,” said Dasgupta. “The problem, as well as the attraction, for me has always been that at each stage I discovered that I needed other disciplines to help me answer the questions.”

Dasgupta’s efforts to engage diverse perspectives extend to regional views as well. He co-founded the South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics (SANDEE) to elevate the work of scholars from developing countries, and launched the journal Environment and Development Economics, which publishes research on poverty and environmental resources by scholars in poor countries.

“In the developed world the environment is often thought of as an amenity—is the beach polluted or is the national park a place I want to go on vacation—but most of humanity does not enjoy the environment solely as an amenity,” explained Dasgupta. “People in poorer countries understand this complexity, but their voices aren’t heard enough.”

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Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.

Deadheading

Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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Environment

Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family

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Greenest Vehicle
Licensed Image by Shutterstock - By Mascha Tace -- https://www.shutterstock.com/g/maschatace

When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?

What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?

As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.

Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.

5 Good Options

As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:

1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country

Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.

2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica

If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.

3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.

4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.

5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel

If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?

Putting it All Together

You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.

You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.

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