The classic German legend of Faust, popularised in the 1806 play by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe but perfected two centuries earlier (1592) by William Shakespeare’s contemporary Christopher (Kit) Marlowe, tells of a successful but dissatisfied scholar who wants more than the mortal world can provide.
He ‘sells’ his soul to the immortal devil in return for knowledge and pleasure. Needless to say, deals with the devil end badly.
At the end of the tale, having enjoyed unlimited knowledge and exquisite human pleasure, under a signature of blood, Faust’s soul is given to the devil and dragged to hell for eternal damnation and torture. It’s a truly ripping yarn and moral lesson on the perils of mortal sin.
As with Milton in Paradise Lost (“Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven“) all the best lines go to the devil and in Faust(us)’s case, the devil is represented by Mephistopheles. Film buffs will just want Al Pacino as John Milton (or Satan), from Keanu Reeves’ movie The Devil’s Advocate, to say the Dr Faustus line, “All places shall be hell that is not heaven.”
So we turn to Faust’s namesake, the president of Harvard University, Drew Faust.
Depending on who you believe, Drew means courageous, masculine or in Anglo Saxon, wise. Faust literally translates to fist.
So we have, as the current boss at Harvard, a ‘wise fist’, who shares her name with a wise academic created to teach us something morally profound. No bad thing, until you read the real world Faust’s recent pronouncements about fossil fuel divestment.
It appears our ‘wise fist’ sees fossil fuel divestment as “neither warranted nor wise“. Is this the deal with the devil such a name warrants?
To maximise short-term profit for Harvard, the president of the university has ‘sold her soul’ to those who will condemn our planet to irreversible climate change.
The price of such an unwise view is huge. No less than condemning future generations to hell.
Faust said that fossil fuels companies “wouldn’t notice” Harvard’s divestment from fossil fuels. Really? What a profound message to the ‘free’ market from one of the world’s oldest and leading Ivy League universities. CEOs of oil and gas companies would certainly sit up and listen if Harvard divested from their firms.
Founded in 1636, English clergyman (and probable abolitionist) John Harvard’s deathbed bequest was to the fledgling college in Cambridge, Massachusetts that now bears his name as the first benefactor, if not founder, of the university. Students rub his imperfect resemblance statue’s toe in the university on their way to class.
But let us not forget that this is a university, with the world’s leading business school that has trained and profited from a generation of financial institutions’ senior executives, that manifestly failed to challenge or predict the ethical and financial bankruptcy of the self-same financial institutions before the 2008 crash.
Watch the film Inside Job to see Harvard’s alleged collusion and embarrassment about the financial crash (clips are hard to see online as, for some unknown reason, all have vanished or been blocked for ‘copyright infringement’).
We know it’s hot in hell, but a 2C increase in temperature will be catastrophic for all of us, no matter how privileged our education.
Maybe Drew Faust is just trying to acclimatise herself to the heat she’ll face in the future. After all, her students will be the ones paying the very heavy price for her declared investment policy in years to come, long after she’s gone to meet a choir – either demonic and pitchforked or angelic and soulful – having left this mortal coil to prop up the daisies.
Faust also said, “Divestment would hurt Harvard’s bottom’s line.” In the meantime, investment in fossil fuels is hurting its students’ future, and their triple bottom line. Research by Impax Asset Management in July actually said that divesting from fossil fuels was a compelling win-win for investors and that claims of underperformance were misleading.
In Marlowe’s play, Mephistopheles tells Dr Faustus, “It is comfort to the wretched to have companions in misery.” Meanwhile, Drew Faust concludes, “The [Harvard] endowment is not an instrument to impel social or political change.”
How about improving the future life chances of your Harvard students, then?
Faust’s view (both the Harvard president and the fictional moral lesson guy) is genuinely wretched and she (the Harvard president) joins a league of companions in misery with this tragically short-sighted opinion.
Harvard’s motto is ‘Veritas’, or ‘truth’.
Human-caused (anthropogenic) climate change is the ‘truth’ and our generation’s slavery. And climate change is principally caused by burning fossil fuels. Drew Faust appears to think there is no contradiction between her role educating the young and sabotaging their future through what Harvard invests in.
With her comments, she devalues a Harvard degree to the point of irrelevance. If she genuinely reflected the view of Harvard academics, then the greatest university in the world has been hijacked by lunatics.
Can it be a coincidence that the esteemed author JK Rowling chose crimson as the colour of her preferred house in Hogwarts, Gryffindor, as that is the colour of one of the world’s most prestigious universities, Harvard? Harvard nearly went for magenta in 1875. (Incidentally, Rowling gave this excellent Harvard commencement speech in 2008.)
In The Philosopher’s Stone, the sorting hat says to Harry Potter, “You might belong in Gryffindor, where dwell the brave of heart, their daring, nerve and chivalry, set Gryffindors apart.”
As one of the Forbes 100 most powerful women in the world, it is genuinely tragic for future generations that Drew Faust shares the decisions of her reactionary namesake. However, it is not as progressive as the brave of heart of those who are sorted into a fictional house that shares her college’s colours.
In the history of the world, it is those that do good against extraordinary odds who are recognised by all. Those who profit from short-term commercial gain tend to be judged a lot more harshly. We can only wonder what President Faust’s students and great-grandchildren will think of her ignorant pronouncements in a few years’ time.
Chivalry means, “The qualities idealised by knighthood, such as bravery, courtesy, honour, and gallantry.”
Faustian means, “Insatiably striving for worldly knowledge, profit and power even at the price of spiritual values; ‘a Faustian pact with the devil’.”
We embrace the former chivalric and reject the latter Faustian terms. The Latinised form of Faustus means ‘of favourable omen’. We can only hope that Drew Faust chooses to follow the positive inclinations of her name, not its literary negatives.
Our fragile and endangered planet needs a genuinely favourable omen. Harvard could play that role. We desperately need their brave of heart, their daring, nerve and chivalry.
Today or tomorrow will do, but today would be better.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
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.
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 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.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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