Archive for the ‘motivations’ Category

Hello again,
It’s been a real long time since I posted something on the blog. My fault. I could perhaps try to look for excuses, but I guess that would be a waste of time. Let us say simply that there have been three main factors in my disappearance:

  • Some things have changed in my private life, requiring more of my previously free time
  • My job has asked me for more involvement, and I have dedicated a lot of energy to my research (may I remind you that it deals with solar-grade silicon materials. I will post some article about this in the future for sure)
  • Those last 6-7 months, a huge amount of things happened worldwide, related to environmental destruction, ressource depletion, etc. Paradoxically it should have compelled me to more frequent publications but the information was so overhelming and depressing (yes, I have to admit) that I have tended to forget a bit about the blog and divert my interests

Hopefully I couldn’t help reading the news and keeping on analyzing the world as it goes. So I might have some more words to say. In addition, I have been attending this year two 2-weeks intensive graduate courses on Industrial Ecology, dealing respectively on Sustainable Production and Sustainable Consumption. These are offered to lucky postgraduate students in Industrial Ecology (IE) within the Marie-Curie program of the European Union. Although my research is not at all linked to IE since I work at NTNU, the coordinating university, I have had the opportunity to attend those courses where some participants had cancelled their trip. I am by the way deeply grateful to them, they have given me the opportunity to learn a lot and deepen my understanding of the system we live in, the intricate interlinks between its constituents, and such interesting things that I will not miss to write about here.

I do not like to make promises I cannot keep. So I won’t say “see you next week”, but I will just tell you that I am still here, still alive, and more motivated than ever to let you read my thoughts and share my knowledge on these environmental issues that are so important to our common future.

See you soon on blå skärm!

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Nidaros Cathedral

I had the chance this week to attend to a lecture given by a lecturer in Industrial Ecology, that is currently member of an NGO, as well as a member of the City Council of Trondheim. Prior to this job, she took a degree in Industrial Ecology and spend time both in research within this field and applying this knowledge. The political aspects of this subject and the implementation of measures have therefore been addressed. In this post, I will comment on a more philosophical aspect our generation and behavior as a group of 6,7 billions (and still growing) individuals.

Education is a key point in succeeding to change this society and our system based on endless consumption of non-renewable resources, ecosystem destruction and purely monetary values. Our lecturer was trying to expose us the dilemma politicians have to face. In a first step, let us try to conceive politicians motivated by the common good, not by greed or power alone. Admit this is feasible for a while. As a matter of fact, politicians are only humans, and their vision of life is as restricted as ours to a limited amount of decades; therefore, their conception of success is based on personal achievements, impact on their communities, recognition by their peers. But most importantly, and due to their limited time in a position of leadership, they are inclined to secure their reelection at whatever cost. And to win elections, one has to suggest socially, morally and ethically accepted proposals (although these concepts and values can evolve with time. Take slavery for example, which was completely accepted a couple of hundred years back in time).

A direct consequence is that the one willing to act for the good of society as a whole, maybe the one thinking further than a couple of years, the one advocating changes that will secure next generations well-being at the cost of some (relative) sacrifices of ours; this one has little or no chance to see his wishes fulfilled. Implementing them, passing laws can be done, even if the majority of the population is against the measures, since the bills are not passed based on a democratic vote, but on the vote of representatives of the population, which are, once again, only humans and not robots, acting according to their beliefs and values. I have never seen any politician asking to his voters advice prior to a voting session. Incidentally, the only times I have seen politicians speaking to common persons were during the election periods.

But let’s go back to our core discussion: laws can be passed. If they are not accepted by the majority of voters, then the following elections will be bound to throw away the enlightened leader who had chosen to act for the good of the human species and not for the satisfaction of his community (notice the difference, which is fundamental in the following). This way, laws can be voted and later rejected. This is the principle of democracy, representing only a certain fraction of the population (spatial dimension) living in certain economical and sociological conditions (time dimension).

So the enlightened politician has to face this hard dilemma: “should I pass a law which I know will never be accepted, or should I give up and forsake the coming generations because of my fellows’ blindness?” The solution found was to call for help those who would share these ideas but are politically neutral: NGOs. Of course this solution cannot be always chosen; actually this option might only seldom be taken. But in the case of education, then it can be relevant. Because NGOs can simply teach a message that would never be accepted if coming from the political sphere. Let us consider the Global Warming issue, and the non-popular actions that must be undertaken in order to effectively affect our GHG emissions. These include radical changes in our consumption patterns; for a simplicity purpose I will consider here only two of them: car driving and vegetarianism.

Which politician would forbid the use of private cars in a city? Which one would put a ban on meat? Even though we all know that these are two steps to take, no one is ready to accept these bans. Simply because it would be considered as a violation of our “freedom” to choose, our freedom to act as we want, staying within the framework set up by law. Our lives would not be deeply affected though: it is just a question of re-learning what to eat, and a question of efficient public transportation networks. In spite of these extra efforts which would require maybe a couple of years to be integrated in our daily lives, nobody or so few are willing to act when it comes to effective measures for climate change mitigation, although recognizing that something has to change. And we are reluctant to upheaval, we resist changes that imply less “freedom”. Take the case of oil prices for example. A growing number of scientists now acknowledge that world production has peaked; therefore oil prices can only increase, the demand continuing to rise while the offer diminishes. We will have to accept higher oil prices, or change technologies; despite this reality we still keep on burning fuel for no reason. Recently, fishers in France went on strike because they could not afford any longer high fuel prices, and were hereby asking for subsidies. This is useless; subsidies will never suffice on a long time scale, deeper and more radical changes will be required. But we still keep on burning oil instead of wondering on how to save it.

These unpopular measures have then to be implemented through another way. This has to be education. Everything goes back to it. Education shapes us. It makes us the way we behave, enhances curiosity or passiveness, ethics or disrespect, altruism or individualism. And as Joel Bakan has depicted so well in his book, the Corporation, we have become more individualists because we have to be in order to consume more. The less we care about our fellows, about what happens in the world, the better it is because the less we see the effects of our actions. And the less we care about the consequences of our actions. So living in bubbles is exactly what corporations would like to see. Communities are a danger to those who decide to rob local resources. And as one must admit, they have remarkably succeeded in this goal. Today, few care about how our clothes are made, be it in sweatshops or in ethically acceptable conditions. Nobody knows how our food is produced, with which chemicals; what the impacts on the global environment our purchases have. And obviously, the one willing to break from this state of ignorance rapidly realizes the extent of the inflicted damages. Because our education has been supplemented by an omnipresence of corporations and other actors that have, little by little, turned us into passive, consuming individuals.

So here we are: we have never been so many on this planet; but paradoxically, we have never been so far from our neighbor, from our fellows. We do not care about the one dying down in our street, we do not know our neighbors, seldom speak to them, except when there is a problem requiring help or special cases. The time of the central plazza where people were meeting to speak and discuss; these times of public debates, of knowledge sharing; this agora that was the core of the ancient Greek daily life has disappeared from our lives.

Could we gather and act as one, forget our individualist lives, our selfishness, and achieve something that we could do before? Could we build another cathedral? Could we dedicate our life to the construction of a single project, explicitly knowing that we will never see its achievement? It took sometimes centuries to complete the construction of such edifices. Could we build something for generations to come? Could we spend our lifetime to one cause, the reconstruction of a salvaged world? Could we understand that we are, because of our limited sight and our numbers, each one of us destroying unconsciously the world we live in? Could we accept constraining measures that would require us to loose a bit of this “freedom”, for the sake of our children? I would like to believe it. But the truth is different. Everything goes back to education.

Picture: Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim. Its first construction began in 1070 and finished in 1300. Photo: Jesús Rojo Martinez, 2007

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researchers on strike

I have a small dream.

I believe that the scientific community is less interested than the political one, meaning corrupted, taken in a broad sense. I mean, scientists usually work for knowledge in itself; for the purpose of serving science and helping the society as whole to develop. Some objections to this idea can be expressed if scientists are paid by companies to achieve profit-oriented goals, often far from this idealistic conception of what science should be aiming at. In the US for example, where the universities get a lot of funding from companies, I just doubt that some researchers are not corrupted by money and a restless competition for financial support. At least in Europe this trend is less present. When someone decides to do career within research, that’s mainly because of a certain thirst of knowledge. And considering the salaries of researchers in countries like France, we can assume without much risk that researchers are motivated by something else than merely monetary aspects.

What if the whole scientific community was united and acted together? Scientists are nowadays turning on the red lights on environmental disasters and the risks our civilization is running towards. They publish, communicate, but nobody seems to listen to them. Or the processes are too slow to have any significant effect on our behaviors. What if this community decided to mobilize its resources and act as one, for one single day or week, but stopping any research activity and concentrated this time only on communication with the public? What if the scientists showed to the whole world that their work and results are not worthless and meaningless, by going on strike just once, all together? Would we be conscious of what they say and press our political leaders for immediate action? Would we like to hear what scientists have to say?

This is a small dream. That this community I am now part of could take a deep breath and some day walk down the streets worldwide; speak with people not through the media but straight in the eyes; make their observations comprehensible and go directly to the facts, educate people and accelerate this revolution we need to ensure decent lives to the coming generations. Maybe then the link between research and public sphere would be reconstructed, free from the different filters set by governments, media and sometimes corporations.

Picture: researchers go on strike in Paris in 2004. In march this year, more than 18000 researchers made the public aware of their alarming situation: a graduate would earn around 1000€ a month. The text on the streamer says “save research and university”

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Here we are, a new blog has been created. Hard to say how long it will live, how its future will look like, how many readers it will attract and how popular it will become. I have noticed though, that many blogs feature one main author and sometimes some guest writers.

This one aims at being different.

As a matter of fact, we will be two to contribute, hopefully on a regular basis, to this blog. Two authors that could grow to three, four, even more, depending on you. But let me first explain the goals of this weblog. As I was going further through my education, I progressively switched from my main subject (mechanical engineering) to more social ones. Everything started when time came for me to look for a Master’s Thesis. As the energy sector interested me, I started to read about the different corporations that could offer relevant opportunities. This lead me slowly to understand the deep impact this industry has on the environment, and as time went I became more and more aware of a certain feeling of unease with the pure quest of personal and selfish benefit and development. I realized that our system, based on overconsumption of anything, with a special mention to fossil fuels, had something wrong in its roots. And as time went, more and more warning signs showed up in newspapers and on the web of ecological disasters, species extinction, environmental degradation.

One year later, a lot of things have changed in my life. My understanding of our system has evolved. I was in it, had been raised in it, educated by it, didn’t even questioned it. But now I deeply reckon that something is going wrong with it. I had been on the edge to become part of it, to start a career in the fossil fuels sector, taking my own share of responsibility in the destruction of our biosphere. But I got a glimpse of what would expect us if we were to continue it this way; of the social and ecological disaster that would happen if nothing could be changed. So I decided to plan my life according to my ethics and moral, not on the sole purpose of earning money.

At the same time I was perfectly aware of a fundamental problem which actually concerns all of us: we are individuals. We see through our own eyes, think according to our culture and education, have our own psychological and cultural background. We are all different. That’s what makes the world beautiful, a myriad of different beings. But this unity does not allow each of us to think effectively, since our understanding of reality is limited to our own history. Thus, no matter how much I could read, how deep I could think, I would never be able to confront my view, the one of a European, to others’. I would speak of subjects that I consider relevant, whereas they might seem totally meaningless to others. Indeed, an American, Asian, African is bound to have a completely different conception of how the world should look like, how we should adress our problems, and more important, what these problems are.

That is why I asked a friend of mine to join me in this project. Being Indian, he would have other issues to lift, other concerns, and other suggestions on how to solve them. We realized that we had different points of view, although complementary. With each one’s knowledge, we could cover a wider range of issues, and grab a better understanding of our world. We would share our opinions, our sources, our discoveries, and indeed realize that together, we would be wiser than each of us taken individually.

So this blog is not aiming at being one’s point of view. This blog has a larger, idealistic aim to become a platform of exchange of ideas between readers. We want this blog to evolve, we want you to take part in it. Your contribution to it will be a crucial reason for its existence, because you can join us in our confrontation of ideas on one theme. And the more your culture will be different than ours, the more we, as a community of writers and readers, will be enriched. We believe that mix is richness, that diversity leads to evolution, that sharing ideas implies cohesion and better understanding between human beings.

Provided that your concerns are linked to ours, and that you could feed this blog on a regular basis with relevant, scientifically sound and documented articles, then you can become a member of our team.

This blog is one in a million, but could be one of a million. Make it happen.

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