Santa Fe Institute

Global Sustainability 2009

In 2009 SFI and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) hosted an intensive two-week Global Sustainability Summer School July 12-25 to explore global sustainability from many perspectives. The primary focus was on problems posed by climate change and potential solutions.

Thirty-two participants represented 10 countries and dozens of disciplines that include graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty from a variety of colleges and universities, and individuals from government and the private sector. The 2009 school focused on the problems of climate change from a geophysical point of view, economic analysis of probable climate change, and the innovation and diffusion of technologies that might mitigate it.

Co-directors were Doug Arent, Director of NREL’s Strategic Energy Analysis Center; SFI Professor Doyne Farmer; John Schellnhuber, Professor and Director of the Potsdam Institute; and SFI Omidyar Fellow Jessika Trancik. Faculty included Partha Dasgupta, University of Cambridge; Ottmar Edenhofer, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research; Andrew Hargadon, University of California, Davis; Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute; and Carlo Rubbia, Centro de Investigaciones Energeticas, Medioambientales y Tecnologicas.

Partial support for the 2009 GSSS was provided by the National Science Foundation.

The scientists highlighted these conclusions: scientific evidence that our release of greenhouse gases risks dangerously warming the climate is incontrovertible. Most of the technologies needed to start solving the problem exist today and many are ready for large-scale implementation, although a full solution will require a major commitment to further research and innovation. These low-carbon technologies represent a large economic opportunity, but the ordinary course of innovation and technological diffusion is too slow to meet the challenge of addressing climate change. Large-scale government intervention is therefore needed to accelerate this process.

The program was highly interactive and participant-centered. Students formed working groups around clustered research ideas and developed nascent research agenda and action strategies for each conceptual area. An active social network now exists and the community is pursuing its project work on a distributed basis. For example, 2009 faculty member Nebojsa Nakicenovic (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis) is conducting a global energy assessment project focusing on scenarios about Human Development Index metrics (measures like social equity, health, education, etc.). This large body of data will be available to school alumni The school’s initial discussions and outcomes have been drawn together into several op-ed pieces. The lectures and materials produced by the students can be found here.