Sustainability! Cometh the hour, cometh the Operational Researcher?
Daniel L. Sandars, Ian Frommer, Carlos R. GarcÃa-Alonso, & Lluis PlÃ
OR50 is a landmark conference. During WWII many professionals and academics, from multiple disciplines, where hurled together to work on the problems of war. Out of the multi-disciplinary soup came interdisciplinary creativity. A new discipline was born. Its name was Operational Research.
Today, the problems faced by society from unsustainable economic development, such as climate change, have been described as a greater threat than anything we have faced in living memory.
1) We have come along way since the word sustainability first started doing the rounds. At first it was uncomfortably hard to use, but since then we have all operationalised it to mean what is convenient. It now means everything and thus nothing. What does it need to mean to work?
2) One argument put forward by economists is that it is cheaper to react when the threat is upon us, if at all, because by then we will be smarter and richer. After all, the OR profession rose to the challenge of WWII without long-term strategic capacity building research. Shall we join our funders and sit back and wait?
3) In any case it is all the fault of OR and its narrow pursuit of profit maximisation. What we need is a new interdisciplinary decision science built around morality and social choice. Is it Evolution or Revolution that we need?
4) Ecosystems are dynamic and non-steady state, but economist’s favoured planning models are static. Ecosystems are highly spatially heterogeneous, but planning models are highly homogenous. Never the twain shall meet?
An additional contribution for Ian (OR4Green)
1. Green Fad?
The Energy Crisis of the 1970s led to changes in behavior (smaller, more fuel efficient cars became more prevalent) and funding for alternative energy, energy efficiency, and the like increased. Over time, interest and investment in these responses waned as fuel prices settled down, only to re-emerge recently. Will the current crisis exhibit the same short-term impact only to fade in time, or will it be more lasting?
2. The Short-Term Versus the Long Term
Is it better to change all of our light bulbs today to CFCs to save electricity but increase the amount of mercury in our land-fills, or should we wait until LEDs, which are as energy efficient but lack mercury, become more affordable and wide-spread? Was corn-based ethanol for fuel a huge mistake? Many believe it can at best only make a small contribution to fuel needs, while negatively impacting food supplies and prices, and that it may require more energy to produce than it yields.
3. Quantifying Green
Given two options for completing a task, comparing their monetary costs may be straightforward, but comparing their environmental â€œfriendlinessâ€ can be much more difficult. How can the subjectivity of energy/environmental choices be quantified in a way that allows ranking?
4. A Page from Dr. Chapmanâ€™s Book
Suppose that in the absence of any human-made impacts, and due entirely to natural processes well beyond our control, it turns out that the Earthâ€™s mean temperature will drop 50 degrees over the next 200 years. What should we do to counter this? What should we do about global warming gases that we are currently emitting? (See for example, the comments of Australian physicist and former astronaut Dr. Phil Chapman.)
Use the commenting option below to express your opinions. Comments will be delayed whilst they are moderated for SPAM.