2018 marks the 50th Anniversary of Paul R. Ehrlich’s seminar book entitled “The population Bomb” and the 30th Anniversary of James Hansen historical testimony on climate change in the US Congress. Decades later, our quest for sustainability can be characterized by a growing frustration of scientists and activists with the lack of action to subvert environmental catastrophes and series of failed Malthusian prophecies undermining the public trust in the view of skeptics.
One has to recognize that during these decades both sides made serious errors. Those who wanted immediate actions made dire predictions prematurely such as major famines, the end of snowy winters or the disappearance of Arctic Ice. On the other hand, contrarians fail to admit that infinite growth on a finite planet is undoubtedly unsustainable.
Despite the regular complaint by advocates about the inability of free societies to mobilize for action, in reality there were a number of policy actions that clearly failed to accomplish their stated goals or in worse cases turned out to be actually harmful. Perhaps the best example is the biofuel mandate that resulted in growing crops in the developed world to satisfy 5-10% of transportation fuel needs that could feed over 800 million people.
Some of the misguided policies are due to erroneous prioritization. Moving away from fossil fuels is undeniably a must, irrespective of climate change since fossil fuels are finite. Decarbonizing our economy is clearly essential for sustainability that solves climate change as byproduct, while prioritizing on carbon-dioxide emission has led to heavy investments in dead end solutions such as carbon sequestration (through carbon capture and storage).
The presentation will discuss energy and water related examples where recognizing the limits of our finite planet is critical, but the promoted solutions are likely questionable. While, it is not hard to find more than three strikes where the policies advocated by scientists failed but it would be a mistake to conflate bad sciences with real science. The presentation will show that the failed policies were predictable from start since they violated fundamental scientific principles. The presentation will argue that after decades of mixed results, it is time to rethink, how humanity pursues its efforts to sustainable development and lay out a future that recognizes human needs while minimizes their negative impacts on our planet.
About Prof. Balazs Fekete, PhD
Balázs M. Fekete born in Budapest, Hungary earned his M.Sc. Degree in Civil Engineering at the Technical University of Budapest in 1984. After graduation, he worked at the Water Resources Research Centre (VITUKI) where he participated in a wide range of research activities such as agricultural waste water disposal, agricultural water management, satellite and airborne remote sensing of water resources. After the political changes in the late 80s, he joined a private company (GEOMETRIA Ltd.) to develop geographical information systems solution for municipal and environmental resources management.
He continued similar work specifically focusing on the Danube affected by the planned Gabcikovo-Nagymaros dam system, when he joined an independent research organization (ISTER). He moved to the United States in 1993, where he started to work on large scale hydrological modeling and water resources assessments at the University of New Hampshire (UNH). He earned his Ph.D. in Earth Sciences at UNH in 2001, while working as a full time research scientist.
Dr. Fekete is well known in his field for his work on i) incorporating river discharge information into water resources assessments, ii) developing simulated river networks at various resolutions, iii) modeling stable isotope processes in large scale hydrological models, iv) developing specialized GIS infrastructures to support hydrological modeling, v) developing advanced modeling frameworks that utilizes modern multicore computers. Dr. Fekete participated in the last two decades in a number of international activities to promote improved Earth system monitoring with particular interest in
hydrometeorological observations. Dr. Fekete moved to New York in 2008 first as a project director at the newly forming Environmental Sciences Initiative of the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center and joined the faculty of the Civil Engineering Department of the City College of New York, while maintaining affiliate status at ASRC.
Ever since, Prof. Fekete moved to New York, he extended his research interest to a wider range of sustainability questions, with special interest in the tradeoffs between energy, water and land use.
Prof. Fekete published over 60 peer-reviewed scientific papers and 4 book chapters.