My course on Sustainability and ICT/Media Technology (that I teach together with my colleagues Elina Eriksson and Hanna Hasselqvist) started a few weeks ago and this is the sixth time we give the course (the first time was in 2012). Three weeks into the course we had our first (from-now-on) weekly seminars and our students submitted a question each before the seminar. There are their suggestions as to what questions they would want us to discuss at the seminar based on our question to them, namely "What is, in your opinion, the most pressing problem we are facing in terms of sustainability?"
Out of the almost 70 questions submitted, I selected and curated the students' questions so that they would fit on a single sheet of paper. To do that I had to reformulate and make some questions more succinct, reduce the number of questions that discussed a specific topic to two or three, remove questions that would fit one of the future seminars better and sometimes even merge two students' questions into one.
This resulted in the list of 29 questions below and these questions are excellent. I think it is interesting to note that these were "ordinary students" back in October but that they, only three weeks into our course, are smarter than politicians, mainstream economists as well as journalists (not to mention most lobbyists etc.). Their questions below are so much more substantial and indicate a much higher level of awareness about important issues we will have to deal with during the coming decades than the average discussion and the general discourse in media, in politics and elsewhere.
At the seminar last week the students got a few minutes to read the questions before they could each vote for their three favorite topics/questions to discuss. Out of the most popular questions, we then had time to discuss around three or four at a seminar but the quality of the discussions are usually really high. We have used this format in the course for some years now and are very happy about it. Below are the questions for the first seminar and I have marked the questions that I actually discussed with my two seminar groups in bold below.
1. Who should bear the largest responsibility for attaining a sustainable future: individuals, companies or politicians?
2. Rockström’s planetary boundaries doesn't put any blame on anyone in particular for these problems (crossing some boundaries). Is this intentional and if so why?
3. How can students live sustainably on a budget?
4. What can we do as individuals to move towards a more sustainable food consumption? How willing are you to change your dietary habits for the benefit of the environment?
5. How can society encourage people to eat less meat? Through positive feedback or through regulations?
6. Why do we consume more than we actually need? Is it inherent/human nature to keep expanding/growing (also in our desire to consume and accumulate wealth)? If so, are we capable of changing?
7. Does ecological food, Earth Hour and environment-friendly cars make a difference or are they just an excuse for western civilization to continue ”living it large”?
8. Disregarding the bad example I set, does it really make a difference if I live a sustainable life or not?
9. How can we encourage people to protect ecosystems they don't live near and/or species they've never heard of?
10. Could any specific event make the world "wake up" in regards to climate change?
11. If infinite growth is impossible, is there a natural end to growth such as stabilization or complete depletion of natural resources? (How) should we intervene to stop growth?
12. Is it possible to have a sustainable and ethical world (society) under capitalism and contemporary liberal democracy?
13. (How) can we make sustainability economically profitable?
14. Are there any viable/alternative economic models that do no rely on infinite growth?
15. Is a transition away from a growth-based economy possible without economic collapse?
16. Why are some 1st world countries (e.g. Sweden) much more sustainable than others?
17. How far can/should we go in order to achieve ecological sustainability? Can we (for example) turn off all but the most necessary electricity at certain hours or forcefully relocate families to areas where they would have a smaller ecological impact?
18. How should we value economic, social, and ecological sustainability in relation to each other? Does one outweigh the other or should they be treated as equally important?
19. Do we need scientific research to make a change to a problem we know exists or can we make changes even without scientific support?
20. Much in society has been designed under the assumption of plentiful oil and energy. How different would today’s debate about sustainability be if we had listened to Hubbert’s pre-dictions about a coming peak in oil production? (How) would our societies be different?
21. If the price of oil would reach triple digits again (tomorrow, next year or 5 years from now) and stay there, what would be the impact on society, on economy and on politics?
22. Does trends of urbanization have a positive environmental impact? It feels like when everything is closer there is less need for transportation and so on.
23. It is common that people who try to live sustainably are looked down upon (environmentalists, vegans, people who don’t fly). How would you convince someone who has this reaction to change their perception and live more sustainably?
24. How can ICT help in speeding up an otherwise slow transition from today's oil infrastructure to our next (renewable) energy infrastructure?
25. Isn’t overpopulation the elephant in the climate change-room? Is this a problem? If so, how can we tackle it?
26. How can we reduce the population/population growth without creating new problems with too many elders compared to younger people who work?
27. Does traditional media has a responsibility to discuss sustainabillity problems? What about influencers such as bloggers and youtubers?
28. How can one remain optimistic after having so much proof that despite all of the actions taken towards a sustainable future, we are still unlikely to succeed ?
29. What gives you most hope for the future?