Written by Brianna Menning, Associate Director of Sustainable Cities & PIRE Program Manager
In addition to time spent in classrooms and on site visits learning in formal and informal settings, the PIRE students are learning from one another in conversations over tea and cake, as well as through online course discussion boards. The opportunity for formalized and informalized learning show just a few of the benefits of the intercultural, interdisciplinary focus of the course.
Students get a chance to really delve into questions like who should take responsibility (or how should responsibility be divided) on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions? What are the economic and ethical implications of the outcome of these decisions?
Taking a sneak peek at the conversation below, you can see how a discussion over a period of several days online gave students a chance to reflect and respond while learning together.
Student A–“From my perspective, cities are already taking responsibilities for the trans-boundary GHG emissions by paying for “access”. I do not think that it is fair or feasible for cities to take additional responsibilities since access to infrastructures is basic human needs (and maybe a matter of national security). I do, however, think that we can encourage the “sustainable” usage of infrastructures through “smart” public policies such as step pricing, subsidizing energy-saving activities, or through public education.
On the local residents’ side, the residents are not responsible for the GHG emissions but are also enjoying the job opportunities etc. created by the power plant and other GHG emissions. We can try to make sure that they are properly compensated (higher salaries etc.) and also a reasonable GHG emission footprinting system is employed in the city performance review.”
Student B– I have a, “question about your comment about making sure employees of the power plant are properly compensated, like higher salaries. Are you saying that you think because the GHGs are emitted in the city where the people work, and polluting the air within their city boundary that the employees of the power plant should be compensated? Why not compensate everyone in the city then? And who’d be paying for the compensation of those employees…the power company?, and how would they get the funds for the higher salaries, might they increase the price of electricity being provided to people outside of the city? And if that happens, then the users outside the city are ones paying for those trans-boundary GHG emissions.
Why shouldn’t we take responsibility for our transboundary GHG emissions if we are the users demanding the service? (just trying to stir the pot…)”
Student C– “Maybe the problem fixes itself in the following way: the people who use the electricity pay for it, which is the basis of the activity based footprint. If the city claims responsibility for the production of electricity and materials used in the city, it is contributing to the salaries of the workers in proportion to its use. Make sense? Or did I completely miss your point?”
Student A– “I think what will likely happen is this:
cities/regions put more strigent environment laws in place so that the factories have to treat wastewater/gas and residents are not harmed by the production activities;
through public education, fewer people will want to work in factories because of the health hazzards etc., and will demand a higher salary;
if one (or both) of the above happens, the costs of making shoes (or other products) will increase;
the price of products will increase;
we let the market “run its course” till equilibrium (maybe some intervention measures such as subsidies)
if the benefits outweigh the costs, the factories stay; otherwise they leave.”
Student D, “To me, the choice of methodology in footprinting determines responsibility for that footprint. If you choose to use a geographic footprint, it is pretty easy to corrolate who should pay. If you choose a consumption-based footprint, your policy actions will be driven by making the consumer responsible for their consumption. And with TBIF, the producers tend to be held responsible for their emissions.
I feel like this discussion lends itself to talking about procedural ethics: the choices we make in procedure frame the result.”
The chance to test out ideas on each other and learn together is at the heart of the PIRE project, and is a key part of the NSF grant goals of curriculum and fieldwork that will “nurture multiple competencies addressing: intercultural learning, interdisciplinary skills, sustainability knowledge, systems-integration, community-based practices, and awareness of ethics in global discussions of sustainability.”*
* From the NSF abstract, found here.
Students saw the article in advance and gave permission for their quotes to be included, though most preferred not to have their names used directly, so I left it all anonymous for consistency.