Environment and Sustainability Institute

My friend John Barrett pointed out that the Environmental and Sustainability Institute at Exeter has jobs for mathematicians and statisticians who “combine research expertise in areas such as computational statistics, data modelling, system dynamics, control, optimization and/or computation with vision and innovation so as to transform research across the environment and sustainability agenda”.

I got his email today; the deadline has already passed, but maybe you can slip under the wire:

Professor in Applied Mathematics/Statistics

Ref: R10168

Deadline: 21/03/2011

Location: Environment and Sustainability Institute, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter, Tremough Campus (Cornwall).

Salary: by negotiation, generous holiday allowances, flexible working, pension scheme, car lease scheme and relocation package.

We are taking a unique opportunity to create a world-leading, interdisciplinary centre investigating the consequences of environmental change and the mitigation and management of its effects. Building on the existing academic strengths of the University of Exeter, the 30 million pound Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) will focus on undertaking significant cutting-edge research in finding solutions to problems of environmental change, and the application of an ecosystem services approach. There will be three major themes: Clean technologies, Natural environment, and Social science. The initiative is funded with a 22.9 million pound investment from the European Regional Development Fund and 6.6 million pounds from the South West of England Regional Development Agency.

We are looking for research leaders in Applied Mathematics and/or Statistics who will combine research expertise in areas such as computational statistics, data modelling, system dynamics, control, optimization and/or computation with vision and innovation so as to transform research across the environment and sustainability agenda. Applicants will have a strong track record of research funding and international quality publications, together with proven ability in teaching and curriculum development.

Applicants are encouraged to contact the Dean of the College, Prof Ken Evans to discuss the posts further. Informal enquiries can be made to Prof Peter Ashwin You may also wish to consult our web site for further details of the College.

The full range of necessary skills and experience can be found in the Job Description and Person Specification document.

Your full academic CV should be accompanied by a short letter of application explaining why you are interested in the post.

For further information about the Environment and Sustainability Institute visit our website.

The University of Exeter is an equal opportunity employer which is ‘Positive About Disabled People’. Whilst all applicants will be judged on merit alone, we particularly welcome applications from groups currently under-represented in the workforce.

19 Responses to Environment and Sustainability Institute

  1. Ross Wolfe says:

    Recently I wrote a Marxist critique of the ideology of “Green” environmentalism, the locavore and organic food movements, deep ecology, permaculture, ecofeminism, “radical” environmentalism (Green anarchy, “veganarchism,” animal liberation, anarcho-primitivism) and lifestyle politics in general (veganism, “dumpster diving,” “buying organic,” “locavorism,” etc.). I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter and any responses you might have to its criticisms.

    • John Baez says:

      I don’t allow explicitly ideological conversations on this blog, so I’m afraid this isn’t a good place to discuss your article. I’ll just say this. You write:

      Unwittingly echoing the arch-conservative Malthus, they insist that the current growth of population is unsustainable and will inevitably exhaust the world’s resources. They fail to recognize: 1. that it is classist (since the lower classes have more children); 2. that it is racist (since non-whites have more children); 3. and that it is sexist (because women are supposed to be the “gatekeepers” of reproduction).

      What puzzles and distresses me is that you don’t start by considering whether or not it’s true that “the current growth of population is unsustainable and will inevitably exhaust the world’s resources”.

      Instead, you start by saying that “it” is racist, classist and sexist.

      I’m not sure what “it” is, because you don’t say. I can only imagine that by “it”, you mean the act of saying that the current growth of population is unsustainable and will inevitably exhaust the world’s resources.

      But if it’s true that the current growth of population is unsustainable and will inevitably exhaust the world’s resources, how can it be racist, classist and sexist to say it?

      And if it’s false, isn’t it more important to start by explaining why it’s false? You say in one sentence later that Malthus was disproved, but I don’t think this is an issue that can be settled by a single sentence.

      Of course this attitude of mine—focussing on the job of determining the facts, which is already extremely hard, before moving on to deciding what’s good to say—is precisely why I don’t allow explicitly ideological conversations on this blog, and will delete comments that seek to start up a battle along those lines.

      To my mind, the main problem with the movements you list is that they’ve got so few adherents (compared to the overall population of the world) that it’s not clear they’ll ever make a significant difference, except in certain small patches. You do sort of hint at this when you call these movements “elitist”. But my response is somewhat different. To me, however laudable or horrible these movements may be, they seem so marginal that I have trouble staying interested in them. To me it would be more interesting to talk about, say, the rural Chinese moving to big cities. That’s a phenomenon that will have a big effect on the world.

      • Tim van Beek says:

        John wrote:

        To me it would be more interesting to talk about, say, the rural Chinese moving to big cities. That’s a phenomenon that will have a big effect on the world.

        Government agencies predict the same behaviour in Germany too, everywhere. Since the reunification in 1990, there has been a strong tendency of east Germans to migrate to the West, where the jobs were and are. But for several years, there has been an overall trend of urbanization. An overall theme of everyday politics is if central governments should cut the funding of infrastructure in rural areas (streets, canalization etc.), that is likely to be oversized soon. This happens in parallel to a slow shrinking of the population, which is projected to shrink from ca. 80 million today to approximately 60 million in 2050.

        This trend seems to be caused by a shift in the job market, from “simple decentralized” tasks to “complex centralized” tasks. I’m a good example of this myself. Instead of driving tractors across the northern acres, I’m programming computers in a major city :-)

      • John Baez says:

        That’s interesting about Germany. What makes China especially fascinating is the scale of the transformation. Wikipedia writes: “From 2010 to 2025, it is estimated by the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development that 300 million Chinese now living in rural areas will move into cities. The fast pace of urbanization will create at least 1 trillion yuan in annual investment opportunities in building water supply, waste treatment, heating and other public utilities in the cities.”

        That’s about 150 billion dollars, or 110 billion euros. But what’s impressive is not the money, it’s the number of people whose lives will dramatically change in the next 15 years. That’s about 4 Germanies. It’s this type of thing that makes it hard for me to get worked up over what, say, ‘anarchoprimitivists’ do. How many are there of those?

        Of course, sometimes people with radical ideas get in power and cause substantial changes in society. For example, around 1975 the Khmer Rouge managed to force everyone living in Phnom Penh to evacuate the city and move them out to collective farms. That was 2.5 million people! The people in the north of the city were forced to march north; the people in the east were forced to march east, and so on. They closed schools, hospitals and factories, abolished banks and currency, outlawed all religions, and confiscated all private property. And of course that was just the start.

        But I’m not too worried about ‘locavores’ taking over Berkeley and forcing all its citizens to work in collective farms.

        On the other hand, I may have been a bit too dismissive in my initial reaction. While the extreme idea of everyone going back to their own farm is just not going to happen unless and until civilization as we know it collapses, the romantic attraction to this notion may, in some watered-down form, affect the behavior of many more people than those who actually start their own farm. I think that the increased fondness for ‘organic’ foods (as opposed to inorganic ones like titanium phosphate) and the ‘locavore’ movement are having a significant impact on American food-buying behavior and farming practices. I imagine something similar but perhaps even stronger must be going on in Germany. So, maybe it’s a big enough deal to be worth thinking about, even if it’s small potatoes compared to what’s going on in China.

        (Of course I also think it’s worth thinking about what I eat for dinner, or plant in my garden. But that’s just because I, being me, have to think about what I do. I don’t think it’s necessarily worth blogging about.)

        • nad says:

          John wrote:

          ..But that’s just because I, being me, have to think about what I do. I don’t think it’s necessarily worth blogging about.)

          Eventually you may let people vote about what you should put into your garden…:

          http://www.my-farm.org.uk/home

        • Tim van Beek says:

          Germany is an old industrialized country and serves as an example how China could evolve, or should not evolve, and for what reasons. My main point of my previous post was that urbanization is not a side effect of industrialization, it is a trend that continues through the next stage – whatever that is called (globalization?).

          The point that “we cannot produce a car for every Chinese citizen without a fast irriversible depletion of natural resources” is a strong selling point for research in sustainability. I think the Chinese will figure this out by themselves and not follow us (Europe and especially the USA) in our path, but it would seem that some people would like countries like Germany to serve as a positive example instead of a negative one and act now. We’ll see.

          I think that the increased fondness for ‘organic’ foods (as opposed to inorganic ones like titanium phosphate) and the ‘locavore’ movement are having a significant impact on American food-buying behavior and farming practices. I imagine something similar but perhaps even stronger must be going on in Germany.

          Ross’s article is USA-centric, the situation is very different in Germany, most farms, for example, are small family farms, there are almost no big industrialized farming companies, unlike in the USA. The topics of “green food” are almost 40 years old over here, and most of what Ross wrote does not apply either (I don’t know if anything applies to the USA, but certainly not to Germany).

          Fun fact: A delicious little kind of shrimp lives in the North see, you can by bunches of it from the fishermen. But it is hard work to peel these things, so they get transportet to Marrokko, are peeled over there and get transported back to the coast of the North sea. So if you buy “fresh peeled shrimp” from a north sea fisherman, the shrimp has actually travelled several thousand kilometers by ship and truck and is ca. 2 days old.

          Yeah: free markets and their efficiency :-)

          That’s what “buy local” is all about over here: To stop madness like that.

  2. Florifulgurator says:

    Funny, the other day I rescued a 50y old book, “Max Planck als Philosoph” from being used to light a fire. It has an appendix on Lenin’s grasp (or not) of modern (1920) physics.

    “Marxism” could also be seen as a philosophy, not ideology. Me dunno if such Marxists exist… Ross’ “critique” clearly is ideology – an extreme and tragic example of geisteswissenschaften wearing blinders: How come materialism can disregard the outside world?

    • Ross Wolfe says:

      Most of Lenin’s writings on science were limited to the empirio-criticism of Ernst Mach et al.

      • Alpha Omega says:

        Marxism is an obsolete 19th century philosophy. If you want to explore power relations in a new and interesting way I suggest you investigate “transhumanism” and “Singularitarianism”. They will give you a far more radical way of looking at politics, because they begin with the understanding that power is function of biology and technology. Marxism is a doomed philosophy because it is Christianity in disguise; their egalitarianisms aren’t really feasible in a winner-take-most, Pareto-distributed Darwinian world.

        If you want fundamental change in the human condition, you need new technologies and you need to change the species called homo sapiens. Otherwise you will just get more of the same primate dramas. The exciting thing is that we live in a time when such re-engineering is actually becoming possible. The choice before is no longer “socialism or barbarism,” as Rosa Luxemburg put it; now there is a third possibility of transhumanist transcendence of old problems via technology.

        • Florifulgurator says:

          It seems very likely that the rapid course of climate disruption (exacerbated by resource depletion, falling EROEI, overpopulation, etc.) will obsolete transhumanism as another 20th century pipe dream.

          Right now, billions $$$ get washed away by the Mississippi. With increasing frequency such events will slowly erode any economy and the basis for hyper technology. (Alas, atomic energy didn’t get too cheap to meter, unlike promised last century.)

          To me it seems more likely that Earth, not technology, will enforce fundamental change of the human condition: Getting house-trained – or extinct.

          Hoping for transhumanist transcendence is Russian roulette.

  3. mitchellporter says:

    “Florifulgurator” said:

    “It seems very likely that the rapid course of climate disruption (exacerbated by resource depletion, falling EROEI, overpopulation, etc.) will obsolete transhumanism as another 20th century pipe dream.”

    Profoundly wrong – especially the part about Earth changes as a cause of human *extinction*. You know, billions of people can die and it’s still not extinction – not that I think we will get anywhere near such death tolls from climate change.

    Do you really think that under such trying circumstances, the almost 200 sovereign states of our world are all going to abandon their military technologies, satellites, communication grids, scientific and industrial centers, agricultural and biotechnological expertise, high-tech medicine, ad infinitum? Maybe you should study life in countries like North Korea or Pakistan, where existence can be incredibly tough, but they still have their nuclear deterrent and many other rudiments of modernity. Life getting harder in developed countries doesn’t mean a uniform decline into preindustrial conditions; it means that they come more to resemble “emerging” and “developing” countries in which islands of high technology exist amid favelas and disaster areas.

    How much of a role transhumanist hopes, and the very word “transhumanism”, will play in near-future culture is an open question. But the accumulation of knowledge and technical capability is not going to stop. It should be obvious that we are still at the very beginning of discovering what biotechnology and electronic implants can do to a human being, and that this is not going to be slowed down one iota by the drumbeat of unnatural disasters around the world. On the contrary, post-disaster environments will offer a great playground for all sorts of experiments, for the same reason that high-tech militaries like to experiment with performance enhancement on the battlefield. That is not exactly transhumanism as classically conceived, but it does mean that the changing Earth will not conveniently rid us of the specter of the posthuman.

    • Florifulgurator says:

      Where does your food come from?

      Pakistan and North Korea are excellent examples for pondering that question. Pakistan: After the super flood that came after the super drought there’s now famine of African proportions. North Korea: The latest business there are shops that sell human excrement as fertilizer, for artificial and mined fertilizer is scarce.

      World hunger is rising (>1 billion). Food prices are rising (you don’t notice yet, but the Egyptians did). That will continue and accelerate.

      • Mitchell Porter says:

        Argument by anecdote is perilous. First I found the CEO of a Pakistani NGO denying that post-flood famine was like Africa: “can UNICEF or any other organization show one incident whereby an adult or a kid has died of starvation in any part of Pakistan?”

        This led me to wonder how bad famine is in Africa today. Last year The Independent reported that “millions face starvation”. One year later, what does Wikipedia say? “Fatalities: 9 confirmed, 42 indirectly, 20 unconfirmed”. But it does add “17,800,000 were in immediate risk of starvation”.

        As for North Korea, the numerous stories reporting the trade in human excrement all trace back to a seminar by a South Korean political scientist (Kim Young-soo), describing the latest news from defectors. At the same seminar he reported that “skinny jeans”, instant noodles, and adult movies are also in demand. Apparently Famine is the only one of the old four horsemen of the apocalypse still in operation, the other three having been replaced by 1950s Fashion, Takeaway Food, and Porn.

        I apologize for the sarcasm. I do not advance a cornucopian denial that the world has its problems. But I stand by my original assessment: the idea that our 21st-century time of troubles is going to stop technology is completely wrong. However bad it gets, over however much of the world, the troubles will coexist with a continued march towards the revolutionary capabilities that have “Alpha Omega” so excited.

        • Florifulgurator says:

          I should have typed malnutrition instead of starvation. Malnutrition can have irreparable effects on physical and mental development of children, without being lethal.

          Malnutrition is a chronic problem in Pakistan and North Korea. The mega flood/drought 2009/2010 in Pakistan sure has exacerbated things, and it won’t be the last climate catastrophe to hit there. Recently the North Korean dictator has called for more socialist fertilizer production…

          How long can nations being proud of their A-bombs afford a hungry population? Why don’t their technologists produce soylent green?

          Another problem I see with high tech dreams is the energy-economics conundrum (EROEI etc.). Like any ecosystem, the economy needs free energy to thrive. But these times are gone. (The financial system even needs exponential economic growth. Thus it is doomed.)

          On “alternative, green, and supposedly renewable (sustainable) energy sources replacing fossil fuels”, George Mobus writes in a recent blog post:

          Unless you bring evidence (not hypotheticals) of scaling ability, collection and conversion efficiencies, and how the built infrastructure can be evolved quickly enough to use the electricity, I will rest with the evidence and physics that scream loudly that they will not provide even one tenth of BAU-OECD-level lifestyles let alone provide a soft landing pathway to sustainability. So what we are left with is the rapid loss of high-power energy to do economic work, to build real (useful) assets and provide sufficient food, in the foreseeable future.

        • Phil Henshaw says:

          Flori, George’s comment on the stark insufficiency of renewable energy resources for BAU economics is spot on. Your comment is too, on how finance is doomed by its need for endless growth to remain stable, but you don’t seem to be making the next leap. People use money to convey requests for energy use. That’s what connects the $ system and the energy systems. When you study it you find the true scale of energy consumption the use of money makes requests for business to perform, the total energy demand of money, is actually about 500% larger than what even the most persistent and skillful efforts to trace business energy uses can trace… (for natural causes)!!

          Seeing that our information models are missing the great majority of the energy information they need is a very curious “little discrepancy”. I think it points toward the deeper problem that may have alternate solutions than presently being attempted.

      • Phil Henshaw says:

        Well yes, food comes from the global markets, and starvation, or “malnutrition”, comes from the price.

        The fact that the prices are going to keep going up for very natural causes, due to prices switching from reflecting cost to reflecting scarcity (contrary to economic theory) is the source of the problem. Why it is not causing “starvation” is because of world food aid. Virtually no on is allowed to starve.

        What the continuing price escalation of food and fuel resources worldwide is actually doing to people is knocking them out of self-sufficiency into subsistence living, dependent on foreign food aid. The world’s “disaster relief” programs are blindly caught in the cross fire, unfortunately. They’re almost silent about it too, as if quite unaware that having an ever growing population of people turned into refugees in their own lands, is NOT A GOOD THING to maintain. They don’t seem to realize that they should be complaining much louder about what a disaster it is.

    • John Baez says:

      This is exactly what I want to see here: friendly and intelligent discussion between people holding wildly divergent views of the future, from transhumanist to ‘back to nature’.

      Mitchell Porter wrote:

      But I stand by my original assessment: the idea that our 21st-century time of troubles is going to stop technology is completely wrong. However bad it gets, over however much of the world, the troubles will coexist with a continued march towards the revolutionary capabilities that have “Alpha Omega” so excited.

      I tend to agree with this. The world is big enough that it can get quite bad in places while still having patches where technology continues to advance.

      The world is very heterogeneous. In Cambodia I saw beggars blind from malaria, fishing villages with houses on stilts, but also kids glued to their cell phones just like in Singapore. If the future is like the present, we should expect all sorts of different scenarios from the utopian to the dystopian to be happening simultaneously, often in the same town. But I think we tend to gravitate toward simple visions of the future because it’s too hard to process the complexity otherwise.

      My friend Bruce Smith jokes that many science fiction novels portray a future where—unmentioned by the author—there has been a disaster called The Great Simplification, which made the world much less complex than it is today. Of course the author’s lack of imagination is really what’s to blame.

      • Tim van Beek says:

        People in pre-industrialized Europe had a rich life, too. And just look what the world during the first and second world wars, there were many “isles of calmness”, many people never heard much of the disasters going on elsewhere.

  4. Tim van Beek says:

    Another job for a physicist with a background in stochastic methods in Oxford:

    University Lecturer in Physical Climate Science

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