The Best Work on Sustainability?

Some people want to give a $1,000,000 prize for a “discovery of high scientific value that has significant repercussions in the field of environmental sustainability in order to improve the quality of life, in harmony with the production system and the transition to new development models.”

So, they’re looking for people and organizations who have done the very best recent work in these area:

• energy transition towards renewable sources

• sustainable mobility

• clean energy and renewable resources

• energy efficiency

• clean technologies for the exploitation of fossil fuels

• sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources

• eco-friendly management of materials during their entire life cycle

• reduction of CO2 emissions

• innovative systems for the exploitation of solar energy

• discovery and development of new materials for the production

• storage and distribution of clean energy

What are your suggestions?

22 Responses to The Best Work on Sustainability?

  1. Ishi Crew says:

    Possibly overlapping with the the idea ‘reduction of CO2 emissions’ are terms like ‘steady state economy’, ‘glocaizaton’ . ‘small is beautiful’, ‘permaculture’ , ‘circular economy’, donut economy’, ‘degrowth’ and many more–they all overlap and tend to be ill defined and emphasize both behavior change and psychological change—eg figure out how to enjoy taking a bike to work and shopping rather than driving up the block to get some fast food and then to your doctor for heart surgery due to complications because of lack of excercize, bad diet, and obesity. . Having a park, walking or bike trail resonable public transit and access to food besides hambugers and pork are all good, though not rocket science.

    Sometimes prizes are not the best incentive to get good results. Many scientists didn’t work for prizes primarily.

    Some fairly simple (compared to advanced mathematicall physics) quantitative mathematical work could be done (and some precursors exist but they are really just first approximations and some go back 20-100 years). You can find many studies on exacxtly how many tones of CO2 are emiited for every car trip for every kind of car, but very little on other relevant issues.

    • John Baez says:

      Ishi wrote:

      Sometimes prizes are not the best incentive to get good results.

      Fine, but someone is trying to give away $1,000,000 here and I’m not getting any good suggestions yet! I need names of specific people or organizations who deserve the prize.

      • Ishi Crew says:

        One could look up Mark Z Jacobson of Stanford U —i imagine you know of him. I think maybe ‘battery storage’ for solar energy power is a priority. If someone can invent that maybe they deserve a prze. (i can’t do that).

        he has ‘controversial papers’ in PNAS.

        Prizes probably are ok or good for some people (‘mathematical olympiads’ inspiired many good math people, but i was never a contest person including sports. i deliberately lost and also deliberately flunked my tests .)

        a ‘prize’ assigns a ‘value’ to some activity. did einstein’s or Ramanujan’s mom get a prize?

    • nad says:

      ..and then to your doctor for heart surgery due to complications because of lack of excercize, bad diet, and obesity. Having a park, walking or bike trail resonable public transit and access to food besides hambugers and pork are all good, though not rocket science.

      One problem seems to be that even if you may have all of this it may be hard to keep. That is I recently had to spend an insane amount of my free time sifting through law texts in order to fight against Elon Musks plans to build a car gigafactory right into Berlins water supply.

      • Ishi Crew says:

        nad–maybe Elon Musk could use the Berlin water supply to fuel the self driving cars. then you just have your car drive to store and buy bottled water in plastic bottles. in my region (including ‘Appalachia’ in eastern USA ) some companies have privatized the (spring) water. it comes from the rain and snow in the (small) mountains. (some of my western aquaintances call them hills . i’ve been one time to himalayas, and also to alps , and other places in alaska and mexico . i view all these mountains as similar. except no glaciers in appalachians. it can still go down to -34F but due to global warming perhaps that may not occur much anymore. )

        my area has bike trails, a big park, and public transit—and its free now due to COVID, ( the small parks are closed). some people use these but some don’t— they’d rather get in their car and go to McDonald’s diive thru or a liquor store—this is considered an essential service .

        my mother spent an insane amount of time dealing with law studies when an MIT economist who moved next door decided to use the rorf of the house i grew up in as part of his house–he had a bar and a suntan deck on his roof and wanted to use part of my parents house for that. he won the case. but he did remove his stairway to my roof. (in the past my neighborhood and that house were not considered desirable areas —the housesitters there who were sort of my friends but older– turned out to be heroin addicts who did burglary of upscale stores for their night job. i was surprised when i saw how much ‘loot’ they had in that house–police carried it out. i was asleep the whole time. there were screech owls in the hemlock trees in front of my window.)

  2. Prashanta says:

    Local sustainability – lower the carbon footprint by networking with local businesses.

  3. A list of achievements related to the current energy transformation and working within the constraints of our natural resources

  4. cgopaul says:

    IEEE has lots of groups and volunteers working on those things. I know of a few initiatives in the smart grids and smart cities side. But I’m very far away from being able to nominate a person or group. I will email/message the info to those more in the know within the organization. But your university should have an IEEE section or a one of their societies like Power and Energy, etc. Lots of dedicated volunteers in IEEE. I’d nominate the whole organization.

    • cgopaul says:

      I forgot to say, I am certain they could give you some deserving nominees at the very least. Glad to see someone putting up such a nice award. Congrats to them indeed for this effort.

  5. What’s the latest on creating multiple quantum wells at scale? At the same time that Barnham was advocating MQWs for solar cells circa 1990, we were thinking about how to use the vicinal surface lattice staircase to more naturally generate one at scale — either “vertical” superlattices or quantum wires.

    I reviewed this finding from earlier this year in PRL:

  6. Prashanta says:

    Matt Damon working with to provide clean water in third world countries.

    • nad says:

      Prashanta, as far as I understood is acting globally, not just in specific countries:

      We are here to bring safe water and sanitation to the world through access to small, affordable loans.

      I am not sure whether loans are always the right choice for helping. Plus- as I described in the comment above -it is also important not just to bring but also to preserve safe water and sanitation. The planned Tesla Gigafactory for Berlin/Grünheide, Germany is a massive threat to Berlins drinking water. In particular the politicians here do not seem to look onto the drought monitor. So thanks for pointing out but I would anyways doubt that Matt Damon’s loans could change Musk’s plans.

    • nad says:

      There is also a protest note against the gigafactory on our blog:

  7. Prashanta says:

    Thanks nad. It strikes me that this is an important question and it also should be an easy question to answer. I’ll look into software options.

  8. John Baez says:

    Someone (who might want to be anonymous, I don’t know) writes:

    I have been a long time reader of Azimuth and This Week’s Finds. You asked for potential candidates for a sustainability prize. Here are some ideas in a few different categories. I tried to pick people who have had important scientific and engineering achievements, but in some cases are less well known than they should be.

    Studies of energy technology and transitions

    • Jessika Trancik (Prof. of Energy Systems, MIT;
    • Vaclav Smil (Prof. of Environmental Sciences (Emeritus), U. of Manitoba;
    • Arnulf Grubler (Research Scholar at IIASA and Prof. of Environmental Studies at Yale (Emeritus);

    If the award committee is looking to help boost a talented and accomplished mid-career person, then Trancik is the better choice. If it is more of a lifetime achievement award, Smil and Grubler fit the bill (though both may still be publishing).

    Renewable electricity

    • Chris Eberspacher (Tandem PV, SunFab (Applied Materials), ARCO Solar, Unisun;
    • Dick Swanson (SunPower, Stanford;
    • Jeff Koplow (Sandia National Lab;

    They may also want to check out the organization Activate, which trains academic scientists and engineers to make useful products from their discoveries, many in energy and environmental fields. (I participated in their program and vouch in general for the support and training provided. I am an alumnus and would not directly benefit if they were awarded this prize.)

    Hope this helps and good luck.

  9. Alanna says:

    This really is more about changing individual choices and values. It’s very simple. No great mind or scientist will change it. Also a lot of people overlook it’s not just about fossil fuels. It’s about over consumption of just about everything and being disconnected from nature. Add to that eating meat massed farmed meat.

    • John Baez says:

      There’s something true about this. But these folks are going to give someone a $1,000,000 prize. Lots of people are making lots of useful discoveries, inventing things, organizing people and doing other good work. Which one should win the prize? That’s what I’m asking.

You can use Markdown or HTML in your comments. You can also use LaTeX, like this: $latex E = m c^2 $. The word 'latex' comes right after the first dollar sign, with a space after it.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.