Lecture 8: John Thorne & Sustainability

This week’s design & technology lecture featured John Thorne as the guest speaker; GSA’s Sustainability Coordinator. He spoke about the product designer’s potential to impact climate change, among numerous other interesting points of discussion.

We discussed the required shift in energy production to curb climate change, moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewables. I immediately related this to my ongoing research assignment into nuclear energy. Is nuclear a part of the solution to climate change? My last blog focuses on nuclear fusion and concludes that we can’t rely on fusion to be the silver bullet as some people claim. Still though, current nuclear technology may be very useful.

As Eoghan pointed out, no form of energy production is without its detrimental effects on the environment, not even renewables. Solar panels and wind turbines have surprisingly short lifespans and end-of-life disposal is a bit of a question mark. John urged us to consider the entire system when designing a solution, and I interpret that to mean we must balance the pros and the cons of all technologies. From this perspective, I believe there is a place for nuclear fission power plants. I will explore this area further in my next research assignment blog.

After hearing perspectives from Greta Thunberg, John Thorne, Johan Rockström, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Kate Rowarth and Mark Carney, it is fair to say there is a wide range of outlooks; some optimistic and some not. I wonder what kind of outlook is the most effective at calling the populace to action. I was surprised at how much Greta’s speech really resonated with me. I agree that we need to be drawing a firmer line, especially with politicians and the global elite.

Hugh asked us all what kind of action we should take, as individuals and as product designers. I think real change starts at the top, with the big corporations and governments who have the power to massively turn the tide on climate change. As individuals I think the best thing we can do is pressure these organisations into action. Participating in climate change protests both physically and online can have a large effect, as social acceptance is something organisations pick up on.

As product designers, we have the potential to change companies from the inside. I wasn’t expecting John to say he hoped some of us would end up working for big companies, but upon reflection it makes sense. A designer is differentiated from a career politician or businessman by their moral code. We have a sense of duty to humanity, which has been instilled in us throughout our studies. With this, we can remain focused on the real problems and make the right choices; that’s our responsibility.

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