The Ecological Disaster: What to Do?

This course intends to study the ecological / environmental challenges that humanity faces at this very moment, linked to climate change (global warming), the depletion of natural resources (including air and water), pollution by plastics and chemicals, etc. This course is fact-based, so we will study the data at hand and the causes of the phenomena involved; further we will put an emphasis on the potential solutions that have been proposed, or that can be envisaged by the students themselves. The course looks at the problems on the global and, whenever possible, Russian level. We aim at a systemic treatment of the matter, integrating knowledge from different scientific disciplines. Indeed, since coping with climate change and the other enormous ecological problems we face is a highly complex and interdisciplinary enterprise, this course will touch upon a variety of disciplines, such as ecology, climate science, technology, philosophy, ethics, sociology, political science, economics, etc. Perhaps the greatest challenge that awaits this and the coming generation is to cope with climate change, so an important part of the course will be dedicated to this topic. We will study the mechanisms behind climate change, the causes, the most relevant scientific data available, and we will aim at identifying potential solutions, such as the use of ‘renewable’ or ‘green’ energies. A few classes will be dedicated to technological aspects of renewable energies.

Louis Vervoort:

I studied physics in Ghent (MSc in engineering physics), Marseille (PhD) and the École Normale Supérieure in Paris (post-doc). Already in this period my main interests shifted from classic physics to the foundations of the field – a research area in which the fundamental axioms are questioned and investigated. This brought me naturally to philosophy, which I studied at the University of Montreal (PhD). Some of the advantages of working in philosophy are that it allows to address a broad range of interests, and that it somehow incites to look for the unifying ideas, the fashionable ‘big picture’ (I will leave this little idea here very vague). Philosophy also encourages to ask ethical questions on research, technology, science and society. If I would have to summarize my most eye-opening experience of these last years, then it would be the observation that, at the very fundamental level, science and philosophy are solidly intertwined, and can greatly inspire each other. An idea popular among interdisciplinary practitioners, but not yet popular enough in other communities!