Geography: Defining the Boundaries of Global Challenges

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Photo by cocoparisienne

Google maps is great tool, it provides us with access to a large amount of data for planning any journey by any means of transport. It helps us find the best place to have a meal or stock up on stationery. Google maps presents a load of data referenced to a geographical system. There are plenty of different data maps available; the Environment Agency Maps present the different areas at risk of floods, air pollution and many more different environmental data. What if this could be combined in the same way as the travel data on google maps to present a smarter way of solving problems.

This is the idea of Geographical Information Systems (GIS), it uses data, referenced to geographical coordinates in order to have a greater insight into the geographical aspects of different challenges. GIS has revolutionised the way we see and solve problems. GIS enables us to consider a wider range of parameters and understand the connection in between these parameters. This enables us to solve problems through a more informed process. GIS Missions, offers a great insight into how GIS can help solve practical problems in the planning stage of both small and major projects. It can help identify the impact of flooding in an area, the effectiveness of of renewable energy systems or on a personal note create Property Heat Maps identifying where you can afford to live. GIS is a powerful tool to visualise and understand complex challenges.

The quality of GIS analysis is only as powerful as the data input. This leads to limitation, the data required is often closed down and in varied formats. In order to effectively use GIS to solve global challenges and create smarter communities, smarter cities; we need big data solution. Data needs to be made open licensed, easy to access and in an open format. Open Street Map and Quantum GIS are both initiatives which bring the power of GIS into an open environment.  Open street maps is a map created openly by the community; it gathers local data and knowledge which is shared openly and under open licence. Quantum GIS is an open GIS plateforme, it enables the design of custom user generated functions to better analyse geographical data. We need these open solution in order to understand and overcome the global challenges society faces.

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The Age of Sustainable Development

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Professor Jeffrey Sachs is a passionate economist and visionary. Last year I followed his course on the Age of Sustainable Development  a free course offered through Coursera. The course offered a snapshot of modern economy and how modern civilisations have developed since the industrial revolution. Using this understanding of how the developed and developing world had grown their economies the course then studied the future of underdeveloped countries and the poverty trap they live in. This was achieved through comparing two cases business as usual versus sustainable development.

The course really built up my understanding and respect for economist. It went away from the destructive economy we see in modern banking institutes, led by greed, but instead focus on an economy of opportunity. The course did not see economic development as the single most important change required but instead advocated a prescriptive method based on an in depth analysis of the situation. It studied the role of healthcare, demographics, geography, infrastructure and education on a nation.

Sustainable development is not just a more positive way of looking at our future but a necessary way to move forward. Shell has two outlooks on the future of energy: the first is a blueprint where we work together through revolutionary changes, the second is a scramble for resources where we deal with the consequences latter. Why not join Professor Sachs and participate in the Sustainable Development Solutions Network helping us to work together with a shared vision and blueprint for a sustainable development.

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The Art of Global Challenge

Series 3/3: The Artist and the Engineer – This series reflects on the relationship in between Art and Engineering.

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From climate change to rapid urbanization civilization is facing radical challenges in the way we approach and solve problems. In this vast and growing world how do we understand the personal and intimate nature of these challenges. When there is a constant pressure for economic growth how do we value life and resources. In order to achieve this we must value creativity. Upholding the belief that we can overcome these challenges by working together valuing our different giftings. The answer is not to lose hope and to see borders and countries break down under the pressure for resources. If we value growth more than we value each other we will have lost sense of what it means to be a civilization.

Tipping Point is a project that brings scientist and artists together to study climate change and understand how it effects us. It takes the abstract and overwhelming idea of climate change and breaks it down to a quantifiable and identifiable idea. This is part of a global effort by artists to understand the human aspect of these global challenges. Art enables us to relate to these big ideas and see the different perspectives and outlooks into these challenges. Art can enable us to grow in our understanding of these challenges and our passion to bring about positive change.

Art doesn’t have to have a message or uphold social values. At its core art should remind us of the creativity of humanity. It should encourage us that as a civilisation there are solutions to these challenges. My wife loves searching for patterns in photography and prints. The different work she creates presents varied and complex patterns. This reminds me of the design we find throughout our environment. The challenges society face may be varied and complex but there are underlying patterns throughout, we need to work together to understand these complex patterns and build a better future.

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What Engineers can learn from Artists?

Series 1/3: The Artist and the Engineer – This series reflects on the relationship in between Art and Engineering.

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Photo by David Dixon

The Imperial War Museum in Salford is designed to represent a broken world. The design is complex and holds a strong visual impact. As an engineer I am constantly seeking to understand how a building is designed and how the forces flows through the structure. The Imperial War Museum is very intriguing and draws me in through its elegant design. As a civil engineer I enjoy observing different designs and understanding how form follows function. As an engineer I get drawn into my environment and drawn into the process of how things work. This provides me with the creative insight to innovatively approach engineering problems.

Artist works in a similar way; they explore and observe their environment. This provides a palette with which to create and design innovative new processes that challenge the conventional methods. Artists aim to change your perception and make you reflect. Artists aim to create something which inspires and speaks to each and every one of us at a personal and intimate level. Artists have a great ability to observe and challenge their environment.

Artists and engineers may approach their environment differently but both strive to observe and explore the built and natural environment; in order to create, enhance and sustain places which bring people together. Artists can inspire engineers through their creativity and in-depth observation of their environment. Engineers and Artists offer a great observational insight into the way our environment works. How could artists and engineers work closer together in order to better understand the challenges society faces?

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