Not all online courses provide all they promise you, but here’s one that should answer all your questions about environmentally sustainable, socially inclusive economic development. It will also challenge you to find out more.
Professor Jeffrey David Sachs, a well-known American economist and since 2002 Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, teaches the course. It is one of the Coursera Massive Open Online Courses open to all interested adults and offered free of charge. Coursera offers 400+ courses in about 20 categories. Eighty-five universities from 16 countries contribute to the online series.
Jeffrey Sachs has twice been named among Time’s 100 most influential world leaders and the magazine sees him as “the world’s best known economist.” The New York Times, not known for hyperbole, calls him “probably the most important economist in the world.”
Professor Sachs introduces his participants to the interdisciplinary field of sustainable development by drawing on the most recent developments in the social, policy, and physical sciences. He believes that reaching sustainable development is the most urgent challenge facing humanity.
But how can the world economy can continue to develop in a way that is socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable? Last week, Sachs posted a conversation on Reddit about the course. It has already drawn almost 400 responses.
In this course, the professor describes the complex interactions between economics and the earth’s physical environment. Ecological processes and constraints (climate, disease, environment, physical resources like soils and energy sources, topography, and transport conditions) significantly shape our patterns of economic development. They govern both demography and wealth/poverty. According to Sachs, farming, land use, urbanization, demographic change, energy use and other human activities change our physical environment in increasingly dangerous ways. He provides a broad overview of key challenges and potential routes to sustainable development in the 21st century.
At age 28, Sachs was one of the youngest economics professors in the history of Harvard University, where he first taught. In public life, he has advised eastern European and other developing countries (including Bolivia, Poland, and Russia) during economic crises and at their transitions from communism to a market system. Currently, Sachs directs the prestigious Earth Institute at Columbia University, another leading Ivy League school. Sachs teaches health policy and management there and is Columbia’s Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development.
Since 2010 he has also served as a Commissioner for the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, which leverages broadband technologies to enable socioeconomic development. He continues to advise heads of state and top management of the United Nations and to write, as both a bestselling author and syndicated columnist whose monthly newspaper columns appear in more than 100 countries. His work on promoting economic growth, boosting sustainable environmental practices, and fighting hunger, disease, and poverty has taken him to more than 125 countries representing more than 90% of the world’s population.
Sachs’s course not only defines sustainable development. In it, Professor Sachs also discusses why some countries have advanced while others remained in poverty and how population, food, and energy determine growth and planetary boundaries. Finally, he describes the basic science of climate change, the importance of biodiversity, and the mitigation policies of sustainable development and global cooperation that may be able to divert or defang changes in world climate. You can access a five-minute introductory video here.
The official first week of classes started Tuesday. Once a week’s material has been posted, it will stay online for the duration of the course. Anyone–registered or not–can access all the online references from links on the study plan. Sign up for the course officially through this link.