Computing and communication technology is ubiquitous in materially wealthy populations, and is becoming more prevalent across all populations. Thus, the computing sector’s direct ecological footprint (e.g., energy required for manufacture and use; toxins from improper disposal) is increasing rapidly. In conjunction with improvements to the design of computing systems for energy efficiency and (we hope) recycling, however, computing has much broader and substantive contributions to make towards long-term planet sustainability, including
(a) offsetting environmental footprints and mitigating degradation in other sectors such as travel (through use of virtual-participation technologies);
(b) improving data collection of environmental processes through sensor networks and robotics;
(c) improving analysis of environmental processes through many forms of machine learning;
(d) improving evidence-based environmental decision making through artificial intelligence, optimization, and visualization techniques;
(e) increasing awareness and activism through social computing; and
(f) modeling and simulating Earth-wide systems such as climate and ocean, as well as regional systems.
This course will address many of these topics, ideally motivating students to see and act on the sustainability applications of computing in subsequent courses and their careers. This course is just one component in what is a larger effort to “to train a new generation of computer scientists who think of themselves as at the forefront of long-term sustainability research, policy, and practice” (http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2016/01/harnessing-the-power-of-computers-to-create-a-sustainable-future/), which is supported by an NSF Grant 1521672 “Collaborative Research: CompSustNet: Expanding the Horizons of Computational Sustainability“ (but NSF does not necessarily endorse the content of the course).