Street art celebrating the real-life Louise Michel © Frédéric BISSON |Flickr
EducationEssaysFeatureScienceTheory & Practice

What Could History Have Been?

Imagining new approaches to the humanities

“What could history have been?” The question asks how events might have turned out otherwise, if only X had happened instead of Y. What if JFK hadn’t been assassinated? What if Hitler had? The official term for this kind of what-if thinking is “counterfactual history,” and it covers anything from an academic’s earnest attempt to imagine the US economy without railroads to Quentin Tarantino’s WWII redux Jewish revenge fantasy, Inglourious Basterds — anything, that is, which imagines history as it did not happen.

But the same question can be the spur to a different kind of speculation.“History,” after all, has two meanings. It’s not just the sum of past events, but the discipline that studies them. …

Jerome Bruner  © Poughkeepsie Day School | Flickr
EducationEssaysFeatureScienceThe Psyche

Remembering Jerome Bruner

Jerome Bruner, the George Herbert Meade Professor of Psychology at the New School for Social Research from 1981 until 1991, died June 5th at the age of 100. Jerry spent his century engaged in life fully. Not only was he one of the most influential figures in psychology, he was a sailor, a raconteur, and an intellectual, who easily traversed the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences without taking a breath. His passion for the sea was well known. When moving to England, he did not take the conventional route and fly or even sail on the QE II. Rather he sailed his own boat across the Atlantic. And, in his mid-80’s, when asked about whether he still sailed, he frowned, said “Alas, no,” but then smiled: “I have taken up kayaking.”

Besides the New School, Jerry spent his academic life at Harvard, Oxford, and, after his retirement, NYU Law School. Chiefly a developmental psychologist,  …

COP21 Paris Trocadero, 2015  © Julien B. | Flickr

Climate Policies After Paris

Toward the end of 2015, leaders from around the world convened in Paris for the latest round of international climate talks. This marks the 21st annual Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. More than 40,000 people from over 150 countries attended the conference, representing governments, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and supranational institutions.

The Paris talks underscore the importance of addressing climate change before Earth’s ecosystems face irrevocable damage. Simply put, the use of carbon-based fuels that have been central to the economic development of the last couple hundred years creates a significant cost for the environment. Increasing dependence on fossil fuels has precipitated an unprecedented shift in a number of climate indicators. …

Sunset 2009 © Paul Sønder |Flickr

The Green Growth Path to Climate Stabilization

The World Resources Council recently reported that between 2000 and 2014, 21 countries, including the U.S., Germany, the U.K., Spain and Sweden, all managed to “decouple” GDP growth from CO2 emissions — i.e. GDP in these countries expanded over this 14-year period while CO2 emissions fell.[1]   This is certainly a favorable development. But the crucial question remains: how favorable is it relative to what is necessary to put the global economy on a successful path to climate stabilization?

As of the most recent worldwide data (2012), global CO2 emissions are at around 32 billion tons per year.[2] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provides conservative benchmarks as to what is required to stabilize the average global temperature at no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above the pre-industrial average. The IPCC presents these benchmarks in terms of ranges and probabilities, but a fair summary of their assessment is that global CO2 emissions need to fall by 40 percent within 20 years, to 20 billion tons per year, and by 80 percent as of 2050, to 7 billion tons.