Maths - Imagine all the people

1st March 2013 at 00:00

What it's all about

Green issues are everywhere, but is there such a thing as "green mathematics"? The internet says there is, writes Jonny Griffiths.

In the past, economics assumed that the earth's resources were virtually limitless - now economics needs a rewrite. Maths is "purer", yet in A-level mathematical modelling we make assumptions too - we could focus on greener topics.

Take population growth. The United Nations has three projections for world population in 2100: high (14 billion); medium (9.1 billion); and low (5.5 billion). The eventual outcome will be the sum of myriad human choices, and the consequences are critical (bit.lydnegG2).

Differential equations are part of the Core 4 syllabus for Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI), including growth and decay of populations. To refine these models, progress to the logistic equation. This makes an excellent introduction to chaos and the butterfly effect. Try the Nuffield Foundation's Chaotic Population activity (bit.lyVbb2Rr).

MEI's further maths syllabus includes a differential equations module, where population growth is considered within predator-prey systems. The Nrich site also has population resources (nrich.maths.org7827).

Population is an emotive issue. A recent book on the ideal number of children in a Western family was called Maybe One. But parents of large families resent being told to think this way. We need to ensure the maths we construct is as truthful as possible.

What else?

Carry out a green classroom audit with this activity from California Academy of Sciences. bit.lyGreenClassroomAudit

Discuss the economics of sustainability with pladley's Venn diagram. bit.lyEnvironmentalEconomics.

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