I love dealing with complexity! In my previous life as an engineer, I learned to simplify systems and come up with clear-cut answers. However, in my current professional role as a sustainability practitioner, I have learned to deal with complex systems as they are without oversimplifying them. The simplification errors of engineering systems leads to loss of material, mass and energy while the miscalculation losses of social systems are peoples’ jobs, health and livelihood— and more importantly troubles that can negatively affect future generations. That is why I believe we need to deal with these systems more delicately and double-check our solutions before implementation. Many problems we face today are the byproducts of not-ideal solutions conceived in the past and systems thinking principles that are inherent in the Landscapes approach are the sound framework to avoid the same mistakes.
I was born in Shiraz, one of the most beautiful cities in Iran; its citizens are well-known for their kindness, hospitality and peace of mind. Leaving Shiraz for Tehran where I did my bachelor’s studies was quite a shock. Tehran, a city of 10 million people, has drastic environmental and societal problems from water and air pollution to hideous traffic jams and dramatic social inequalities. During my undergraduate studies I was very interested in energy systems and especially renewable sources of energy. After gaining knowledge of technical aspects of renewable energies I became interested in addressing the barriers of incorporating renewable energies in Iran.
For my senior thesis I chose to assess Iran’s long-term national policies and planning regarding energy and the environment, specifically regarding sustainable development – this project was an eye-opening experience and marked a turning point in my life. Due to the abundance of oil and gas resources in Iran, there is little incentive to leave these valuable yet cheap resources under ground and undertake the expensive burden of investigating alternative renewable energies! This philosophy makes sense from a short-run economic point of view, but not from a long-term sustainable development point of view. In attempting to identify and address the institutional and fundamental origins of this mindset, I became familiar with various social, environmental and economic aspects of sustainability. Over time, I realized that approaching sustainability problems only from a ‘hard science’ perspective is insufficient, and I recognized the need to familiarize myself with other tools for long-term structural change, such as policy and economics. This is how I ended up pursuing my academic path in the United States.
I am currently a graduate student at the University of Michigan, studying Public Policy and Sustainable Systems. I chose this dual major program in order to broaden the scope of my understanding of environment and society, study the interactions between them and leverage knowledge from various disciplines at the intersection of science, business and policy to address sustainability challenges.
Among various sustainability challenges, climate change is my particular topic of interest as it is one of the most complex problems humans have faced. Climate change is so complex due to its diversity of causes, affluence of actors and decision makers, abundance of stakeholders affected by climate change, severity of impacts and long delays between actions and results. And to tackle it calls for a fundamental change in our production and consumption patterns, a change in our businesses and their underlying economic system, a shift in our values and goals both as individuals and as society, and embrace undeniable change at all stages of life. With the emerging unprecedented environmental impacts at all corners of the world—and large human populations vulnerable to these changes—we need immediate interventions.
While people around the world are waiting for the 21st Conference of Parties on Climate Change (COP21) to deliver a legally binding agreement, at the Youth in Landscapes initiative we will become part of the team tackling the Finance and Trade challenge and pitch our idea to high-level panel of business and policy makers. Through this initiative we will address the sustainability issues of global supply-chain network (which, because of its complexity, is an exciting topic for me!). Although this problem is multifaceted, I am confident that the interdisciplinary team of scholars selected to be part of this initiative will come up with actionable and high-impact solutions. I am thrilled to be part of this initiative and looking forward to start collaboration with young professionals from across the world.
Arman (Mohammad) Golrokhian is one of the 10 young champions who will work on the “Finance and Trade” Landscape challenge with Youth program’s partner: Livelihoods Venture