Around the World in Six Ideas

Article excerpt

Byline: Christopher Dickey

Heads in the Cloud

It all started with the wall. In 1999 education researcher Sugata Mitra and his colleagues thought it would be interesting to install a computer in a wall bordering an urban slum in New Delhi to see what the kids there might make of it. The results were stunning. With no supervision, the children taught themselves how to use the computer, including picking up English to look for answers to all sorts of questions. Subsequent similar experiments led Mitra to conclude that the most creative and productive education comes when children aren't threatened but inspired--especially by their peers. The traditional approach was created by the British to train the subjects of the empire, and, he argues, the system continues to produce "identical people for a machine that no longer exists." Instead, what he calls a self-organized learning environment is all about getting kids excited about what they can know. In a proposal that won Mitra the TED award this year, he suggests creating an enormous self-organized school in the cloud, where, with a little guidance but minimal interference from "grandmothers," kids can explore the universe at will to answer their own questions and those that are put to them.

NAFTA on Steroids

Twenty-some years ago, wild-card presidential candidate Ross Perot warned of a "great sucking sound"--American manufacturing jobs going to Mexico, if the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect. Well, that didn't quite happen. The jobs--even Mexican jobs--went to China instead. Meanwhile, drug wars south of the border, and a tendentious debate about securing the frontier against immigrants, deepened American suspicions about closer ties with their southern neighbor. To the north, post-9/11 concern about terrorism made commerce across the Canadian border more complicated and costly, too. But Robert Pastor at American University in D.C. wants to turn conventional wisdom, or at least conventional wariness, on its head. He is proposing what he calls "a seamless North American market" developed to compete with Asia and Europe. Adding 113 million Mexicans and 34 million Canadians to the U.S. market is "the quickest external route to economic recovery," says Pastor, in a paper published by the Council on Foreign Relations. Much would have to be done, from creation of common external tariffs to the construction of common infrastructure. But Pastor makes a convincing case that the benefits would be great, or at least they wouldn't suck.

Fooling with Mother Nature

The shock of superstorm Sandy last year got a lot of people wondering about better ways to deal with the weather--perhaps even how to change it. John Latham, a climate scientist based in Colorado, has been proposing ways to do that for more than two decades. His studies show that it should be possible to spray fine particles of sea water into clouds, increasing their ability to reflect sunlight and thus reduce temperatures below. Latham argues that global warming is leading to "irreversible and possibly catastrophic consequences" and that the major polluting countries appear unwilling to take dramatic action. But Latham claims his cloud-seeding techniques would help to hold Earth's temperature constant "until a clean form of energy is developed to take over from oil, gas, and coal." He says, quite optimistically, that they could keep the planet's temperature stable for "perhaps 50 years." If true, that would be a welcome breather from impending doom. But what's missing is money to fund large-scale experiments--and perhaps for a reason. One thing we should know by now about our climate is that when you fix one problem, you may create another. …