How Might We…

Challenge: Depoliticize climate change

POV: Dairy farmer in Wisconsin, drives pick-up truck every day, livelihood based off of shipping dairy across the country, Trump supporter, does not really believe in climate change, certainly does not believe in global warming

How might we…

  • incorporate farmers as part of the solution?
  • phrase the problem so that it does not incorporate phrases like “climate change” or “global warming”?
  • make the issue so politicized that it is put to a vote?
  • be sure that climate change is indeed a threat?
  • make the issue communal rather than polarizing?
  • use the large amount of nonbelievers to our advantage?
  • make fighting climate change as nonpartisan as public schools or animal welfare
  • prove that climate change isn’t real?
  • make climate change economically beneficial?
  • fix the eating culture and expectations? fix driving culture? ensure that farmers still thrive? get Trump on our side? pick a phrase that people can believe in?

Science Fiction

The year is 2065. It is nearly the 40 year anniversary of the Rebirth. There are celebrations planned all around the world that will last through the week. Naturally, there will be no fireworks or balloons or any of the celebratory devices that some of us older people remember from before they were banned. Instead people will celebrate with their environmentally friendly bubbles and compostable streamers.

Against all odds, humanity has survived. Even many of the animals survived, though the polar bears and three different species of penguins did not. Really it was not so hard of a problem to solve in the end. Controversial, yes, but difficult? Certainly not difficult.

The hardest part is trying to teach the children. How do we describe cheese when everyone is a vegan? How do we teach them about the importance of electric cars when it’s all they’ve know? How do explain what grandparents are when no one has them? How do we tell them not to murder when…

Let me back up.

I remember the day of the Rebirth clearly. I was only 10 years old then. I lived with my mother and grandmother at the time. When they came to our door we didn’t understand what was going on, what was going to happen. They asked my grandmother to go outside with them. She never came back in.

We found out later that it was painless. At least they told us it was. I believe that it was, or we would have heard the screaming. You can’t just eliminate 30% of the global population without making a noise if it is painful. And all around the world the same thing happened to all of the old people on the same exact day, yet no one seemed to know about it until it had already happened.

After the news came out on the state-sponsored channel, my mother was furious. It didn’t matter to them that my grandmother ran the community garden, that she had solar panels put on her house, that she drove an electric car, or that she believed in climate change. The world leaders decided that the only way to fix the issue was to reduce then limit the population. The most humane thing to do was to get rid of those over the age of 50. According to the laws of biology and nature, most people wouldn’t reach or live past 50. Those people had already lived their lives and most of them were nonbelievers.  At least that’s what we were told.

I wasn’t terribly upset about my grandmother. She was old and the plan made sense to me. I always liked animals and I didn’t want them to die because of us. Plus the hurricanes had gotten out of control. It was comforting to know that the leaders were actually going to do something about it.

The aftermath of the Rebirth was terrible though. Of course we never tell the children about that. As far as they are concerned, people celebrated just as we do each year on the anniversary. But the truth is that people were angry. They demanded answers. They yelled and screamed and cried and protested until the gas-powered cars started getting anchored and people couldn’t drive to the protests anymore. In the cities, many of the protestors were simply killed. It was easy to justify: less people = less strain on the environment. And anyone protesting clearly didn’t believe in the cause enough anyway. Plus who would prioritize the life of a scruffy protestor over that of a baby seal?

Soon people learned to stop protesting. They learned to hide their plastic and garbage and styrofoam and anything else that would get you killed. The effects were amazing though. The world temperature plateaued after just three years. People learned to eat local, seasonal produce, as that was all they had access to. The meat industry was destroyed, and even the black market meat industry was quickly shut down. By simply minimizing human life to the insignificance of an ant or blade of grass (both of which are viewed as much more precious now), all of the environmental issues were solved.

The Rebirth didn’t upset me. In fact, it excited me. Perhaps because I was so young. Perhaps because their indoctrination of the youth was effective. But when they took my mother 8 years after the Rebirth, then I got upset.

I know it was fair. No one is allowed to be over the age of 50. I should be thankful that she got to be 50 and 8 months old. But the effect of the Rebirth had never really settled in until that day. Of course I couldn’t tell anyone that I was upset. That would be an instant death sentence. So I smiled, walking around saying what we teach the children to say now:

“Praise nature!”

When the children ask where the old people go, we are supposed to tell them that because of nature, no one lives past 50. I suppose it’s true in a sense. The nature of mankind is to destroy. We’ve simply gone from destroying the earth to destroying people. Though I guess we were destroying people back then too.

You may wonder why I’m being so honest given the risk of death. The truth is that it is about to be the 40th anniversary of the Rebirth. The truth is that I am 50 years old now. I don’t know what they do to the 50 year olds and I don’t want to find out. I am taking this into my own hands. I don’t want to be dragged out of my home like some of the others. I also don’t want to attempt going into hiding. I’ve never heard of that ending well, though I supposed I never would.

No, instead I’ve decided to end things on my own terms. Of course, I could not find a gun – those are not environmentally friendly enough to exist anymore – but in a true natural way, I’ve foraged some mushrooms, some of which must be poisonous. From nature I came and into nature I go, at the ripe old age of 50 in such a natural death…


IDEO Methods for Climate Change

After reviewing the IDEO method cards, there are a few that I would like to incorporate into my project:

  • Foreign Correspondents: because climate change is a global issue, it is important to include diverse, international views. In addition, knowing more about how other countries tackle climate change will help broaden the ideas that I have for solutions here in the US.
  • Historical Analysis: one of the biggest issues for climate change today is large corporations. I’d like to take time to understand how and why these corporations came to have so much power. This knowledge will enable me to make smart decisions so that the companies are not threatened, but still help to tackle climate change.
  • Long-Range forecasts: this will be necessary for all of the ideas that I propose. Climate change will not be solved immediately, thus it is imperative that the solutions have the right long-term effects in order to truly solve the issue.
  • Role-Playing: though I don’t have a team, I think it would be an interesting challenge to try and put myself in the shoes of those on the other side (the large coal companies, the nonbelievers, etc.). This will help me develop solutions that can reach everyone.
  • Cross-Cultural Comparisons: similar to foreign correspondents, understanding how different cultures view climate change will help generate better solutions that are inclusive.

Climate change is one of the most serious issues facing the earth and its entire population. A recent UN report indicated that irreparable global damage could occur as soon as 2030 given the current trajectory. The potential risks include widespread drought, flooding, food shortages, and extinction of a variety of species. These issues will affect people around the globe, and is thus an issue that must be addressed quickly.

Currently there are a number of efforts underway to help find a solution for climate change. Those include initiatives around clean energy via wind, solar, and hydro; electric vehicles; low energy appliances; carbon removal; plastic bag bans; biodegradable containers; recycling and composting; etc. These efforts, however, are mostly taking place on a small scale, and the problem of climate change needs a large scale solution.

The main barrier in developing a truly impactful solution is that many people either don’t believe in climate change or simply don’t care enough to help fix it. In addition, climate change has become a politicized issue in the United States, causing many to simply fall within their party lines. I would like to explore ways to remove this barrier by first working to understand why people do not believe in or care about climate change, then proposing a solution to fix that.

My ecosystem map is attached here:

A Housing Crisis Hackathon

I would like to bring the following 5 core values to my work:

Diversity and inclusion – I believe that the best solutions come from a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints. I also know that a wide set of expertise is needed to tackle tough issues.

Collaboration – In order to develop the best solutions, there must be collaboration with the people whom I’d like to help. Open dialogue with the various stakeholders will ensure that the core problem is well understood and properly solved.

Drive to bring about positive change – There are a number of ways to improve the world and I strive to do what I can to help bring about that change.

Humility – I believe that I alone cannot bring about the change I want to see. I also know that my ideas will not always be the best ones and that I am not an expert in everything.

Problem solving – The ultimate goal is to solve problems. I will strive to push myself and others in order to do this through creative collaboration and knowledge exploration.


For my convening, I would like to design a hackathon that focuses on solutions for the housing crisis in the United States. The hackathon will consist of a variety of people from across the world. This ensures that the solution would be applicable across the US and also allows for the opportunity to compare solutions with those used internationally. The hackathon will be held in a large urban center so that it is easy for people to travel to. In addition, many housing issues are prominent in large urban areas, so it will be easier for those familiar with the issue to attend.

The hackathon will begin with a forum that highlights the many faceted problems of the housing crisis. The forum will include a number of speakers including residents, landlords, legal experts, economists, and more. Hackathon participants will then be split into teams based on skill set. This will ensure that each hackathon group has the necessary set of skills to propose a viable solution. There will then be time for each group to work on a solution. After 1-2 days of building solutions, each team will present their solution to others. There will then be at least one day allotted for members of different teams to work together to integrate their solutions and share ideas. By continually combining different ideas and viewpoints, participants will be able to learn more from each other and also generate even better solutions.

Individualist Passport

We struggled to articulate the core tenets of individualism as an ideology. On the one hand, it was easy to see how individualism — carried to its logical conclusion — could result in anarchy. If the ultimate unit of power is the individual human, organized government institutions necessarily restrict the freedom of individuals. However, we settled on a modern Libertarian take on individualism, which views individuals as the basic unit of social analysis. While it still sees the state as a legitimate entity, it upholds the importance of individual rights. It argues individuals are ultimately responsible for the results of their actions.

We found that the current passport design emphasizes the passport holder’s country rather than the individual. For example, the front of a passport is an emblem of the country. The pages inside are filled with images and quotations representing the country. Even the idea of needing a passport to cross a man-made boundary exists because of countries. As individualists, we felt that the emphasis of the passport should be on the individual rather than his or her country. However, we also felt that we wanted to preserve the level of security that comes from using a passport.

Thus for our design, we chose to emphasize the individual rather than the country. We did this by deciding that a passport holder should be allowed to design his or her own passport. As long as the passport includes a standard set of information, such as a photograph, name and date of birth; and that it has a biometric chip, the user has freedom to the colors, quotations, etc. In addition, the individualistic passport design does not limit one to a book-like design. We did feel that there should likely be a size or weight limit so that passports are easily carried and scanned, but also did not want to be too prescriptive.

A Change Is Gonna Come

This assignment is particularly difficult for me, as I feel that there are so many issues that need to be addressed. How does one choose just three? Then I think about what we’ve learned in class thus far and feel like maybe it’s not my place to even solve any of these issues. Regardless, in the words of Sam Cooke, “It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come”. I know that I would like to be part of that change, and at this point, here are three things I’ve been thinking about working on to do so.

  1. The housing crisis, in particular the cycle of evictions for low income people. This is inspired by a book I’ve been reading, called Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond. As with any major issue, there are of course multiple sub issues that make up the problem. Simply, however, I want to work towards ensuring that all Americans (not in terms of citizenship but in terms of people living here) actually have a safe place to live.
    • Laws: I think there are a lot of ways that laws could help to solve this crisis. Apartment buildings could be required to include a certain percentage of low-income units, and cities could be required to do the same. In addition, there could be legal requirements around a certain number of rent-controlled units or even a maximum amount that rent could be across the city. Furthermore, there can be stricter laws regarding building codes – every apartment should have clean, running water and access to heat and electricity. I also think that there could be anti-discrimination laws for applicants who have previously faced eviction, as many people have trouble finding a new place to live once they have been evicted before.
    • Norms: A lot of the issues around the housing crisis are centered about race, and thus having some sort of campaign to push the benefits of diversity and inclusion within a community could help to temper worries about having buildings and communities include low-income residents. In addition, I think there is a huge learning opportunity for landlords to get training on seeing residents as more than just a cash grab.
    • Code: I think that software could be used to help set market prices for rent based on income levels. In addition, there could be a social-media type app that pairs up tenants to landlords and buildings. The app could show information that may help persuade landlords to give them an apartment (such as number of children, lack of prior convictions, etc.)
    • Market: Cities, buildings, and even landlords could get tax breaks for accommodating a certain number of low-income and previously evicted tenants.
  2. Food. I feel that there are a lot of issues with food in our country, but for now I’ll focus on just the idea of food deserts – areas where there is no access to fresh, high-quality food.
    • Laws: This one seems simple (though I’m sure it’s not). There should be a law mandating that there be a supermarket, with produce, for every x amount of people. In high-density areas there should be one within every square mile. On the flip side, there could be a limit to the number of fast food restaurants allowed in such an area. I also think that there could be stricter laws around food advertising – I know that some states now require the number of calories to be displayed but perhaps there could be more information that must be shared with consumers, such as ingredients and fruit/veggie servings.
    • Norms: I think one of the toughest to solve, as there are a lot of social norms around quick food. In addition, a lot of people don’t have a good sense of how to cook or what healthy food is. I think that things like local cooking classes or organized shopping trips could help to fix that. In addition, in thinking about norms, I think about a friend of mine who works for a social impact company in LA where they work with celebrities and TV/movie media to share positive messaging. Including things such as food shopping and cooking in popular TV shows may help to (perhaps subliminally) spread the message of better eating. I think another major norm that has to get addressed here is that people in certain areas wouldn’t appreciate having access to high-quality food in their neighborhood.
    • Code: Besides using coding techniques to help implement some of the laws and norms, I think there is also opportunity for a sort of traveling grocery store that could be tracked via an app. This may be easier for a short term solution in giving people access to high-quality food before grocery stores could be built.
    • Market: I think that tax breaks could be given to grocery stores that are built in food desert areas. In addition, farmers who travel to these areas to sell produce could also be given tax breaks.
  3. The Environment: of course the environment is another giant issue with many sub-issues that can be tackled. In particular, I’d like to focus on waste and recycling management.
    • Laws: Something that shocks me is that many states still do not seem to recycle. I think it should be a federal law that each state has to have its own recycling program. In addition, large corporations that manufacture things with plastic should be required to use at least some percentage of recycled materials. Also, I think that the plastic bag and styrofoam ban should be expanded nationally, and there should be a law requiring that all take out containers (at least for individuals) and disposable silverware is compostable.
    • Norms: I think that many people are unaware of the long-term environmental impact of things such as plastic and styrofoam. Finding ways through social media and education to show people these effects may help to change the norms.
    • Code: something I’ve seen in the local news lately is the issue of dirty recycling – people try to recycle but mistakenly put in things that cannot be recycled. I think software could be used to create smart recycling cans that separate out dirty recycling. This could even be extended to include smart trash cans that separate out recycling from trash. In addition, code has to be used to help create better compostable straws and spoons that don’t break down so quickly. I think another interesting angle for code here is to help figure out how we can handle the large amount of e-waste that is being generated from our electronic devices.
    • Market: I think tax breaks could be given to cities that generate less than a certain amount of trash per person. In addition, companies could be given tax breaks for using a certain amount of recycled materials in their production. They could also be given tax breaks for generating small amounts of trash.

Solving a Problem I Knew Nothing About

In 2017, I worked as a summer researcher with the Department of Biomedical Informatics at UCSD. Although I had essentially no knowledge of medicine, healthcare, or even biology; I wanted to work there so that I could explore ways to use my Computer Science skills in order to help others.
My project for the summer was to work on a system that could help identify hidden stages for chronic diseases based on patient records. For example, certain chronic illnesses such as kidney disease and diabetes are not fully understood in the medical field. Many people with these diseases progress through a series of illnesses and symptoms that may highlight hidden stages that are currently unknown to medical professionals. People with chronic disease spend more time and money on healthcare than most other people do. According to the American Diabetes Association, the cost of diabetes was $327 billion in 2017 (
Naturally people with chronic diseases are affected by this, but they are not alone. Their families also face a huge emotional burden and often help to take on the financial costs. Additionally, a lot of the financial support comes from taxpayers. Doctors and other medical professionals are also interested in better understanding these diseases so they can prescribe better treatment to keep their patients from visiting hospitals and clinics so often.
Originally I thought that I was well suited to address the problem. I had technical skills, the data at hand, and prior experience working with patient records. I felt that through machine learning I could finding something that would make a huge impact. After working on the project, however, I feel that this is not a problem that I can solve alone. Patient records contain a vast amount of data, much of which was unknown to me. The implementation of algorithms to view and manipulate the data is just one small part of the puzzle. Without a true understanding of medicine, I had a hard time determining what to examine and how to interpret the results of what I found. Even medical professionals could not say with certainty which factors are the most important. I feel that this problem (like most) cannot be solved by any one individual, but must instead be solved by a team of people who have the necessary combined knowledge to understand the data and determine what might be most helpful to examine. In particular, it seems that people who have chronic diseases must also be part of the solution. Without fully understanding the factors that bring them in for extra medical care, and those that don’t, it is difficult to find the right solution.
Our proposal to use machine learning in conjunction with patient records introduces the risk of data leaks. Anytime patient records are stored and acted on, there is a risk that private information may be exposed. Perhaps just as dangerous, though, is the potential consequence of adding to a system where people are often the afterthought, and not the forefront, of a solution. Trying to articulate the problem, understand the data, and devise a solution without any knowledge of the domain suggests that simply having technical skills gives people the privilege to build systems they don’t fully understand. I know now that domain knowledge is much more valuable than a skill, and hope to demonstrate this in my future work.

Realizing that Money Isn’t Everything

I grew up in a household where money was often the concern. As a child I remember living in an illegal basement apartment where my sister and I shared a bedroom while our mother slept in the living room. For years, my mother remained in a verbally and physically abusive relationship just so we could have another source of income. We rarely talked about plans for the future or career options, but I knew one thing for certain – I refused to be poor or to depend on someone else for money. I saw the way that financial worries negatively affected my mother’s life and promised to never let that happen to myself.

Fast forward to my senior year of college. Somehow I had stumbled into Computer Science as a major and had a job offer making six figures at Microsoft. That was more than double what my mother made at the time. Obviously I took the job. It paid well, had great benefits, and provided a kind of security that no one in my family had previously had.

Working at Microsoft wasn’t as glorious as I imagined it would be though. While the work was challenging and my coworkers were enjoyable to be around, what I actually did on a day-to-day basis was simply meaningless. In fact, much of the work I did – and even didn’t do – went unnoticed. I realized that if no one noticed what I was doing, then clearly it wasn’t important at all.

About the same time I started doubting my work at Microsoft, I began volunteering for an organization called TEALS. With TEALS, I taught Computer Science at a public high school before attending work each day. Within a few months, I found that I enjoyed teaching more than my actual job. Thus I decided to quit my job at Microsoft, and take a huge pay cut, to be a Computer Science teacher.

Because I do not have a teaching credential, I could not be employed in a public school and thus took a job at a private high school. Although the work was more fulfilling than my work at Microsoft, it did not allow me to truly give back as I did with TEALS. I knew that I was helping people, but most of the students did not fit into the demographic of those I truly wanted to help – those in situations closer to the one I had as a child.

While teaching, I also learned more about money. Although I was making a lot less than I did at Microsoft, I was still happy and comfortable. In fact, I realized that most of what I had spent my money on was simply stupid – clothes I never wore, expensive meals that weren’t very good, overpriced cocktails, etc. When I thought about what I really enjoyed having and doing, most of it did not cost very much at all. When I worked at Microsoft, I had never even saved any money outside of my company-sponsored 401k. As a teacher, I ended up with extra money each month that went into an investment account. Simply put, I realized that making a lot of money didn’t matter to me. As long as I could support myself and be comfortable, I would be happy.

With this in mind, I decided to leave my job and take a pay cut yet again to attend grad school. I felt that I could, and should, do more with my technological skills to truly help others and enact social change. I don’t yet know how I will do that, but I feel that this course will be a great way for me to start exploring my options.