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Mathematical Models in Environmental Policy

By Sustainability Office on May 1, 2018

– Dana Chan ’19

Ever wondered what math can do for sustainability? The Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications (COMAP) held its annual Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling (ICM) from February 8-12, 2018 at Colgate University. At the heart of this competition is the construction of a mathematical model that can help predict the outcomes of real-life problems and aid in the search for solutions. One team from Colgate University’s Mathematics Department – composed of Ruoyu (Tony) Guo, Asad Jamil, and Van Tran – chose to create a model that predicts a reliable timeline for a national switch from diesel to electric vehicles. An essential part of their model is tracking the amount of financial resources and time required to build the necessary facilities around the country to make the all-electric vehicle switch possible.

Tony Guo, one of the architects of the model, commented that they were excited to choose an issue that focuses on sustainability because of its relevance to many countries in the world today. Tony highlighted the importance of implementing environmental solutions in developing countries. “Personally, I think in our environmental conditions right now going all-electric is more important for less developed countries, but these countries have limited funds to make it possible. I think in addition to government subsidies, we need more people contributing to this cause and making investments for it to be realistic.”

According to the team’s model for a developed country, using Ireland as an example, an all-electric vehicle switch could come as early as 2050 with the most ideal conditions. However, this will not only cost the Irish government a fortune, but will also be hindered by the lack of existing infrastructure; hence, using more realistic assumptions pushes the date further into the future. The team strived to create a model that can be generalized to various economic states of different countries. In testing their model on a developing country, like Indonesia, the team found the effort for an all-electric vehicle switch much more challenging but still feasible with the right amount of support from government and private entities. The team also took into consideration the viewpoints of the people who live in these countries, assuming that people would be willing to make the switch, though they would be more comfortable if the switch occurred at a slower pace.

The ICM is an example of how interdisciplinary efforts can help push sustainability initiatives forward. Tony comments, “Math gives you a more precise and quantitative way to predict what will happen in the future, and it is reliable, scientific and easy to communicate. It is a tool in all aspects of initiating, planning and carrying out initiatives – it’s actually more useful than people think.”


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