Mathematics Awareness Month - April 2013
Mathematics of Sustainability

Learn more about the interconnected nature of these resources

Learn more about Alternative Energy Learn more about Agriculture Learn more about Normal Distribution Learn more about Trees Learn more about Climate Learn more about Oil Learn more about Logistic Equations Learn more about Glaciers Learn more about Cities Learn more about the Gini Coefficient Learn more about Fishing


AgricultureSustainability involves improving everyone's quality of life, including that of future generations, by reconciling economic growth, social development and environmental protection. In American society, there are high levels of economic and social inequality between the wealthier segments of society and workers, such as agricultural workers, who produce the goods and services on which our affluent society depends. The Gini coefficient is a mathematical way to measure how equally a resource is distributed across a population. History suggests that high Gini coefficients, showing greater concentration of income or wealth, are unsustainable and tied to social and political unrest [1]

There are many examples of world trade and the commoditization of food leading to tensions between the social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainability. The increased international demand for quinoa, a nutritious grain-like crop grown in Peru, has been an economic boon for the small-holder farmers there [2]. However while increasing prices are good for the farmers’ economics, it is bad for the nutrition of the urban poor in Peru who can no longer afford to buy quinoa and must settle for cheaper and less healthy alternatives [3]. And the high prices that quinoa fetches are causing more land to be devoted to quinoa farming, threatening a delicate balance in the quinoa-llama ecosystem and undermining soil fertility [4]. How do we balance the needs of a healthy diet for all the people in the world, not just those that can afford it? It is a complex issue.


  1. Muller, E. N., & Seligson, M. A. (1987). Inequality and insurgency. The American Political Science Review, 425-451.
  2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/14/quinoa-andes-bolivia-peru-crop
  3. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/16/vegans-stomach-unpalatable-truth-quinoa
  4. http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2013/01/quinoa-good-evil-or-just-really-complicated

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Mathematics Awareness Month is sponsored each year by the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics to recognize the importance of mathematics through written materials and an accompanying poster that highlight mathematical developments and applications in a particular area.
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