Speak Your Mind: What are among the most pressing environmental issues of our times?

(music) Eric Zeemering (Associate Professor, Public
Administration): As urbanization continues around the globe, a major problem that must
get our attention is the fit between cities and the ecosystems in which they are located.
According to United Nations’ reports over 54% of the world’s population now lives in
cities in urban areas. In the United States that figure stands at 81%. Cities have always
been acknowledged as importers of resources: water, energy, and food. We must think about
their connection to the environment and the ecosystems around them. Reed Scherer (Board of Trustees Professor,
Geology & Environmental Geosciences): The global impact of climate change is clearly
the most significant issue. It impacts so many other environmental issues. It is an
effect that is more long-term than the immediate effect of a toxic spill or something else
that could have catastrophic local effects. This really is a global effect. Vehement resistance
by a significant sector of the public to the issue of climate change unfortunately is
coming back to a political question. Science by definition is never proven 100% because
science is about addressing questions, testing hypotheses, and developing new questions.
You never know everything, but there is such an undeniable body of evidence that say “I
don’t believe it” without providing evidence to the contrary is not helpful. Anna Klis (Assistant Professor, Economics):
I think one of the most important environmental issues of our time is over fishing. Just this
year the World Wildlife Foundation released a report that said that we have nearly halved
the world’s fish population since the 1970’s. This is really important because a lot of
countries, a lot of people, rely on fish as their main source of diet. One of the things
that interests me is the management of fisheries. This is a dynamic, common pool resource. There
are a number of small, local mechanisms that can be implemented just giving a fishery a
reason to care for the future. If you’ve got an individual quota for a fishery and they
know that this quota is renewable from year to year and saved for them well then they
know that they should try to keep the resource intact for the next year and the next year
and all of the future years that they will also have this quota. In that case, you’ve
given them a reason to care about future profits not just today’s profits. Apart from these
local levels, there is also the fact that when countries work together to collaborate
upon research, to collaborate upon fishing technology restrictions and allowances, and
overall on worldwide quotas then that is another way that we can hope to manage these species
and preserve them for the future. Aaron Deslatte (Assistant Professor, Public
Administration): One of the most pressing environmental issues that we are dealing with
as a planet has to do with our urbanization and our rate of converting sort of rural agricultural
and undeveloped land and into urban and developed uses. Right now the urban areas contribute
about 70% of the planet’s GHG emissions. The more we urbanize, at our current pace, the
more pollution we are going to be generating. There are a lot of social costs as well that
are associated with urbanization in particular suburban sprawl. Our urban areas in the United
States have grown in population and have developed in a very inefficient pattern that leads to
more inefficient use of the land that is available there. It increases, again, the amount of
GHG that is used because you have longer commute times, there is more driving. It also leads
to difficulties in getting local governments to work together on their service delivery.
The majority of the urbanization that is taking place right now is not happening in developed
countries anymore. It is happening in developing countries. A lot of negative things that are
associated with suburban sprawl besides just the turning of agricultural lands into suburban
strip malls. Holly Jones (Assistant Professor, Biological
Sciences): Many people don’t realize that we are currently in the midst of a mass extinction
crisis where we are losing species from this Earth permanently. Other mass extinction events
are where we’ve lost 75% or more of the species on our planet in a short geological time frame.
It is very unfortunate that we are the cause of all of these extinctions, but one of the
really exciting things about my job as a conservation biologist is that what conservation
biology is about is slowing and preventing these extinctions from happening. We use science
as a guide to help us decide what to do to prevent extinctions. One area where I work
is at Nachusa Grasslands where they have recently reintroduced Bison. They were nearly driven
to extinction and now we are reintroducing them back out into restored prairie landscapes
in order to help those systems function as they did before we disturbed them.

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