Environmental Engineers Devising Plan to Save Humanity

December 3, 2018

The Earth is changing, and humans face major challenges if they hope to adapt, survive and preserve any semblance of the world as it is now.

Humans will need to create sustainable food, water and energy supplies; curb climate change; eliminate pollution and waste; and design efficient, healthy and resilient cities. To support these efforts, they will also need to enhance society’s ability and will to make informed decisions and act; and develop leaders who are prepared to address a sustainable future.

The new “Environmental Engineering for the 21st Century: Addressing the Grand Challenges” report commissioned by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine features the work of nearly 20 of the country’s most prominent scientists, policy experts and environmental engineers — including UC Merced Professor Thomas Harmon. There will be a a live event in Washington, D.C. on Thursday in which authors will discuss the report and recommendations, and the event will be webcast. Signups are being taken online.

National Academies reports are meant to serve among the nation’s highest advisory documents, and the reports are available to the public. The report offers ideas about the critical roles environmental engineers will play in overcoming or managing these challenges.

Humans have always manipulated the environment to meet their needs, often with negative consequences, but now people need to find sustainable ways to fill those needs.

“It’s human behavior that’s going to save us,” Harmon said.

Environmental challenges continue to multiply as the global population expands toward 10 billion people by 2050. More people means greater demand for resources, and scientists are only beginning to understand all the challenges climate change presents.

“We’re going to need to take a systems approach to everything,” Harmon explained. “UC Merced has a great chance to get in front of this because we began with an interdisciplinary and environmentally-oriented perspective, and everything we do pivots toward sustainability.”

The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the Delta Stewardship Council, and the committee had representatives from practicing engineers, nonprofit institutions, and universities, including UC Merced, University of Michigan, University of Virginia, University of Colorado, Columbia University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Cornell University, Yale University and others.

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