Global consumption levels of our Earth’s limited resources have been rising at alarmingly fast rates. With rapid global population growth and a flourishing culture of consumerism, our consumption behavior has created quite a formidable challenge for sustainability.
In our short time on Earth, we will witness global population growth from 6 billion to well over 7 billion. Humanity’s ecological footprint has increased to 125% of the global carrying capacity and could rise to 170% by only 2040. Around the world, over 85 million barrels of oil are used per day, enough to fill over 5,406 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Because of high demand in recent decades for metals, especially rare earth metals, we will experience shortages in silver, gold, zinc, tin, and lead in only 10 to 20 years. Such outcomes from our aggressive consumption surely are not up to the standards of upstanding global citizenship.
Governments and policymakers play critical roles in creating the right legal, fiscal, and cultural environment for sustainable behavior, but scientists around the world are the ones who provide vital research and tools for us to respond to this dynamic global environmental problem. Even back in 1859, physicist John Tyndall had already determined that coal gas, a mixture of gases including methane, had the ability to absorb infrared or heat radiation. In 1938, engineer Guy Stewart Callendar revived the greenhouse warming theory and raised awareness of rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In 1969, Rachel Carson, marine biologist and conservationist, shocked the public with her revolutionary book, Silent Spring, which documented the devastating effects of pesticide on natural ecosystems.
Great scientists now have elevated their sophistication of research to study these environmental issues in even greater detail. Groundbreaking research at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies includes life-cycle assessment of algal biodiesel by Professor Julie Zimmerman, public health studies of ground-level ozone effects by Professor Michelle Bell, and satellite data analysis of the dengue fever vector by Eliza Little. With a recent grant from the National Science Foundation, the Geology and Geophysics department has developed the Open Earth Systems project that studies the interactions between the different components of Earth’s geological systems. Physicians such as Dr. John Reach in the Yale School of Medicine, are even developing new technologies for orthopaedic prosthetics by making modifications to metal.
With such inspiring research and innovation from scientists in all fields to achieve a common goal, we, as the new generation of scientists and engineers, have a great legacy to continue. If we do not proactively address the scarcity problem of non-renewables and the detrimental environmental impacts of humanity with new policies and scientific breakthroughs, our future generations will not be able to experience the precious resources and experiences that our planet offers us now.