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Ask the Experts - Earth Day Optimism

SIB faculty share their expert opinions: What's one reason you're at least mildly optimistic about Earth’s future?

Alex Harmon-Threatt | Associate Professor, Entomology

“The pandemic got more people seeing biodiversity in their local neighborhoods and appreciating the world around them. That appreciation will hopefully spur more conservation and respect for the environment.

“It also pushed a lot of meetings online and reduced global travel. Those things are great for the environment.”

Jessica Conroy | Associate Professor, Geology & Plant Biology

“Every couple years, I teach a course called Planet Earth. In my energy lecture, I show a plot that gives the percentage of our state’s electricity from different sources.

“When I started out, it was close to 50/50 coal and nuclear. But over the years, the percentage of energy derived from renewables has steadily risen.”

Becky Fuller | Professor, Evolution, Ecology and Behavior

“The National Science Foundation has prioritized ‘end of life’ issues concerning plastics. They are pumping money into technologies to help get rid of plastics — i.e. break them down, degrade them, etc. — that will hopefully be friendly on wildlife.

“The issue is incredibly complex and will require engineers, chemists and biologists to work together. It would be great if we could come up with a solution to the problem of plastic pollution.”

Katy Heath | Associate Professor, Plant Biology

“There are lots of microbes that associate with plants and have large and positive effects on plant health and plant yield.

"I am optimistic about the potential for these microbes, which often evolve faster than plants, to help plants tolerate changes in climate that are happening too fast for plant adaptation.”

Jim Whitfield | Professor of Entomology

“It’s a sign of positive change in society’s attitudes that recently documented declines in insect diversity and populations are now seen as issues that need addressing.”

Andy Suarez | Professor & Head, Evolution, Ecology and Behavior

“There are two things that make me optimistic about the future.

“First, we are finally starting to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources at a large scale.

“Second, many of the students I talk to are more aware of environmental issues than I ever was at their age.

“This gives me great hope as the future will be in their hands.”

Lisa Ainsworth | USDA-ARS, Adjunct Professor, Plant Biology

“I am optimistic about the potential to reduce emissions and store more carbon on agricultural lands, from pastures to row crops. Management practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and store more carbon are improving, along with an ability to quantify emissions.”

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Publication Date: 04/22/2021
Photo credits: NASA
Editor: Jeff D'Alessio