We find ourselves at a critical time in Earth's history. The health of our oceans, forests, and freshwater resources has declined precipitously. Human activities threaten the atmosphere and climate. Soaring energy use threatens to accelerate climate change and disrupt economies. And nearly a billion people go to sleep hungry many nights.
Providing food, energy, water, and other essentials for this and future generations is a huge challenge in itself. But doing so also exacts an enormous cost on the life-support systems of the planet.
Energy and environmental scholars at Stanford are asking the key question: Can we adequately meet human needs while keeping the world habitable? Stanford believes the answer is yes, and we have put forth a vision for a sustainable world in which:
• Energy is readily available and consumed cleanly, wisely, and efficiently. Society invests in renewable energy technologies to supplement, and eventually replace, some traditional fossil fuel resources. Global warming slows as greenhouse emissions fall. Local air quality and human health improve as fossil fuel consumption drops.
• Everyone has access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Communities use inexpensive systems to filter water and treat waste, and millions of children no longer die of waterborne diseases. Agriculture and industry use water efficiently, with new technologies and management approaches that conserve water and protect its purity. Our lakes and rivers provide a healthy environment for plants and animals.
• Agriculture provides sufficient food to feed the world's entire population without harming the planet. Societies use land effectively for agriculture, shelter, and recreation, while preserving biodiversity and ecosystem integrity. Landowners find it profitable to adopt conservation measures, and economic benefits that result from healthy ecosystems, such as the flood control wetlands provide, encourage people to protect them.
• Oceans and estuaries are healthy. They teem with food and contribute to a stable atmosphere. Ocean temperatures stabilize and coral reefs thrive. Innovative management of fisheries allows fish populations to recover, providing important protein sources to people and marine animals. Sea life flourishes along our coasts, and beach closures and algae blooms are rare.
Building such a world will be an enormous challenge. It will take ingenuity, passion, and determination. It will take unprecedented collaboration among academia, business, governmental and non-governmental organizations. And it will take a concerted effort to communicate research results to those who make business and policy decisions that affect the environment.
We invite your organization to join Stanford's Initiative on the Environment and Sustainability by becoming a formal member of the Affiliate program for the Woods and Precourt institutes. Working together we can help find working solutions to these challenges.