The word “science” means many things to different people. While some see science as nerdy and boring, others are in awe of the discoveries that have been made and the technologies that change our lives.
To me, science means hope.
As a conservation scientist, I spend my days tracking such threats as climate change, deforestation and the overfishing of our oceans. You might think it would be depressing.
But science provides the tools to overcome these threats. Science has achieved once unimaginable things – the internet, human flight, antibiotics. And I fully believe science will save the planet for us and the other 8 million species that live on it.
As we celebrate Earth Day this year, science and hope are firmly at its core.
Tens of thousands of people around the world will take part in the March for Science on Earth Day, calling on our elected officials to continue investing in scientific research that serves as the foundation of a strong, healthy and productive society.
I and others across The Nature Conservancy will join those marchers to raise awareness of the central role science plays in conserving the natural systems we all rely upon for survival.
For example, following the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy five years ago, scientific studies found that intact coastal wetlands prevented $625 million in flood damages. Today, state and municipal governments across the country are following that science to restore and protect wetlands, sand dunes, oyster reefs and other natural areas that can help protect communities and defend against future storms.
Science also underpins how state agencies around the Gulf of Mexico are bringing their coasts and waters back to health in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Congressionally-passed RESTORE Act specifically mandated that “the best available science” be used to determine the most effective strategies for restoration. With that mandate, projects are now being launched across the Gulf that rebuild oyster reefs and create “living shorelines.” These natural solutions not only clean gulf waters and strengthen coastal areas, but they support recreational and other commercial economies, as well as provide habitat to wildlife.
Armed with science, we can find the hope needed to overcome even the greatest challenges and build a stronger future.
But we don’t need to wait for disaster to find inspiration in science.
In Mongolia, for example, The Nature Conservancy worked with the government officials to scientifically analyze the country’s landscapes. Mongolian decision-makers are now using the maps to ensure energy and infrastructure projects needed to support communities are being developed in areas that do not harm sensitive natural areas and wildlife.
In Oregon, The Nature Conservancy is using satellite imagery to monitor the health of grasslands. The data is being shared with ranchers to help them determine the best grazing areas for their cattle while also conserving wildlife habitat.
And in Iowa, The Conservancy is working with farmers, agriculture businesses and food distributors to scientifically test farming practices that reduce erosion, keep rivers cleaner, improve soil health and save farmers money.
As global populations grow, the demand for food, water and energy are putting unprecedented pressures on our natural systems. Disastrous storms and floods are also increasing as a result of climate change.
But around the world, governments, businesses and communities are using science to support jobs, feed families, power cities and protect nature.
That’s why, to me, science means hope.