Yesterday afternoon, I watched presentations by 3rd year students on topics that are close to my heart. Can the world feed itself? Is sustainable intensification a contradiction in terms? Who should pay for biodiversity, and so on. All of the talks showed a realistic grasp of the massive challenges, and reflected the huge gap between the commitments of governments to a more sustainable world and the actual direction of travel ween before the US election result. But the tone was one of hope. One of the speakers referred to the Venus Project, that gives a new holistic view of the future based on a radical view of economics. Another speaker covered the multiple good news stories collated by Jules Pretty and his team, showing how so many people across Africa are benefitting from increases in food production and environmental quality from their land.
All of which led me thinking about how does an academic like myself adapt to this new landscape? For most of my working life, I have been funded (directly or indirectly) by the UK Government, published research papers and advised policy makers through reports, seminars and meetings. That all seems so last century now. Where should my kind of environmental science go now? Could crowdsourcing work? Perhaps, for small projects that have wider public interests. Commercially funded? Fine, but there is the potential taint of bias. Citizen science and large-scale collaborative research over the web? Yet how do you assure quality of all the different components of the work, and I’m nervous about any model that does not pay people for their time and input.
The political landscape may have changed, but the hunger to develop a more sustainable world has not gone away. We may need to be more imaginative about how to satisfy it.