On top of the world
“We’re almost at the top, give me your hand, I’ll pull you up”, I say. “I know!” she smiles, “this is no Everest and I’ve been hiking my whole life”. She takes a moment to look down and gaze at the curved hiking trail disappearing into the dense temperate forest. It’s a perfect day for a hike up to the summit where I'll film my interview with a young biologist who’s just published her second article in a high-impact journal. We’ll have a beautiful 360-degree view “and it will be great for Instagram”, I think.
“We already know a lot but there’s still so much that we need to learn, so much we don’t know about the impacts of climate change. The scientific evidence that I publish is aimed to inform and guide government decisions. And despite the data, evidence and fast pace of the changes that we are seeing that are affecting our lives, there’s almost no funding for research ”, she says.
Navigating the scenic route to the top of the mountain, I realize that my current challenge may be greater than hers: to secure funding for her research. I’m well aware that her work is as endangered as some of our species today.
When we think about scientific research, we may think about exciting new discoveries, such as a cure for cancer and other diseases, travel to distant planets, black holes and deep-sea vents. Most people don't think about the importance of climate change research that enables researchers, practitioners, policy makers and other groups to look at our current challenges in a collaborative way to try to elucidate solutions to create resilience on the ground. We need to understand the interlinkages of climate change, biodiversity and health, for example. We must find ways to organize our growing urban spaces to better meet our needs. We need to innovate how we communicate all that knowledge to identify solutions.
According to the 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report, creating economic growth just by increasing consumption of material goods is no longer a viable option at the global level. Projections indicate that the global use of materials is set to almost double between 2017 and 2060, from 89 Gigatons to 167 Gigatons, with correspondingly increased levels of greenhouse gas emissions, and other toxic effects such as those from mining and other pollution sources.
“To change course, the scientists say the world must transform a number of key areas of human activities, including food, energy, consumption, production and cities”, the report says.
We’re driving changes and consuming natural resources faster than we can measure and understand those consequences to our lives and future generations. In the meantime, we struggle to keep it all sustainable to pay for these transformations and lessen the impacts on nature and on ourselves.
I read about the Bezos Earth Fund and daydream hundred-million-dollar solutions to the funding challenge I face. The same challenge confronted by so many young biologists, ecologists, oceanographers, agronomists, anthropologists and many other colleagues.
« Living in harmony with nature...Is it science fiction? » I ask and she laughs.
We’re now at the summit admiring the beautiful landscape. "You know, I suggested this hike for our interview today thinking that a summit would be the perfect analogy for this moment in your career. Look, you’re on top of the world!" I say.
“And where do I go from here? ” she asks.
This article is also published on the author's blog. Energy Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Energy & Sustainability writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.
About the author
Ione Anderson is Co-Founder and COO of Grape ESG. She works with investors and companies to develop climate change and sustainability strategies, incorporating ESG factors into operations and investment decisions. She has a purposeful international career at the science to policy nexus.