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Sustainability Today

March 9, 2012

In the past five years, the Academy of Natural Sciences has sponsored dozens of programs on topics such as urban design, renewable energy, and clean technology. Why are subjects like these becoming more and more important to a natural history museum?

In the 21st century, museums like the Academy have expanded their studies beyond those concerned with plants and animals. People have become widely disconnected from the natural systems on which they depend, and as a result, we need to understand what’s happening to the planet and what can be done about it. Today’s natural history institutions are the places to make these connections.

Humans are using natural resources at an alarming rate. Currently we consume more than half of all available freshwater runoff. Human economies use 30 percent of all the photosynthesis on the planet. At these levels, marine fisheries, the protein source for 1 billion people, could be decimated within 40 years.

The list goes on. Food, water, energy, and other natural resources are being used at an unsustainable rate. As the economies of developing nations like China expand, the statistics will become grimmer. At the Academy, we are committed to reversing these trends.

Using resources in ways that meet our present needs while ensuring that we can fulfill the needs of the future (the definition of “sustainability”) will require everyone’s ingenuity, judgment, and restraint. For these reasons, the Academy has started talking about technology. Although it has played a large role in driving the use of energy and resources, technology also will help us cope with our shrinking planet.

As the statistics above suggest, a critical need exists for new, green technologies that help solve the Earth’s problems. In Philadelphia, green technology has become an important part of the future. With a world-class concentration of scientists, engineers, and designers; a government committed to making Philadelphia the greenest city in America; and public and private initiatives working to bring the city’s economy into the 21st century, Philadelphia could become a paradigm of green thinking.

The Academy’s new partnership with Drexel University will combine the Academy’s rich history of natural and environmental science with one of the nation’s foremost institutions of engineering and science education. We look forward to highlighting a new collaboration of natural history and human technology as we face some of the most urgent problems of our time.