The future is clean

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The future is clean

As the world grapples with the impacts of climate change, we need skilled and passionate people who can help lead the way towards a cleaner economy.

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FUTURE generations deserve to inherit a clean planet: a planet cleaner than generations before inherited it. But that future is under threat.

Rising sea levels threaten to swallow entire island nations, as growing tides creep their way across sandy beaches and over rocky landscapes until there’s nothing left but vast oceans.

For those living in the Pacific Islands, the rising waters are a real-life doomsday clock, gradually claiming the land from under their feet as waters warm and glaciers and ice sheets melt. Meanwhile, in the Amazon and on the island of Borneo, the lungs of our earth are burning: more than 100,000 forest fires have this year marched through some of the most dense and biodiverse growth on the planet, the flames violently destroying all they touch, spewing toxic smoke into the atmosphere as they raze hectares of rainforest.

If we want to change this – to lessen the impacts of climate change and clean up the by-products of the Industrial Revolution – now is the time to act.

But such an effort will require a global movement of skilled and passionate people who can understand and explain what is happening to our planet, and work collaboratively to find and craft solutions to the challenges we all face.

Professor Cathy Yule, who is Head of USC’s School of Science and Engineering, says the urgency and breadth of the climate crisis is driving increased demand for skills across a range of related industries – from environmental science to renewable energy, food security to applied environmental health.

“As the world grapples with the social and environmental legacies of industrialisation, there is a growing focus on the move towards a ‘clean’ economy: the transition away from industries that are dependent on fossil fuels, in favour of new jobs and opportunities that help protect natural resources and foster low-carbon growth,” Professor Yule says.

“Increasingly, we are recognising the urgent need to move away from those technologies that are harmful to the environment, and to instead harness the power of science and technology to help us understand and adapt to a changing climate.” 

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Environmental science researchers from USC are already working in this area, using technology such as drones to chart the shape of our changing coastlines, allowing them to watch and analyse how tides are impacting our sandy foreshores.

Emerging technologies also allow citizen scientists to play their part. For example, USC researchers have enlisted local surfers to use Smartfins: surfboard fins that measure sea-surface temperatures in coastal areas, allowing locals to capture and transmit crucial data every time they go for a wave.

As well as conducting research, environmental scientists work with businesses, governments and industry to help make informed decisions about how to preserve natural ecosystems and resources, and how to balance the needs of humans and the natural world.

According to the Australian Government’s Job Outlook, demand for qualified professionals is expected to remain very strong over the next five years.

The transition to a clean economy will also present growing opportunities in environmental management, animal ecology, environmental engineering, environmental law and policy, and more.

Professor Yule says the focus will be on roles that help businesses and governments recognise, mitigate and manage the impacts of human societies on natural ecosystems.

 “We know we need to find better, more sustainable ways to farm, to power our homes, businesses and communities, and to come up with solutions that allow us to live on the planet without destroying it,” she says.

“The challenges we all face are vast, and increasingly we need passionate people who understand the intricacies of balancing environmental protection and restoration with our human needs.”

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