We are all stakeholders in the future of the environment. We all benefit with successes in responsible natural resource stewardship, implementing sustainable practices, and protecting the integrity of ecosystems. Conversely, we all suffer with failure. No one can escape the ugly impacts of depleted resources, degraded ecosystems, or decimation of biodiversity. Fortunately it is not too late to avoid the most widespread and devastating implications of the environmental challenges facing us today, but we must act quickly and make the right choices.
Achieving a bright, sustainable future involves a good deal more than confronting scientific, management, and engineering challenges. There must be a fundamental shift in how our society sees its relationship to the wild world and a deepened appreciation for our moral and ethical obligations to one another, the planet we inhabit, and future generations. A reexamination of our values will require leadership from scholars of diverse expertise including philosophers, ethicists, historians, and social scientists.
Rapidly changing demographics in our society add another challenge. Achieving a national consensus on the importance of sustainable solutions and protection of environments requires that as many Americans as possible, of every description and background, have transformative interactions with wilderness and biodiversity, be science literature, be informed of the choices facing us and their consequences, and be incorporated into the science and engineering workforce.
This fall, ESF will welcome one of the most diverse classes of entering freshmen in its history, but this is not enough. ESF will not be content to gradually nudge its numbers up through the typical competition with sister institutions but instead will take bold steps to address the problem, not just its in-house statistics. This means developing the supply end of the pipeline; engaging with the public in Syracuse, New York city, and the nation to awaken scientific curiosity and inspire action among America’s youth so that fifteen years from now we are not having the same discussion about the need for greater societal representation in science and engineering fields.
Beyond exerting leadership in the diversification of the science workforce and the science literacy of future voting publics, ESF will seize on its fantastic ranking as the third best college in the U.S. for women majoring in STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering, and math. One result of our forestry heritage is a continuing under-representation of women on our faculty in spite of this deserved high national ranking. As we address that legacy — and for years ESF has done so in faculty searches — we will use the authority that comes with this position to spark a national discussion of the broad issue of women in science and engineering seeking both short and long term strategies.
In order to succeed in sustaining biological diversity, we must cultivate, too, diverse voices in the search for answers to environmental problems. Expecting a public that neither understands science nor feels a personal attachment to the wild world to make the hard decisions necessary for success is naïve. And expecting the public at large to adequately support a science and engineering enterprise in which they do not see opportunities for themselves or their children is similarly unrealistic. This all means that ESF must blaze a decidedly untraditional trail that transcends long established boundaries between disciplines and that blurs the distinction between ivory tower discovery and main street engagement.
The concept of strength and adaptability through diversity is a fundamental truth in evolutionary biology and ecology. We must now extend that basic understanding to include the science workforce and a welcomed and involved public.